Wise Blood (!952) is a novel by Flannery O'Connor. It is the story of Hazel Motes, a 22-year-old man who returns home to Tennessee after four yearsí service in the army. Hazel had grown up in the town of Eastrod, but his parents and family are all dead. Hazelís grandfather had been a preacher.
Before Hazel had joined the army, he had intended to become a preacher. Now, he is trying to avoid Jesus, whom he sees as a ragged figure moving from tree to tree in the back of his mind.
Hazel travels to the town of Taulkinham. He meets an 18-year-old boy named Enoch Emery who tries to become his friend, but Hazel rejects him. Hazel is attracted to a blind preacher named Asa Hawks, and to the preacherís daughter, Sabbath Lily Hawks. Hawks tells him that he cannot run away from Jesus, but Hazel tells the preacher that Jesus does not exist.
Hazel buys a used car from a car lot. He starts to preach on the street, preaching the Church Without Christ. He changes his stiff, black preacherís hat for a white panama hat.
Hawksís daughter shows Hazel a newspaper from ten years earlier, which says, "EVANGELIST PROMISES TO BLIND SELF," and which explains that Asa Hawks, an evangelist of the Free Church of Christ, had promised to blind himself to justify his belief that Christ Jesus had redeemed him. Sabbath Lily tells Haze that Hawks had blinded himself with lime. But she does not tell Hazel that what really happened was that Hawks had lost his nerve and never blinded himself. Hawks has only pretended to be blind.
Enoch Emery, meanwhile, has felt himself being transformed. He knows that something is going to happen to him, because he has "wise blood." He knows by his blood, his sense of intuition or instinct. Enoch steals a shrunken man from a glass case in a museum, and takes it to Hazelís apartment, because he wants to give Haze a new Jesus for the Church Without Christ. Sabbath holds the shrunken man like a baby in her arms, but Hazel takes it and throws it away.
Another preacher named Onnie Jay Holy listens to Hazelís preaching, and Holy starts to preach the Church of Christ Without Christ. Holy tries to join forces with Hazel, in order to make money from preaching. But Hazel rejects Holy, calling him a liar. Hazel says that there is no such thing as a new Jesus, and that his church is the Church Without Christ.
Later, Hazel sneaks into Asa Hawksís apartment, and discovers that Hawks is not blind. Hawks abandons his daughter, and Sabbath becomes Hazelís girlfriend.
Enoch Emery steals a gorilla costume from an actor who plays Gonga, a giant gorilla being featured at the movie theaters. Enoch puts on the gorilla costume, and walks along the highway.
Onnie Jay Holy, whose real name is Hoover Shoats, starts preaching for money, and hires a prophet for his Holy Church of Christ Without Christ. The prophetís name is Solace Layfield.
Hazel gets in his car, and follows Layfield as he is driving home. Hazel rams Layfieldís car into a ditch, and when Layfield gets out of the car, Hazel runs him over, killing him.
The next morning, Haze is stopped by a police car on the highway. He does not have a driverís license, and the police officer makes him get out of his car, and pushes the car down an embankment. The car is smashed, and Haze walks back to town.
He blinds himself with lime, and is cared for by his landlady, whom he pays for his room and board every month from the check that he gets from the government. He puts gravel and stones and broken glass in his shoes, so that he walks with a limp. He gets influenza, and becomes too weak to walk. He wraps barbed wire around his chest.
One night, he leaves the boarding house, and is found two days later lying in a ditch. One of the two policemen who find him hits him over the head with a billy club, and Hazel dies in the police car. At the end of the novel, his body is brought back to the landlady, Mrs. Flood. She looks at his burned eye sockets, which seem to lead into the dark tunnel where he has disappeared.
The novel has been described as Southern Gothic in its portrayal of the bizarre and the grotesque, as well as in its depiction of scenes of horror and violence. OíConnor also has a strong concern with questions of religious faith. Major themes of her novels include: the individualís search for vocation; the search for justification and redemption; the conflict of good and evil; the conflict of faith and doubt.
In Wise Blood, Hazel Motes seems trapped by his destiny to become a preacher. Though he denies that Jesus exists, Hazel is driven to seek some form of redemption. O'Connor describes the necessity of faith, as revealed the individualís inability to deny that God exists. Even when an individual attempts to deny the existence of God, the individual is confronted by the presence of God. Hazelís attempt to run away from God transforms the novel from bizarre comedy to an intense and searching study of the problem of redemption in the modern world.