Tonight, I just finished reading Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood. I had been meaning to read this novel for quite some time, but was persuaded by Terry Teachout, who ranked it as one of his Fifteen books in fifteen minutes.
Wise Blood is defiantly a fascinating novel that peers into the depths of one man’s tortured soul, in his quest to find/run away from God. The novel is quite short and for me read smoothly. The story focuses on Hazel Motes, who after being discharged from the army is wondering around the fictional town of Taulkinham, trying to convert the local residents to his: “Church Without Christ”. Mote’s main doctrinal beliefs appear to be that the lame do not walk, the blind do not see, and so on. It’s easy to view Motes as an absolute nihilist. And as the novel progresses, Motes becomes meaner and darker- to the point that it’s nearly impossible to feel sorry for him. Another character, Enoch Emery, is an eighteen year old who is abandoned by his father and lives in Taulkingham. He has no friends and quickly attempts to bond with Motes. There is also a blind preacher, his wayward daughter, and a rival preacher named Hoover Shoats who founds: “The Holy Church Of Christ Without Christ” in an attempt to capitalize on the perception of Motes being a “prophet” in order to make a profit.
This being my first experience with O’Connor’s writing, I was really not sure what to expect. The novel ended up being much more depressing than I thought it would. As many of the other reviewers note, there is not much in the way of character development in the story; nearly the beginning, we get a little background on Motes, that casts him in a sympathetic light, but shortly after he quickly loses it. Aside of Emory, many of the other characters drift in and out of the story, seemly just to affect Motes, without little character traits. For the most part, I think O’Connor was looking to argue/promote different philosophical and theological arguments, and just used the characters as vessels for that. All of the characters seem to identify with different aspects of protestant theology. Having grown up as a protestant, I found some of the characteristics of the preachers as funny and sad. All throughout my childhood, my mother had us watch various television preachers. We always had the Trinity Broadcasting Network. Many of the people who appear on that network could easily have found themselves in this novel. The TBN southern evangelical type of protestantism is at the heart of TBN. Of course, O’Connor seems to see these types of individuals as crooks and quite frankly heretics… O’Connor, a catholic in a time and region that did not take kindly to Catholics. I’m not sure I would quite label Paul Crouch as a hieratic, but he defiantly has the whiff of Hoover Shoats about him.
One of the other noteworthy aspects of this novel is the Southern setting. O’Connor had a wonderful ear for dialogue, and is able to perfectly capture the southern dialects. I would say that Mark Twain easily as well writes O’Connor’s dialogue as anything I’ve read.
I highly recommend this book. It’s not pretty and it will not leave you with a happy feeling at the end. But, the prose is beautiful. And, while not well “rounded” the characters depict Christianity in their own unique ways.