Wise Blood, Flannery O’Connor’s astonishing and haunting first novel, is a classic of twentieth-century literature. It is a story of Hazel Motes, a twenty-two-year-old caught in an unending struggle against his innate, desperate faith. He falls under the spell of a “blind” street preacher named Asa Hawks and his degenerate fifteen-year-old daughter, Lily Sabbath. In an ironic, malicious gesture of his own non-faith, and to prove himself a greater cynic than Hawkes, Hazel Motes founds The Church of God Without Christ, but is still thwarted in his efforts to lose God. He meets Enoch Emery, a young man with “wise blood,” who leads him to a mummified holy child, and whose crazy maneuvers are a manifestation of Hazel’s existential struggles. This tale of redemption, retribution, false prophets, blindness, blindings, and wisdoms gives us one of the most riveting characters in twentieth-century American fiction.
I did not get this book at all. I have so little understanding of it that I felt like I couldn’t do an accurate summary, hence the Goodreads summary. It took me about three weeks (!) to read this fairly short book, and it was grueling. I’ve been super busy with school, too, and it was so offsetting to start to sit down and read it.
I think I overestimated my ability to stomach classics. I understand there’s a ton of symbolism, I got the gist of some of it, but it was entirely too deep for my mind to wrap around the concepts of the book.
I gathered that Hazel Motes basically pushed himself so far away from Christ by preaching because he secretly wanted to be saved. He had a fascination with Asa Hawks because he “blinded” himself for his faith, and I think Hazel wished that he could believe in something that strongly, but he believed Jesus was a trick so he decided to go in the exact opposite direction.
Blindness is an obvious motif, most likely pertaining to the incorrect interpretation of religion and the allusion to biblical stories. Hazel is definitely a strange character, and the city in Alabama that it’s setting is described as dirty and depressing. Basically, all the characters are strange and very… gross, I guess.
The writing style was done in a way that I hardly could understand anything. It was very abstract and repeated a couple key phrases a lot, but I couldn’t figure out what they were symbols for. The dialogue is abrupt and choppy, and it’s difficult to understand the motives behind the actions to most of the characters. Flannery O’Connell focuses more on their behaviors and less on their thought processes, and this made the odd things they did even more confusing.
The story is also depressing, what little I could understand.
And let me just tell you my biggest failure pertaining to this book. Enoch Emery.
Hazel meets Enoch Emery, the boy with “wise blood,” and he comes back to cameo a couple of times and plays an important role towards the end of the novel.
I don’t understand Enoch Emery in the slightest. I didn’t understand what he was doing, why he was doing it, and how he related to the rest of the story. I think he was supposed to be an external reflection of Hazel’s internal turmoil, but I don’t understand anything he did. I didn’t even half understand it.
The book is named Wise Blood because of this character, and I didn’t get a single thing he did at all. It’s pathetic how much I didn’t understand, because I’m pretty sure I missed a huge chuck of the plot. Oh well.
So, yes. I couldn’t even write an accurate review on it because I understood it so little. If you want to read it, good luck.