Friday, August 07, 2020

The Denial

Wise Blood
"The black sky was underpinned with long silver streaks that looked like scaffolding and depth on depth behind it were thousands of stars that all seemed to be moving very slowly as if they were about some vast construction work that involved the whole order of the universe and would take time to complete."(p 33)

The title that I would suggest for this book is "The Denial". Not that Wise Blood is not appropriate, as it refers to the "wise blood" of Enoch Emery, one of the group of prominent characters in the book. It is rather because I believe that "The Denial" better represents the character of Hazel Motes who is the protagonist of the novel. The moment that Enoch Emery is overcome by his "wise blood" is surely powerful: "He had come to the city and--with a knowing in his blood--he had established himself at the heart of it."(p 76) On the other hand Hazel, by the end of the novel, is engulfed by his denial of his own body in his attempt to achieve a spiritual epiphany.

To reach that point of denial you have to go back to the beginning of the story where we meet Hazel Motes:
"Hazel Motes sat at a forward angle on the green plush train seat, looking one minute at the window as if he might want to jump out of it, and the next down the aisle at the other end of the car."(p 3)
Thus we meet a young man on the beginning of a journey. It is a journey fleeing from his past as much as it is one going forward toward a future filled with new people and changes in his own character.
Hazel, it turns out, is a man on a mission to preach of new and perverse sort of gospel to anyone who will listen whether they respond or not. This hearkens back to his grandfather who was a preacher "with Jesus hidden in his head like a stinger."(p 14) Hazel had lost his brothers and father to death, and had seen more death and indifference toward life while in the Army, but he was determined to follow in his grandfather's footsteps.

The story is a picaresque tale filled with unusual characters including a whore; a blind preacher named Asa with his daughter, Sabbath Lily; and Enoch Emery, a slow boy who is also on a mission moved by his inner blood that is wiser than any one else's as he proclaims to Hazel:
"'You act like you got wiser blood than anybody else,' he said, 'but you ain't! I'm the one has it. Not you, Me!'"(p 55) What they both share is a mission although they are on different paths with different missions and seemingly do not even speak the same language, or at least cannot understand each other.

As with all of Flannery O'Connor's fiction, there is an underlying message of the importance of faith and belief. The need for redemption from the sin of this world is demonstrated with a prose style that is fixated on the realities of life. However, in demonstrating this reality the author distorts it with the result often being grotesque characters and situations. She does not shy away from portraying the violence that people do to each other both physical and psychological. Ultimately, it is up to the reader to decide what the outcome of the story is -- whether any particular character is doomed to hell or redeemed by grace. All told, she presents a riveting story with unpredictable events and decisions that retain an aura of the believable while engendering puzzlement and a sort of quandary as to the meaning of it all. This reader found it both engaging and challenging in a good way, that is the questions that remain are valuable because they pertain to the most fundamental aspects of your life.

Wise Blood: A Novel by Flannery O'Connor. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007 (1952) 



Brian Joseph said...

I have not read O'Connor but I have meaning to for awhile. It seems that the better writers who do advocate for faith and belief tend to mix this in with the ugly side of humanity.

Strange characters often keep a book interesting.

James said...

Thanks for your observation. Flannery O'Connor is an amazing storyteller who happens to be writing from a Catholic Christian perspective. I found her novel thought-provoking for anyone who is interested in exploring the nature of meaning in life.

Marian H said...

Enoch was a favorite character of mine from the short stories! Really like your summary - I've got to read this one...