Wise Blood Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1952

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Psychological realism

Time of work: The 1940’s

Locale: The American South

Characters DiscussedHazel Motes

Hazel Wise BloodMotes, 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

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

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

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

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

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

Solace Layfield, a preacher hired by Hoover Shoates to offer a false message. Hazel kills him.

Sources for Further StudyBaumgaertner, Jill P. Flannery O’Connor: A Proper Scaring. Wheaton, Ill.: Shaw, 1988. This study deals with O’Connor’s work as religious fiction, including essays on her most frequently collected short stories and her novels. Baumgaertner treats Wise Blood as a semiallegory about a “Christian in spite of himself.” Includes a bibliography.Brinkmeyer, Robert H., Jr. The Art and Vision of Flannery O’Connor. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989. Brinkmeyer’s “Narrator and Narrative” chapter includes a lengthy discussion of Wise Blood, concentrating on the texture of the novel’s world and on the relationship of point of view to theme.Giannone, Richard. Flannery O’Connor and the Mystery of Love. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1989. Giannone devotes a thirty-five page chapter to Wise Blood, arguing that the novel articulates the disparity between “inept human bungling” and the power of God. Includes a bibliography.Hendin, Josephine. The World of Flannery O’Connor. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1970. Hendin discusses Wise Blood as a sort of coming-of-age novel. She sees the light in Hazel’s eyes at the conclusion as ambiguous.Kreyling, Michael, ed. New Essays on “Wise Blood.” New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995. Four essays (plus an introduction) that offer new methodological approaches to Wise Blood, ranging from feminist psychoanalysis to theology.Lawson, Lewis. “The Perfect Deformity: Wise Blood.” In Modern Critical Views: Flannery O’Connor, edited by Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1986. Lawson examines the use of physical deformities as symbolic in the novel.O’Connor, Flannery. Mystery and Manners. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1969. A collection of some of O’Connor’s nonfiction; absolutely essential for any understanding of O’Connor’s own perspective on her literary work.Srigley, Susan. Flannery O’Connor’s Sacramental Art. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 2004. O’Connor’s key works interpreted from the perspective of theological analysis, particularly focused on what the author terms O’Connor’s “ethic of responsibility.”Stephens, Martha. The Question of Flannery O’Connor. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1973. Stephens devotes a fifty-two-page chapter to Wise Blood, concentrating particularly on the novel’s structural problems.Walters, Dorothy. Flannery O’Connor. New York: Twayne, 1973. Like most of the Twayne series, this is a good general introduction to O’Connor’s work. The twenty-page chapter on Wise Blood discusses its early critical reception, summarizes the action, and analyzes its religious themes.Wood, Ralph C. Flannery O’Connor and the Christ-Haunted South. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2004. An analysis of O’Connor’s Catholic theological vision within its Southern milieu.
Categories: Characters