This document is part of the Festschrift in Honor of Charles Speel, edited by Thomas J. Sienkewicz and James E. Betts and published by Monmouth College in Monmouth, Illinois in 1997. The Table of Contents for this volume can be accessed here. If you have any questions, you may contact Tom Sienkewicz at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Search for Authenticity
in Flannery O'Connor's Wise Blood
Charles C. Forman
The serpent persuaded Adam and Eve that if they ate of the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge they would not die, as the Lord God had said they would. Rather, their eyes would be opened, and like God, they would be able to discern good and evil. Indeed, their eyes were opened; they discovered their nakedness, and they came to know shame. In the colorful language of the Geneva version of the Bible our Puritan forebears read the story in these words: "Then the eyes of them bothe were opened, & they knewe that they were naked, and they sewed the figtre leaues together, and made them selues breeches" (Gen. 3:7). The story continues:
The man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze and hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, "Where are you?" He replied, "I heard the sound as you were walking in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked, and I hid myself." God answered, "Who told you that you were naked?" (Gen. 3:8-11a)
The disobedience of Adam and Eve thus led to their expulsion from Eden and God placed the cherubim to guard the way to the Tree of Life. Thus, since they could not gain access to the Tree of Life the serpent became the liar par excellence, for death was indeed decreed for Adam and Eve and their seed forever. The story echoes the conviction that ran deep in Mesopotamian thought that when the gods created humankind they appointed to them death, while retaining immortality for themselves.
Thus it was that life got under way in a fallen world. In the course of time Cain and Abel quarreled and fratricide became a fact in human experience. Cain bearing the mark of alienation, became a wanderer upon the earth. The world grew old, knowing no end to wickedness, so that God regretted that he had created humankind. He resolved to send a flood; he would cleanse the earth of the stain of human life. But there was Noah, a righteous man whom God could not ignore. So God altered his plan, and Noah and his kindred were preserved, a righteous remnant to serve God upon the earth.
Time passed, and the world grew old, and human evil rose like a stench to heaven. Pride and unrestrained ambition held the imaginations of men and women in their thrall, until the day that they resolved to build a city and a tower reaching heaven, so that they might discover the secrets of the gods, and thus make a name for themselves. Here is the story:
Then the Lord God came down to see the city and tower which mortal men had built, and he said, "Here they are, one people with a single language, and now they have started to do this; henceforward nothing they have in mind to do will be beyond their reach. Come, let us go down there and confuse their speech, so that they will not understand what they say to one another." So the Lord dispersed them. . . and they left off building the city. That is why it is called Babel, because the Lord make a babble of the language of all the world, and from that place the Lord scattered men all over the face of the earth (Gen. 11:5-9).
The fallen world is an accursed world, then, but a world, too, that is haunted, charged
with mystery, with holiness, with terror.
The Southern Bible Belt is a place and it is a condition; it is here that all Flannery O'Connor's stories are located. A generation ago Robert Detweiler (1965:235) wrote:
Flannery O'Connor once said that the South is not Christ-centered but Christ-haunted and that "ghosts cast strange shadows, very fierce shadows, particularly in our literature." She could scarcely have chosen a better image to describe her own fiction, for it is there, in her stories and novels, that the specters of sin, guilt, and judgement are incarnated and quickened in violent, perverse and monstrous form to plague our uneasy, godless era. Her art illustrates the observation of Paul Tillich that "Now, in the old age of our secular world, we have seen the most horrible manifestation of those daemonic images; we have looked more deeply into the mystery of evil than most generations before us; we have seen the unconditioned devotion of millions to a satanic image; we feel our period's sickness unto death."
Not to be dismissed is the powerful use of allegory in O'Connor's work. Jan Whitt (1994:68) makes an important observation that informs our reading of O'Connor when she says of the modern southern novelists that they ". . . can only tell and retell the story of a Christlike figure in modern society through allegory."
We have another view of O'Connor and her world from the monk, Thomas Merton (1964:50-51) who, himself, spent several years in his Cistercian Community in Gethsemene, Kentucky and wrote this tribute after her death:
Now Flannery is dead, and I will write her name with honor, with love for the great slashing innocence of that dry-eyed irony that could keep her looking the South in the face without bleeding or even sobbing. Her South was deeper than mine, crazier than Kentucky, but with no other madness than the paranoia that is all over the place, including the North! Only madder, craftier, hung up in wilder and more absurd legends, more inventive of more outrageous lies!. . . Their world was a big, fantastic, crawling, exploding junk pile of despair. I will write her name with honor for seeing so clearly and looking straight at it without remorse. Perhaps her way of irony was the only possible catharsis for a madness so cruel and so endemic. Perhaps a dry honesty like hers can save the South more simply than the North can ever be saved.
O'Connor was born in Savannah in 1925. Her family belonged to the small and old Georgian Roman Catholic minority, and she, herself, was educated in the parochial schools in Savannah. She was in her first teens when her father became fatally ill with disseminated lupus, prompting the family to leave Savannah to live in Mrs. O'Connor's family home in Milledgeville, where Edward O'Connor died in 1941. After graduating from Georgia State College for Women, Flannery O'Connor went to the University of Iowa Writer's Workshop where she took her Master's degree in 1947.
O'Connor was already a published writer, her first story, "The Geranium," having appeared in 1946. Other stories followed regularly, appearing in Mademoiselle, Harper's Bazaar, and other journals. After a time in New York City, O'Connor went to live in Connecticut where she finished writing Wise Blood. It was in 1950 when the first signs of a health problem appeared; the symptoms were familiar enough--lupus! Medical treatment in Atlanta and her mother's care brought her through the first attack. The following year she returned to Georgia, to her mother's country place, Andalusia Farm, which was henceforth to be her permanent home. Here she raised peacocks and other exotic birds, wrote steadily, and during respites from her illness entertained guests, travelled to lecture and to participate in symposia, and carried on an extensive correspondence.
Recognition came with a series of literary awards and with growing critical acclaim. By 1955 O'Connor was obliged to use crutches, but another respite in her illness allowed for further lectures and readings, and in the spring of 1963 she journeyed to Smith College to receive an honorary degree. That was, sadly, her last appearance in public. She died in 1964 at the age of thirty-nine, before her final book of short stories appeared.
O'Connor's strategy is to shock, to embarrass, and even to outrage her readers. The epigraph she put at the beginning of her second novel, Matthew 11:12, fits all of her work: "From the days of John the Baptist until now, the Kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away." She once wrote about her sense of vocation as writer and as Christian declaring that Christian orthodoxy was her point of departure and therefore all meaning in life starts with the fact of our redemption by Christ. The novelist who is Christian must take the distortions of modern life that most of one's audience regard as normal and make that audience see them for what they are.
When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax a little and use more normal ways of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock--to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost blind you draw large startling figures.1
Her major themes include the folly of self-justification; the failure of modern ersatz saviors: reason, success, sex, materialism in its myriad forms; the vanity of trusting in Leora Watts, a wizened mummy, a rat-gray Essex, or any other placebo we might name; and that there is the dark side of God whose grace sometimes wounds before it heals. Indeed, one meets in her stories the Christ whose coming is truly awful, who haunts those whom he calls, and who makes of them strangers and displaced persons, wanderers in an alien world.
What an array of characters O'Connor gives us! There are grotesques, freaks, fanatics, and warners who come preaching a grim, harsh message: the Kingdom of God is at hand, the day of judgment is near, apocalypse is now. Sometimes they are more certain of the Devil than of God. Then there are the atheists, and the phonies who make an easy dollar in the religion game, the conventionally religious who never let their religion get out of hand, the unconcerned, enlightened drop-outs. Finally, there are the rationalists who have outgrown religion, overcoming any sense of transcendence, and who are represented by some of O'Connor's best-drawn characters, evoking her highest satirical powers. Of them Jonathan Baumbach (1963:334) has written:
. . . her central characters do not fall from innocence. They are fallen at the outset and more, doomed, through an infested world of. . . evil, until at the heart of darkness they discover light (or God) and through renunciation and extreme penance achieve redemption. . . .
Vision is one of the central metaphors in O'Connor's work. Some of the characters boast of their clear-sightedness, some suffer from impaired vision, and sometimes the sighted are truly blind, while the blind are made to see. Enoch Emery could see with unusual clarity made strong by wise blood he had inherited from his daddy. Sabbath Lily had clear vision; Asa Hawks, the professedly blind preacher, saw with remarkable acuity!
Some of O'Connor's people can't see. Hazel Motes has his mother's spectacles, but still his vision is limited, and one feels that Mrs. Flood begins to see for the first time as Wise Blood ends. O'Connor uses seeing in a variety of metaphorical senses. One of the best examples is found in her short story, "The Displaced Person," when Father Flynn notices the peacock near by. The cock raised his tail so that, spread out it created "a green-gold haze over his head." Mrs. McIntire saw the priest transfixed and ". . . wondered where she had ever seen such an idiotic old man. 'Christ will come, like that!' he said in a loud gay voice." But Mrs. McIntire saw no epiphany, no sure sign of Christ's return, but simply a silly old man and a peacock. Just at that moment she would have gladly been rid of them both!
In the story entitled "A Good Man is Hard to Find," we have an example of another central concern that one finds in O'Connor's work--it is the problem of Christ. The Misfit has just killed four people and he is about to kill the old woman. She has been talking steadily for some moments but suddenly her words refuse to come and she is reduced to crying enigmatically, "Jesus, Jesus." Is she cursing or is she praying? In any event, the Misfit takes up the question of Jesus: "Jesus thrown everything off balance." And a little later, the Misfit says:
Jesus was the only One that ever raised the dead, and he shouldn't. He thrown everything off balance. If He did what He said, then it's nothing for you to do but throw away everything and follow Him, and if He didn't, then it's nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can--by killing somebody or burning his house or doing some other meanness to him. . . .
Hazel Motes is determined to found the The Church Without Christ, notwithstanding Asa Hawks warning that he can't run away from Jesus, because "Jesus is a fact." Jesus is, indeed, the central concern for all Miss O'Connor's obsessed people. His image is everywhere distorted, broken, torn, but it draws all eyes to it, and that distorted image of Christ is better than the void where there is no Christ at all.
Another theme is the occurrence of grace, and there Flannery O'Connor comes to the heart of the religious experience, the border land between the sacred and the profane.
In his classic study, The Idea of the Holy, Rudolf Otto (1923) articulates the central notion of religious experience--it is the encounter with the holy. The Bible is replete with such moments. Hagar, fleeing from her mistress, and found in the Wilderness of Shur by an angel of the Lord bringing tidings of destiny, could only cry "I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved." (Gen. 17:13) Jacob passing the night at Bethel, awoke from his dream saying: "Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not. And she was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! There is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven." (Gen. 28:16-17) Two decades later, at a critical juncture in his life he would wrestle with a Stranger in the night hours and exact from him a blessing. The place he afterward called Penuel for, he said: "I have seen God face to face and yet my life is preserved." (Gen. 32:30) Moses turned aside to see the wonderful sight of the bush that burned and was not consumed. His wonder turned to dread when God called to him: "Do not come near. . . the place. . . is holy ground." The narrator assures us that Moses covered his face for he was afraid to look at God. Elijah, too, covered his face when God passed by his cave on Mount Horeb, and Isaiah in the Temple saw the vision of God enthroned in heaven and could only cry, "Woe is me! for I am undone. . . mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts." (Is. 6:5)
The encounter with holiness at the heart of religious experience is described as fascinorum et tremendum, awsome and terrible. In the Old Testament it is named "the fear of the Lord." It comes at the moment of clarification, at the transitions--birth, maturation, initiation, vocation, marriage, death, and it comes, too, when it is least expected. Its coming transforms place or time and sooner or later we shall know it as the moment of potential grace. But it is always possible that proffered grace may be passed over as Francis Thompson knew when he wrote: "In No Strange Land":
The angels keep their ancient places:-
Turn but a stone, and start a wing!
Tis ye, 'tis your estranged faces,
That miss the many-splendour'd thing.
O'Connor confronts her readers with a violence that sometimes accompanies God's actions in human life. She takes seriously the possibility that Job affirmed when he declared: "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him." Sometimes God wounds for reasons lost to us in a large and terrible mystery. One remembers the words of St. Chrysostom's great prayer: "Fulfill now, O lord, the desires and petitions of thy servants, as may be most expedient for them. . . ." There is always the possibility that there is a great distance between our desires and what God deems expedient for us! The hermaphrodite in O'Connor's story "A Temple of the Holy Ghost" bears witness to the mystery of God's ways. Addressing the audiences at the side show the hermaphrodite says:
God made me this away and if you laugh He may strike you the same way. This is the way He wanted me to be and I ain't disputing His way. I'm showing you because I got to make the best of it. I expect you to act like ladies and gentlemen. I never done it to myself nor had a thing to do with it but I'm making the best of it. I don't dispute hit.
Josephine Jacobsen (1964:153) has pointed out that O'Connor's view of the human condition is captured in the metaphor of the displaced person, observing that ". . . she muses on the naivete of assuming that the most terrible shifts in locale and language can ever equal the displacement from Eden to exile." Yet, surely some of her characters live by faith, and with hope make their pilgrimage through this world like those celebrated in the Epistle to the Hebrews who were
. . . not yet in possession of things promised, but had seen them far ahead and hailed them, and confessed themselves no more than strangers and passing travellers on earth. . . they are. . . longing for a better country--I mean, the heavenly one. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God. . . .
O'Connor ended her letters with the word "Cheers." There is indeed a joy, beyond the grimness and irony in her work. Commenting on her habit of writing "cheers," Nathan Scott (1968:285) observed that ". . . hers is a body of fiction made rich and radiant by a Christian presence whose wit and brilliance and (notwithstanding all the Gothic furniture) whose cheerfulness we are only now at last beginning to discern." When John the Baptist sent inquiring about Jesus's ministry, Jesus sent back the reply: "The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up. . . ." (Matt. 11:5). There is for all the strangers and misfits of the world in that reply good news enough! We, too, can with confidence write "cheers" at the bottom of every page!
The names O'Connor gave her characters evoke significant associations and, therefore, elicit awareness from her reader. Hazel Motes sees as through a haze and in his search for authentic faith he did indeed heed Christ's command to take the beam from his own eye, so that he might see to remove the mote from the eye of another. For a professed blind man Asa Hawks had remarkable vision, eyes like a hawk, predatory as hawks are predatory. Sabbath Lily is ironically named, reminding the reader that there are in this world people who so fully exemplify the fallen state that any association with purity or holiness, temporal or spatial, becomes gallows humor.
By the time he was twelve, Hazel knew he'd be a preacher like his grandfather who had carried "Jesus hidden in his head like a stinger." He had known ever since that he had been avoiding Jesus who was always ". . . moving from tree to tree in the back of his mind, a wild figure motioning him to turn around and come off into the dark where he was not sure of his footing, where he might be walking on water and not know it and then suddenly know it and drown." But if Haze could stop believing in Jesus, then he'd be rid of Him. It was then that he decided to found a new church, The Church Without Jesus Christ!
His meeting with Asa Hawks, the blind preacher, made a profound impression on Hazel Motes. Asa insisted that Haze was searching for Jesus: "I can hear the urge for Jesus in his voice." "He's cursing," Sabbath told her father; but Asa, laughing, said: "Listen boy, you can't run away from Jesus. Jesus is a fact." No protest was permitted. Asa Hawks covered Haze's face with his hands, and then, with a touch of mystery in his voice, declared that some preacher had left his mark on him. When he advised him to repent Haze protested that he was clean, and then with startling profundity, albeit accidental, said: "If I was in sin I was in it before I ever committed any." There is, for Hazel Motes, only the old pursuit, or is it flight?--for we cannot be sure whether he is running away from Jesus or to him. It is the dilemma of the pursuer pursued. Hazel Motes had denied that he was a preacher when he was with Leora Watts on the previous night. Now, distracted by the rush of events, and with the crowd pressing down the steps from the building above him, Haze shouted: "I'm a preacher myself. . . . Listen here, I'm going to preach a new church. . . . It's not started yet but it's going to be."
Haze would escape Jesus by not needing him. "What do I need with Jesus? I got Leora Watts." But sex proved not to be an escape. ". . . even whoring becomes," says Jonathan Baumbach, "a kind of religious act, a kind of penitential sin" (Scott 1968:338).
Enoch's name is well chosen, for the biblical Enoch enjoyed an exceptional fate. We are told that he was so close to God that at the end of his long life he was seen no more, for God had taken him. Tradition declares that Enoch, having been translated to heaven, was granted knowledge of heavenly things and all esoteric wisdom. So it is with Enoch Emery who inherited "wise blood," nor must we forget that he is advantaged, having been enrolled at the Rodemill Boy's Bible Academy for four weeks! It is appropriate, then, that Enoch should declare: "If it's anything you want to know about Jesus, just ask me." Surely none of Miss O'Connor's readers is likely to make the acquaintance of Enoch Emery without feeling the abrasiveness that the word emery suggests.
Enoch could feel when things were going to happen! He had the capacity to sense encounters with mystery, too. It was, then, not really a surprise to Enoch to discover in the municipal museum the three-foot mummy, surrounded by all the stuffed birds--false likenesses of the Holy Spirit.2 Overwhelmed with the sense of awe in the presence of this mysterious object, Enoch's wise blood made him know that he must possess it. Stealing the mummy from the museum, Emery makes his way back to his room where he transforms his commode into a tabernacle. The mysterious mummy now becomes the new jesus enthroned.
Slowly the notion took form in Enoch's mind that Motes must have the new jesus. But it was Sabbath Lily who got it. Haze, discovering her cradling the dried and squinting object in her arms like a grotesque madonna and child, snatched the shrivelled body from her arms and broke it against the wall. The exchange between the two is significant. When the screaming girl cried, "I seen you didn't want nothing but Jesus!," Haze replied: "I don't want nothing but the truth!" His words were surely prophetic. In his demand for the authentic, he rejects the mummy and is unwilling to accept this absurd "new jesus."
Seeing the line forming outside the movie house, Enoch joined the children waiting to shake the hand of the man inside the gorilla skin. All day he had been getting the message from his wise blood that something important was going to happen to him. He had always wanted to be "The Young Man of the Future." Contriving to get possession of the gorilla suit, Enoch removed his clothes and, in a kind of ritual, put on not Christ but the gorilla, a parody of the "new man" St. Paul says we must all put on. O'Connor is telling us that the only alternative to putting on Christ is to put on a gorilla skin, the ultimate absurdity, and begin the long journey back to the beginning of things--it is evolution in reverse! Enoch has solved his identity problem; who can doubt that he has at last found his true self?
At a used car lot Haze found the high rat-colored Essex that would now become his home, his sanctuary, and his pulpit. He began to preach the good news of the Church Without Christ. Things had not gone well at first, until he got his first disciple, Hoover Shoates, alias Onnie Jay Holy, who possesses the necessary technology to make Haze's new gospel sell. Onnie Jay Holy described the loneliness and despair he had experienced in his own life until two months ago when he had met the Prophet, Hazel Motes, and heard him "preaching the Church of Christ Without Christ, the church that was going to get a new jesus to help me bring out my sweet nature into the open where ever'body could enjoy it." Onnie Jay gave some good reasons for joining the new church: there was nothing foreign connected with it; a person needn't believe anything he didn't understand; it was thoroughly up-to-date.
When Haze refused to "sell the truth," Shoates, his Judas, got himself another prophet to preach the need for a new jesus and to spread the Church of Christ Without Christ. Indeed, Haze was struck by the appearance of the new prophet, Solace Layfield, and saw in Solace his alter ego.
Hazel Motes is committed to truth, to authentic faith. He stopped running now. Asa Hawks was a fraud; he only pretended to have blinded himself as a witness to his redemption. There was no refuge in sex, nor in the wisdom that the Enoch Emerys of this earth possessed, nor in the marketing techniques known to all the Hoover Shoateses of this world. There was no refuge in blasphemy nor in sin--none at all. He confronted Solace Layfield with these words: "You ain't true. You believe in Jesus." So he ran over him with his Essex. Now standing over him and poking his toe in his side he said: "Two things I can't stand,--a man that ain't true and one that mocks what is." The false prophet began to make his confession--is Haze a priest here shriving the dying man?--and Haze, leaning closer to hear his words, said: "Shut up like I told you to now." In a kind of final petition Solace wheezed: "Jesus help me." There was nothing more.3
With the death of his double, the old Hazel experienced something akin to his own death. He stayed in the Essex all night "thinking about the life he was going to begin." The next day when the policeman pushed the Essex over the embankment, Haze sat a long time looking into the gray sky that stretched on and on into space. When the patrolman asked: "Was you going anywheres?" Haze answered: "No."
It was three hours later when Haze reached the city and stopped at a hardware store to buy a pail and a bag of quicklime. His landlady, sitting on the porch with the cat when Haze approached, asked: "What you going to do with that, Mr. Motes?" "Blind myself," he said as he disappeared. inside the house. One remembers Jesus's stern warning: "If your eye cause you to sin, pluck it out and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire." (Matt. 18:9) The irony is biblical: Motes must blind himself in order to gain authentic sight. Only now does he see his profound lostness, but that vision is essential if he is to realize salvation.
The symbolism of Mrs. Flood's name has not gone unnoticed. Reminiscent of the old wisdom of a fallen world, destroyed by the flood, it points ahead, as well, to the waters of baptism with the promise of cleansing and regeneration.4 Mrs. Flood now finds herself between the destructive waters of that antediluvian world and the salvific waters that grant entrance to God's kingdom. But of all this she is, as yet, unaware. Indeed, Mrs. Flood is a favorite O'Connor type who possesses the common sense of the unenlightened and uninitiated. Like Leora Watts, Mrs. Flood, too, was so well adjusted that she no longer had to think.
But as Motes continued to live in her boarding-house, he became a witness to the mystery that was incomprehensible to Mrs. Flood. Haze's witness sets in motion the first movements toward Mrs. Flood's salvation. She could not help wondering what a blind person saw. And then, almost as it she were being mocked, the notion grew in her head that she was being cheated, that Mr. Motes was keeping some secret from her. She didn't like that at all. Slowly, as she witnessed the transformation in the blinded man she became certain that Haze had the look of seeing something that she couldn't see. What would it be like having nothing but blackness--all the blackness in the world--shut up in your head? O'Connor describes Mrs. Flood's dilemma:
She imagined it was like you were walking in a tunnel and all you could see was a pin point of light. She had to imagine the pin point of light; she couldn't think of it at all without that. She saw it as some kind of star, like the star on Christmas cards. She saw him going backwards to Bethlehem and she had to laugh.
Her laughter gave way to an unfamiliar reflectiveness. At first she had been mildly curious about Hazel Mote's action in destroying his eyes. She thought she'd rather be dead than blind. But then it occurred to her that when she was dead she'd be blind, too. She was shaken from her habit of smugness by contemplating her own death. Then, too, she discovered something of the dimension of mystery, the fascinens of religious experience, as she tried to imagine what the blind see. Finally, all her defences seemed compromised, all the old self-confidence paled, when she suggested marriage. "If we don't help each other, Mr. Motes, there's nobody to help us. Nobody. The world is an empty place." Haze left the house and did not return. At midnight, with icy rain falling, Mrs. Flood confronted her terrible loneliness and vulnerability for the first time. She thought of her life as she approached "the last part of it." All the old certainties she had affirmed were irrelevant as she thought of the blindness that would be hers in death. If the dead don't see, she thought, then who better than a blind man to guide her, one who knew all about the dark? She needed Hazel Motes.
Two days later the police found Motes in a drainage ditch, still alive. "I want to go on where I'm going," he told them, but they took him to his landlady's house and at her direction laid him on her bed and left. He was dead but no one noticed. Drawing up a chair, the landlady sat beside the bed and, leaning close to his face so they could talk, said. "Well, Mr. Motes, I see you've come home!"
Hazel Motes was home at last in the truest sense of those words. He had pushed through all the lies and half truths, all the charades and substitutes for God that had distracted him. He had demanded nothing less than an authentic experience of God until at last it was granted him. We have Flannery O'Connor's word for it: "His face," we're told, "was tranquil."
Now it was Mrs. Flood who saw--saw the deep-burned eye sockets that seemed like an entrance to some other hidden and mysterious world. She searched the bottomless darkness they contained, but saw nothing. Then she closed her eyes and saw that strange and elusive pin point of light again, and the dim figure of Haze moving in the distant darkness until he became that light. Who can doubt but that at this moment Mrs. Flood began her own journey toward faith, toward that point of light at Bethlehem?
In the Author's Note which stands at the front to the second edition of the novel, Miss O'Connor assured her readers that her purpose in writing Wise Blood was serious. She said:
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.
That pin point of light, that Star of Bethlehem, penetrating all the world's darkness,
where incarnation happens, secured Hazel Mote's salvation, and not just his, but Mrs.
Flood's, too, and that of all seekers who travel that dusty Bethlehem road until they come
to the place where earth and heaven are joined. What does the novel say to us? The
authentic life requires a commitment that is final, irrevocable. That is a very great
price indeed. But like the merchant who found the perfect pearl, and sold all that he had
to possess it, it will not be too much.
Baumbach, Jonathan. 1963. "The Acid of God's Grace." Georgia Review 17:334-336.
Baumgaertner, Jill P. 1988. Flannery O'Connor--A Proper Scaring. Wheaton, Ill.: Harold Shaw Publications.
Detweiler, Robert. 1965. "The Curse of Christ in Flannery O'Connor's Fiction." Comparative Literature Studies 2:235-245.
Driskell, Leon V., and Joan T. Brittain. 1971. The Eternal Cross-Roads. The Art of Flannery O'Connor. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky.
Jacobsen, Josephine. 1964. "A Catholic Quartet." Christian Scholar 47:139-154.
Merton, Thomas. 1964. "Flannery O'Connor," Jubilee, 12 (Nov.), 50-51.
Otto, Rudolf. 1923. The Idea of the Holy. London: Oxford University Press.
Ragen, Brian Abel. 1989. A Wreck on the Road to Damascus. Chicago: Loyola University Press.
Scott, Nathan A., Jr. 1968. Craters of the Spirit. Washington: Corpus Books.
Whitt, Jan. 1994. Allegory and the Modern Southern Novel. Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press.
1. Flannery O'Connor, "The Fiction Writer and His Country." In The Living Novel: A Symposium, edited by Granville Hicks. New York: Macmillan, 1957, cited by Robert Drake in Flannery O'Connor. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1966, p. 13.
2. See Baumgaertner's (1988) excellent study.
3. For perceptive parallels between Motes and St. Paul see Ragen (1989:122-124, 131f, 148 ff.).
4. Cf. Driskell and Brittain (1971:41f.)
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