117 of 123 people found the following review helpful
"Do you think it is possible to come to Christ through ordinary dislike before discovering the love of Christ? Can dislike be a sign?" - Walker Percy in The Last Gentleman
I've never really grasped what Walker Percy meant by that one until I read Wise Blood, but that's what happens. The opposite of love isn't hate. Rather, it's indifference, and hate is some form of love. In Wise Blood, Hazel does hate Christ, but that hate is emblematic of the belief (and unwanted love) he actually holds for Him. Wise Blood is Hazel's dark journey in a fallen world toward happening onto a bit of grace, painful but merciful at the same time.
Wise Blood isn't a book to read if you want to end up with a warm and fuzzy feeling inside. Its setting is a grim, fallen world, and the characters aren't exactly likeable. Nevertheless, the truth O'Connor has to present through her dark humor is powerful and insightful. This is a wonderful book for intellectual Christians and for anyone else searching for truth in this mess of a world.
75 of 81 people found the following review helpful
on June 30, 2005
In May 1952, after Flannery O'Connor published "Wise Blood" to mixed notices, she wrote to her publisher, Robert Giroux, and demonstrated her ability to take even the bad reviews with aplomb: "I have a request for a complimentary copy of 'Wise Blood' from Captain W. of the Salvation Army for their reading room and would be much obliged if you would send them a copy.... I'm always pleased to oblige the Salvation Army. According to some of the reviews you have sent me, I ought to be in it."
Throughout 1950s America--and especially in her hometown-the few readers who came across O'Connor's novel were dismayed or shocked by the its violence and its seemingly amoral characters; even two years after publication, still receiving fan letters ("what happened to the guy in the ape suit?") from the scattering of readers who liked it, O'Connor was able to joke, "I have now reached the lunatic fringe and there is no place left for me to go." A half century later, though, O'Connor has the last laugh, because the dark humor that pervades her "Southern Gothic" tale is more readily digested by modern audiences reared on films by the likes of David Lynch and Lars Von Trier
A quick and easy read, "Wise Blood" portrays a series of unforgettably creepy losers in haunting, disturbing scenes. Hazel Motes, a soldier discharged from the army because of an injury, becomes a street-corner preacher for the nihilistic "Church Without Christ" (with a congregation of one). He meets, and can't shake off, a friendless and troubled adolescent, and the two of them subsequently encounter an alcoholic charlatan who pretends to be a blind preacher and who hopes somehow to take advantage of Hazel by getting him to marry his young daughter. Eventually, Hazel acquires a congregant for his atheistic church, but the first disciple rebels and sets up his own ministry. There's so much more that happens, and I certainly won't give away the finale, but those who have already read the book will be intrigued by the knowledge that O'Connor decided how to end the novel after reading Sophocles.
There's no doubt that "Wise Blood" is an influential, memorable novel--just barely short of a classic. Even its fans agree that the book seems disjointed at times--and that's because it was cobbled together from several disparate stories. The first chapter is an expanded version of her Master's thesis, "The Train"; and other chapters are reworked versions of "The Peeler," "The Heart of the Park," and "Enoch and the Gorilla." Sometimes an author can use this approach and jerry-rig previous works into a cohesive whole, but "Wise Blood"--while surely a work of genius--still feels like a patchwork quilt. Fortunately, O'Connor's portrayal of the eccentrics who populate her fictional town of Taulkingham saves the book from the distraction of its all-too-visible seams.
27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on June 15, 2000
Hazel Motes, protagonist of "Wise Blood," is an accidental prophet. Though the novel precedes the much better "The Violent Bear It Away," it can be read as a sort of sequel to that novel - what might have happened to young Tarwater if we were allowed to see his adventures in the city.
Motes goes around the city in the evenings, preaching the Church Without Christ, a church in which the individual is free from the 'bleeding stinking mad shadow of Jesus' - freed from tradition, from dogma, from traditional notions of salvation. Motes preaches the coming of a new Jesus - a contemporary that modern (or post-modern) people can relate to.
In his quest, Motes is pursued by two individuals, Sabbath Hawks, the daughter of a blind false prophet, and Enoch Emery, a wannabe disciple. Emery wants very badly to find that new Jesus and receive a revelation from him.
Full of strange and compelling, if somewhat distant characters, including a small mummy and a gorilla suit, "Wise Blood" does not have the plot flow of "The Violent Bear It Away," and it is a little more haphazard, but it is a wonderful first glance into Flannery O'Connor's genius fictional mind, possessed with finding Christ in existentialism with or without Kierkegaard.
30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on May 6, 2000
Flannery O'Connor's Wise Blood contains many reoccuring and undermining religious themes. Her main theme includes the redemption of man by Christ. She also depicts the grotesques in society through her use of her subject matter. O'Connor bluntly uses this religious theme to prove that redemption is difficult for her characters because of the distorted sense of moral purpose in her characters. Throughout her novel, a major emphasis is placed on materialsim and money. Through her use of imagery, symbols, and details, O'Connor produces the unbalanced prosperity of the society, which leaves little assurance to blissfulness in life.
Her protagonist, Hazel Motes, becomes a fated preacher or even prophet; however, Hazel rejects any form of Christ in his life including the image of himself. Even though it is rejected, his fate dominates him throughout the novel, and via his rejection of Christ, Hazel preaches the Church without Christ. Hazel finds that his reason for existence is to form the Church without Christ. Eventually, Hazel sacrifices everything in his life so as to not accept Christ which eventually destroys him. It would have been much better to sacrifice everything he had to begin with in order to accept Christ and let Christ take over from there. This would have prevented Hazel's destruction rooted from his rejection of Christ. This proves O'Connor's purpose of showing a society full of people who cannot accept Christ and who are, at most times, destroyed in some way in their attempt to reject their religious side.
O'Connor mocks evangelism and the all too popular "preachers for profits," who have no training in religion what so ever, in order to display her scorn for popularized anti-cerebral religion. Hazel, whose name is actually Hebrew for "he who sees God," ironically but purposefully covers himself with a figurative veil. This veil covers his soul and his senses from seeing Christ as He should be seen. His nickname, Haze, also proves his inability to see clearly.
Throughout this novel, Hazel runs into several people who perform mysterious acts of goodness for him trying to help Hazel find Grace. This is also ironic condiering that most of Hazel's acquaintances are profiteer preachers. Some of these acquaintances include: Asa Hawks, an ex-evangelist, who pretends to blind himself for sympathy and profit as he "hawks" for money around the city; Enoch Emery, the boy with "wise blood," who cannot find his inner self and becomes Hazel's follower in the Church without Christ; and Hoover Shoats, another profiteer preacher, who pretends to agree with Hazel's beliefs just to gain profit from it.
Haze's car is a major sumbol of the novel. This car becomes Hazel's "church." Hazel lives in his car and preaches from his car. His car becomes the "rock" which Hazel builds his church upon. He and his car become "one." After his car is destroyed, Hazel sees himself as destroyed. Hazel is weaned out of his fantasy/rejection world and into reality. He eventually forces himself to Christ as he sees he is "not clean." He begins his stage of repentance by blinding himself, stuffing his shoes with glass and rocks, and wrapping barbed wire around his chest. Inevitably, his destruction came.
This book was very revealing and well-written. O'Connor selects certain audences with the books she wrote. This book contains a majority of religion. A person who perfers not to read about religion probably ought to but will not want to. The way O'Connor incorporated her hidden themes into her novel provided the reader several ways to interpret her implied religious beliefs.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on April 27, 2002
What an insane book. It's really quite incredible. Flannery O'Connor found all the problems of society, injected them into absurdly weird yet decidedly realistic scenarios and made a book about it.
This book deals with obsession, self worth, and generally a whole bunch of people trying to escape themselves, or at least what they think defines themselves. And to boot, it can be terribly funny in a twisted way. Flannery O' Connor rocks.
It's about Hazel Motes and the various well defined characters that ram into his life, and he doesn't even notice them. There's the ... blind preacher's daughter, and the suburban washup teenager, and the blind preacher, who all play pivotal roles in Motes' existence, though again, he doesn't realize it. Hazel pretty much goes through the book living in his own world, even though he hates his head also. Motes, after all, is a strange character who is desperately seeking peace with himself, and as you'll see he never fails in punishing himself. He's obsessed with Christ and purity, yet he loathes Christianity and purity. So he creates the Church of Christ Without Christ, and as he tries to promote it, a series of terrifying and subtle events occur that will make you bugeyed with wonder and horror and disgust. He descends from what you would think is a good proper religious fanatic, to a degraded near maniacal individual, and that's what really captivates you, though O'Connor provides ample sideshows. And then, the end is as strange and satisfying as the rest of the book.
This is a strange crazy incredibly captivating and overwhelmingly intense book that only lasts a hundred or so pages, but after you'll probably run to Jane Austen. But then in their own funny ways, both Pride and Prejudice and Wise Blood are full of that irony that makes us think about what a bunch of hypocrites we can be to ourselves sometimes.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful. -Flannery O'Connor
Wise Blood is Flannery O'Connor's grotesque picaresque tale of Hazel Motes of Eastrod, Tennessee; a young man who has come to the city of Taulkinham bringing with him an enormous resentment of Christianity and the clergy. He is in an open state of rebellion against the rigidity of his itinerant preacher grandfather and his strict mother. So when one of the first people he encounters is the blind street preacher Asa Hawks and Motes finds himself both attracted and repelled by Hawks' bewitching fifteen year old daughter Lily Sabbath, he reacts by establishing his own street ministry. He founds the "Church without Christ":
Listen you people, I'm going to take the truth with me wherever I go. I'm going to preach it to whoever'll listen at whatever place. I'm going to preach there was no Fall because there was nothing to fall from and no Redemption because there was no Fall and no Judgment because there wasn't the first two. Nothing matters but that Jesus was a liar.
As you can guess the church is singularly unsuccessful, although he does attract a couple of other crackpots: Enoch Emery a young man who works at the zoo and longs for a kind word from anybody; and Onnie Jay Holy, yet another rival preacher who believes Motes when he says he's found a "new jesus."
While at first this cast of bizarre characters, ranging from merely repugnant to truly evil, and the scenes of physical, moral and spiritual degradation through which they pass all seem to be just a little too much, the reader is carried along by O'Connor's sure hand for dark comedy. The book is very funny. But as the story draws to a close, O'Connor's true mission is revealed; Motes loses his fight against faith and he achieves a kind of grace, becoming something like a Christian martyr to atone for his sins. O'Connor has something serious and important to say about the modern human condition and the emptiness of a life without faith. That she is able to disguise this message in such a ribald comic package is quite an achievement.
Reading the book inevitably called to mind Carson McCullers' dreadful book The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1940), which made the Modern Library Top 100 Novels of the Twentieth Century list. It too is a Southern gothic, populated by dismal misanthropes. But it is devoid of humor and has nothing to say about the characters and the world they've created. Wise Blood is a superior novel in every sense and really deserves that spot on the list.
29 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on June 5, 2000
If you're looking for religious literature in the hope and comfort vein, skip Wise Blood. I do, however, think that feel-good Christians on chummy terms with God might do well to remember that, according to a verse from Hebrews, "it's a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God." This is what happens to Hazel Motes, about as unsympathetic a protagonist as you're ever likely to clap eyes onto (the rest of the characters, no-hopers all, won't warm your heart much, either). In a book that's both wildly funny and profoundly thought-provoking, O'Connor pries up the rock of conventional religious belief and examines what lies underneath it. Read it.
21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on August 3, 2004
Like Hazel Motes, the main character of this book, who in thoroughly seeking to deny Christ in every which way, only ends up affirming Christ in a resonant, disturbingly real and existential way, this book works the same for those who both like and dislike it. This book, as a whole work, speaks a WORD. Those who toss it aside as "boring" or "ingratiating" only affirm this.
When I first read it, I had the same "ingratiating" feeling for a while. One thought that definitely occured to me was that I had never read anything like it before. It doesn't seek to thrill, empower the emotions, or to bring any "explorations" of "social issues". It is so grounded in the very unpleasant falleness of a southern town, that the movements that occur therein take on a kind of universal importance and impact; right down the most immature of dirty deeds there is an ATTENTION in the writing, for want of a better word; the "town" seems to fade away and a larger stage takes its place. Or it becomes like a small stage in the hands of larger one. No matter how much it turns to hell, no matter how much the characters go after their petty, selfish appetites, there is something there, hovering over and with, something that is not hell, but is felt as an absence, waiting. One thing that helps this notion in the book is the fact that the sins that take place do not have any staggering, overpowering decadence to them. They have a pathetic, last-minute meanness and rotten pettiness to them.
This is not a nihilistic yarn. Neither is it merely obsessed with absurdity, though absurdity does abound. This is not Kafka.
This book, as a creation, has such a homespun feeling, but completely devoid of flippancy. It is so thoroughly a piece of genuine craftmanship that it makes Evelyn Waugh look a little pale. It's hard to describe. Almost as though it were too simple for our conditioning and our complexities. It is really a novel apart from other novels. Reading this book is sort of like watching a long train sliding across a horizon. You look at the cargo, and there are brief flashes between the cars. And then something occurs that is like an understatement, but bigger than what you expected. The last car, the caboose, goes across your vision, and it underlines the horizon you now see in the absence of the train. In a word, the book, at least I think in part is about HOPE. Not superfical hope that gaurantees something with a complete picture. That would not be hope. But RADICAL hope. The hope that St. Paul speaks of. But the way this book gets this across is not in any way pushy. There are not very many books that are as undeniable as this one, yet without any definite words to explain why it is undeniable. Wiseblood is a novel alive unlike any other.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
In a letter to a friend, Flannery O' Connor noted that most Christian writers have the tendency to turn their writing into "apologetic fiction"--meaning, in short, that the majority of Catholic novelists feel an undue obligation toward the public to soften (or change entirely the actual doctrines of Original Sin, Redemption, etc for the average reader's benefit. Though this letter dates from May of 1963, O' Connor's prophetic remark has only been proven more legitimate with time. As a Roman Catholic I have more than once wanted to vomit reading the well-intentioned attempts of both priests and lay people who do not write books but smear frosting on the mysterious, quite serious matters of Christian spirituality. This phenomenon is the result of believers who feel the constant need to appease the mass of readers who instinctually reject Christianity, often for reasons unbeknownst to themselves.
What makes "Wise Blood" so special is that within the scope of 131 terrifying (and drop dead hilarious) pages we learn that Miss O' Connor intends to make us familiar with a different company of Christians indeed. Haze Motes may be disturbed, but he is as uncompromising a believer/non believer as they come. A boy who once put rocks in his shoes as penance for sin, he is now as intent on getting that ragged, shadowy figure moving in the trees out of his mind and soul by any means necessary. O' Connor puts him in the town of Taulkinham--a Southern version of Dante's Inferno.
Here he encounters every manner of depravity: prostition ("Momma don't care if you ain't a preacher!") false witness to God (Asa Hawks,a "blind" preacher with a news clipping that does not include his whole history) and Sabbath Lily Hawks, who is often misread as being a mere whore when in fact she is one of the more sympathetic and lovable characters in the story. Perhaps the most hopeless of this crew is Enoch Emery, a deranged adolescent who is disowned by his father and who wanders the streets merely to be around people. He is so desperately lonely that one point he steals a Gorilla suit from the local museum just to endear himself to the general population.
Out of all the false prophets and madness, Haze is the most fiercely lucid and his anger is actually righteous, for all his talk about "The Church of Christ Without Christ". Each attempt he makes at becoming a horrible sinner fires him in the exact opposite direction. One might say he is an Albigensian of sorts, a Christian turned inside out, but apart from one appalling act he is never quite far enough from Christ to earn that title. His sin and blasphemy fuel his madness and vice versa, until...
While to most his act of redemption will seem like nothing but madness, it is no less an authentic act of moral outrage than Sophocles' Oedipus. The difference is that Oedipus was acting on a principle of despair, whereas the hope Haze never could not leave behind broils to the breaking point and shows him exactly what he is.
The point is that for Haze, Christ is all or nothing. There is no middle of the road, no middle class preening, no posing or falsehood. There is not one bit of falsehood in his being.
This certainly ranks up there with the greatest literature produced by Faulkner as far as the climate of the South goes. This is one of the greatest novels of the 20th century, perhaps more relevant now than ever.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on December 29, 2007
I enjoy a lot of Irish writers and even though I have known the name Flannery O'Connor for a long time,this is the first time I have actually read this author. I ,like others ,assumed Flannery was a man and Irish.Before reading this novel,I checked the Amazon customer reviews and was completely surprised . Then, with some research on the net, that Flannery was a young woman of only 27 when she wrote this book,and rather than being Irish,was from an Old Deep South Catholic family,born in Savannah,Georgia. She was born in 1925,surrounded by poor whites in a Protestant area,left home at 18,graduated from college,wrote mainly Southern Gothic short stories,only 2 novels.She had a great interest in domestic birds,peacocks,pheasants,swans,geese,chickens and Moscovy Ducks. After college she lived on a family farm with her mother,outside Millidville Georgia.She was also a good painter. She was quite frail,never married,like her father,she contacted Lupus and died very young at only 39,in 1964. Her mother outlived her for many years. It is still possible to visit the farm in Millidville,Ga.She had a deep and knowledgeable faith.
As I read this book ,I was continually reminded of other writers such as James Joyce,Erskine Caldwell,Faulkner,Erskine Caldwell,Steinbeck and even some of those bible -thumping movies such as Elmer Gantry.
This is all about having or not having faith. O'Connor understands the difference between Faith and Religion and shows what a difficult thing it can be when someone lacks real faith and attempts to develop one's own through rationalization.Flannery does not make any attempt to preach or conince the reader one way or the other about faith,but she does an admiral job of showing how difficult and all encompassing it can be for some people who have doubts and try to resolve them.
While Flannery's life was all too short ;and we are all the poorer for that;she is remembered by words like these;
"Everything that rises must converge."
"Grace changes us and change is painful."