GROTESQUE SYMBOLISM

Sight and blindness

Sight and blindness are two parallels throughout the novel that are perhaps the most important symbols in Wise Blood. Hazel Motes is appropriately nicknamed ‘Haze’ as he moves through the novel in fierce denial of “the wild ragged figure” in the back of his mind representing God. Haze’s eyes lead him through a world full of sin, which he associates with Christ. Marshall Bruce Gentry suggests that Haze’s association of religion and sin combined with his strong denial are what contribute to his teleology as a character and as a believer. His self-delusion is physically manifested in Haze’s own physical features. His eyes are described by Sabbath Lily Hawkes and the woman Haze meets on the train who says “their settings were so deep that they seemed, to her, almost like passages leading somewhere and she leaned across the space that separated the two seats, trying to see into them.” When Haze blinds himself at the end of the novel, he begins to act with greater clarity than before. He inflicts gruesome self-torture upon himself by putting broken glass inside his own shoes and wrapping barbed wire around his chest in repentance to the same force he tried to satisfy as a child. Everyone but Haze can see what he is. Sabbath says “I seen you wouldn’t never have no fun or let anybody else because you didn’t want nothing but Jesus.”[1]

 

The car

The brown Essex that Haze purchases for $40 in the novel represents a number of different elements in Wise Blood. Firstly, the Essex is yet another way for Haze to escape what he is in denial of. “Nobody with a good car needs to be justified”[2], says Haze of the rat-coloured vehicle. Here consumer products are a commodity set on a par with religion.

The lack of control Haze has over the vehicle as he travels down the highway is again a reminder that Haze is following an unwavering teleological path; “he had the sense that the road was really slipping back under him”[3]. After he murders Solace Layfield, his alter ego and a follower of the Church of Christ, seemingly without any guilt or pursing conscience, he wipes the blood off the vehicle and drives away. The destruction of the vehicle is a catalyst for Haze’s realisation of the truth.

 

Sin and Sex

Sex is heavily intertwined with the idea of sin in Wise Blood. As a child Haze witnesses a naked woman in a box at a carnival that came to his town. After being heavily reprimanded by his mother, Haze walked home with rocks in his shoes in order to “satisfy” the God his family spoke of. Later in the novel, Haze visits “the friendliest bed in town”, in the home of Miss Leora Watts. Haze uses this as another way of denying Christ what he states he does not need Jesus because he has Leora Watts. Sex and Sin are important themes to one another as it is Haze’s participation in these sinful acts with the women in Wise Blood that lead him to the crux of his belief. Marshall Bruce Gentry believes this is why Haze acts as he does. “His grandfather led Hazel to associate sin with Jesus, and his mother taught Hazel to associate sin with sex”[4], thereby in his denial of Christ and sin he becomes closer than ever to the force that he ends up in repentance to.


[1] O’Connor, Flannery, Wise Blood, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2007, p. 188

[2] O’Connor, Flannery, Wise Blood, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2007, p. 72

[3] O’Connor, Flannery, Wise Blood, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2007, p. 209

[4] Gentry, Marshall Bruce. ‘The Eye vs. The Body: Individual and Communal Grotesquerie in “Wise Blood”, Modern Fiction Studies, 28:3, p. 490

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