Hazel’s first evening in Taulkinham offers a good example of O’Connor’s use of the city. As Hazel walks through the garish streets of the commercial district, O’Connor paints a picture of shoddy cheapness in direct contrast to the sky full of stars, which suggests the majestic beauty of God. Not surprisingly, the people of Taulkinham are ignoring the sky in favor of watching a man selling potato peelers.
The settings of Taulkinham–the prostitute Leora Watts’s house; Hazel’s rented room; Enoch Emery’s room, in which even the pictures make him feel guilty; the used car lot; and the street corners on which Hazel preaches his depressing message of meaninglessness–all suggest the emptiness of Hazel’s own vision (a vision that changes when his faith returns after he blinds himself).
A location of particular interest in the city is the museum from which Enoch Emery steals a mummy. The museum is a classical building and carved into its face is the Latin-styled inscription in which the letter u is replaced with v–MVSEVM. Enoch finds the word terrifying (he pronounces it muvseevum) and can hardly bring himself to say it aloud, as if it were a sacred word. Appropriately enough, Enoch believes that the mummy he has stolen from such a holy place is the “new jesus,” and he tries to persuade Hazel of its power.
O’Connor wrote as a committed Catholic surrounded by southern Protestantism, and as such she wanted to make her fiction represent those moments in which God’s grace touches human souls. However, she also wanted to write about the world she and her readers knew. The result was her representation of places like Taulkinham, the secular city and its inhabitants. Although some readers have called O’Connor’s people grotesques, she claimed they were simply realistic pictures of a world where people are more quickly drawn to street hawkers and fraudulent preachers than to matters of true faith. It is not surprising that when Hazel’s landlady realizes he has wound barbed wire around his chest, evidently in penance, she tells him no one does such things any more, “like boiling in oil or being a saint or walling up cats.”
Eastrod. Tennessee crossroads community in which Hazel Motes’s family once lived. Hazel returns to Eastrod (which once was home to twenty-five people) when he gets out of the Army only to discover that both the town and his family’s house have been abandoned. The general store is boarded up, the barn is in collapse, and Hazel’s house is reduced to a “skeleton” and empty of everything but an old chifforobe (a combination dresser and wardrobe) his mother had once bought for thirty dollars. Later, on the train, Hazel dreams of the chifforobe, blending it with his mother’s coffin in his dream. It is on this train that Hazel announces his loss of faith and his abandonment of his youthful plan to return to Eastrod and become a preacher like his grandfather.