Thursday, July 12, 2007


My second book for the Southern Reading Challenge is Wise Blood, published in 1952 by Flannery O’Connor. Wise Blood is the grotesque comic tale of Hazel Motes who, in a twisted spiritual quest, starts his own church: a church without Jesus Christ.

"‘Church of Christ!’ Haze repeated. ‘Well, I preach the Church Without Christ. I’m member and preacher to that church where the blind don’t see and the lame don’t walk and what’s dead stays that way. Ask me about that church and I’ll tell you it’s the church that the blood of Jesus don’t foul with redemption.’"

The novel is populated by a host of unlikeable characters—con-artist preachers, a shrunken mummy, Gonga the gorilla, and other assorted misfits—and the plot includes scenes of illicit sex, self-flagellation, unapologetic racism and murder. But it is also a novel about the miracle and mystery of God’s grace, for after vigorously denying Jesus and seeking out sin for nearly the entire novel, and after engaging in a gross act of self-mutilation, Hazel Motes achieves salvation in the end.

In the author’s note to the second edition, O’Connor states: "That belief in Christ is to some a matter of life and death has been a stumbling block for readers who would prefer to think it a matter of no great consequence. For them Hazel Motes’ integrity lies in his trying with such vigor to get rid of the ragged figure who moves from tree to tree in the back of his mind. For the author Hazel’s integrity lies in his not being able to." It is apparent that for the author, the idea of integrity is at the core of this novel.

Others have described the book as having a variety of themes: it can be read simply as a comedy of grotesques (the so-called "Southern Gothic" genre), for it is comedic and has many grotesque elements. It can also be read as a philosophical novel, for it presents opposing views of reality and asks the reader to resolve the conflict. It can even be read as a social text, for the novel captures the South at a time of great tension, when, after World War II, the rural and cosmopolitan populations were clashing, and tent-revival preachers encountered big city marketing. Finally, some say that Wise Blood can also be read as an unusual case study of heresy and redemption; however, I felt like O'Connor did not offer enough of a background or biography of Motes to explain the psychological and spiritual crises that have brought the character to such a state of "grotesqueness."

This is one of those books that I wish I liked more than I did.

3 Comments:

Blogger Maggie said...

I'm struggling a little with her short stories right now. I'm in the want to like it more than I actually do boat, too. The word "ni**er" is very off-putting to me. I'm not sure why this is, she is depicting characters in thier truest form, but I guess I just don't want to hear/read it.

The hat thing has got me a little puzzled, too. Does she give you clues to the man/woman under the hat by how it sits on his/her head? She goes into great hat detail in every story. In one of the hatless stories she lets me know the preacher, knee deep in the river, is hatless. What symbol is the hat playing? :D

10:23 AM  
Blogger M-M-M-Mishy said...

"This is one of those books that I wish I liked more than I did."

I know the feeling. I haven't read this book, but I've read other books where I feel that I'm supposed to like it, yet don't.

10:30 AM  
Blogger sage said...

I've only read her short stories. I know I've mentioned somewhere (maybe here) on the web about Ralph Wood's "Flanner O'Connor and the Christ-Haunted South" I read his work with her short-stories and found it very helpful in interpreting her writings.

One of the humorous ones he quotes from Wise Blook--from the character Hazel Mote: "nobody with a good car needs to be justified by Jesus."

7:13 AM  

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