- Series: FSG Classics
- Paperback: 256 pages
- Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Reissue edition (March 6, 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0374530637
- ISBN-13: 978-0374530631
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 13.3 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 195 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #20,650 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Wise Blood: A Novel (FSG Classics) Paperback – March 6, 2007
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Wise Blood is a comedy with a fierce, Old Testament soul. Flannery O'Connor has no truck with such newfangled notions as psychology. Driven by forces outside their control, her characters are as one-dimensional--and mysterious--as figures on a frieze. Hazel Motes, for instance, has the temperament of a martyr, even though he spends most of the book trying to get God to go away. As a child he's convinced that "the way to avoid Jesus was to avoid sin." When that doesn't work, and when he returns from Korea determined "to be converted to nothing instead of evil," he still can't go anywhere without being mistaken for a preacher. (Not that the hat and shiny glare-blue suit help.) No matter what Hazel does, Jesus moves "from tree to tree in the back of his mind, a wild ragged figure motioning him to turn around and come off into the dark..."
Adrift after four years in the service, Hazel takes a train to the city of Taulkinham, buys himself a "rat-colored car," and sets about preaching on street corners for the Church Without Christ, "where the blind don't see and the lame don't walk and what's dead stays that way." Along the way he meets Enoch Emery, who's only 18 years old but already works for the city, as well the blind preacher Asa Hawks and his illegitimate daughter, Sabbath Lily. (Her letter to an advice column: "Dear Mary, I am a bastard and a bastard shall not enter the kingdom of heaven as we all know, but I have this personality that makes boys follow me. Do you think I should neck or not?") Subsequent events involve a desiccated, centuries-old dwarf--Gonga the Giant Jungle Monarch--and Hazel's nemesis, Hoover Shoats, who starts the rival Church of Christ Without Christ. If you think these events don't end happily, you might be right.
Wise Blood is a savage satire of America's secular, commercial culture, as well as the humanism it holds so dear ("Dear Sabbath," Mary Brittle writes back, "Light necking is acceptable, but I think your real problem is one of adjustment to the modern world. Perhaps you ought to re-examine your religious values to see if they meet your needs in Life.") But the book's ultimate purpose is Religious, with a capital R--no metaphors, no allusions, just the thing itself in all its fierce glory. When Hazel whispers "I'm not clean," for instance, O'Connor thinks he is perfectly right. For readers unaccustomed to holding low comedy and high seriousness in their heads at the same time, all this can come as something of a shock. Who else could offer an allegory about free will, redemption, and original sin right alongside the more elemental pleasure of witnessing Enoch Emery dress up in a gorilla suit? Nobody else, that's who. And that's OK. More than one Flannery O'Connor in this world might show us more truth than we could bear. --Mary Park
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Bronson Pinchot turns in a virtuosic performance of O'Connor's darkly comic classic first novel. After serving a stint in the army, Hazel Motes finds himself adrift, alone, and rent by spiritual confusion. Pinchot's narration is superb: dynamic, well paced, and infused with a perfect Southern drawl. Instead of simply creating voices for the characters, Pinchot embodies them. His Hazel is nasty, nasally, and angry; his Enoch Emery boasts a congested twang; and the entire cast is likewise brought to life by Pinchot's precise and perceptive characterizations and his brilliant evocation of O'Conner's grotesqueries. A Farrar, Straus, and Giroux paperback. (Aug.)
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Indeed she is a southern Gothic satirist, a Catholic woman who loves her assorted collection of losers and understands them intimately even if at first the reader does not. She loves so much, it hurts. He works reminds me of Nathaniel West's books in their presentation of human depravity. I am reminded of the comment that Nathaniel West's mother wrote to him about his work,(But Nathan , why does everything you write have to say "stink-stink-stink"?) In Miss O'Connor's work it says "compassion-compassion-compassion."
Unlike another great Southern Belle writer, Patricia Highsmith, Flannery O'Connor empathizes with the condition of her characters without presenting an obvious solution. Pat hates with sublime purity but effectively presents her case. Pat offers no remedies and Nathaniel West offers only an existential nihilism. Another southern Gothic writer, Carson McCullers deals with many of the same themes but in a more traditional story telling manner. But Miss O'Connor has adopted an almost medieval morality play style to exhibit her characters in a madcap satirical frenzy.
Symbolism abounds, and I suppose that you can say upon finishing this book you cried until you laughed.
O'Connor calls Wise Blood a "comic novel" and there are many instances of comedy throughout the novel. It is typical of O'Connor's fiction in the sense that she peoples it with unforgettable characters with unique tendencies and physical abnormalities, some of which are actually quite humorous. There is a distinct sense of tragic irony, also a hallmark of O'Connor, in the character of Hazel Motes. His suffering is quite justifiable, and he is rather unlikable as a character, but we can sympathize with him in many instances of misfortune. Enoch too is a tragic character because he is sadly neglected by Hazel, even though he cries out for attention and especially acceptance, something Enoch has never really had.
Many issues are also addressed in Wise Blood that are typical of Southern Literature of the 1950s, specifically racism, police brutality and the overzealous religiosity of the South.
A recurring motif in the novel is blindness. Hazel Motes' own name suggests blindness, itself being a Biblical reference: "Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye." (Matthew 7:5, KJV). No less than two characters in the novel suffer blindness by their own hands and Hazel himself seems to wander around blindly preaching his own gospel, perhaps only because his life lacks definition after returning from the war. So too are many of the characters blindsided by unforeseen circumstances that ruin their lives.
In Wise Blood, O'Connor has drafted a modern Southern Gothic parable about faith and spiritual malaise. The novel is rich with characterization and deep symbolisms. Though it is a Christian novel, O'Connor herself being Roman Catholic, this is an enigmatic read for Christians and non-Christians alike.
So how does "Wise Blood" stand up after all these years? It's still laugh out loud funny in several passages, despite being consistently and austerely bleak throughout. On the down side, the major characters seem to be smitten with Asperger Syndrome and obsessive compulsive disorder, while the secondary characters all seem to be scheming rednecks. But O'Conner consistently hits the nail on the head in her observations of human behavior. Also, her portrayal of grace and faith as unpleasant, inescapable afflictions hit home, and are of a piece with verses from Jeremiah and Isaiah.