Author: Flannery O'Connor
First published: 1952
Locale: The American South
Plot: Psychological realism
Time: The 1940's
Hazel Motes, the protagonist, the twenty-two-year-old grandson of a backwoods preacher. He is driven to find Christ in the city. Hazel tested his grandfather's religion in the Army and goes to the city of Taulkinham to test that religion again. He both distrusts and is haunted by it. Everything about Hazel, from his black hat to the look in his eyes, identifies him as a preacher to those who see him, but he devotes much of his stay in the city to trying to escape his religious destiny. Hazel is a loner whose only human contacts emerge from his attempts to escape Christ. He needs no friends (even though Enoch Emery tries to establish a friendship with him) or sexual relationships (although Sabbath Lily tries to seduce him). As a religious man who denies religion, he is a misfit in a secular world.
Enoch Emery, a lonely young man who becomes Hazel Motes's “prophet.” From his early life with a father who later abandoned him and through the rest of his eighteen years, Enoch has found little love in his world. Even at the Rodemill Boys' Bible Academy, Enoch was unable to find a friend. He seeks friendship with Hazel, seeing in him a loner like himself. Perhaps Enoch's “wise blood” causes him to sense Hazel's determination to discover real truths about the human condition. Enoch spends his time working at the zoo (he hates the animals) and secretly watching the women at the public swimming pool. As is true of many of Flannery O'Connor's characters, his personality is almost a caricature.
Asa Hawks, Sabbath Lily's father, a hypocritical preacher who claims to have blinded himself as a test of faith. He carries with him news clippings that detail both his intended blinding and his failure to carry through. He is threatened by Hazel's presence and leaves, abandoning his daughter.
Sabbath Lily Hawks, Asa Hawks's seductive teenage daughter. She too recognizes Hazel's insistent need for God, but she has her own agenda. Suspecting that her father is about to leave her, she attempts to seduce Hazel, first during an excursion in his car and later in his room. She reads Hazel the answer she received to a letter she wrote to an advice column. The columnist's answer embodies much of what O'Connor thought was wrong with the world, expressing that religion should not be taken too seriously. Sabbath Lily offers to help Hazel enjoy sin, but he refuses her.
Hoover Shoates, an evangelist con man who uses the name Onnie Jay Holy. He tries to cut in on what he supposes is Hazel's scam, sidewalk preaching. When Hazel rejects him, he tries to drive him out of business with a man he calls the “True Prophet,” Solace Layfield.
Mrs. Flood, Hazel's landlady. Stupid and dishonest, she steals from Hazel after he has blinded himself, but dimly she senses that Hazel is seeking truths she knows nothing about. At the end, she thinks he may have found them.
Solace Layfield, a preacher hired by Hoover Shoates to offer a false message. Hazel kills him.