Wise Blood, Flannery O’Connor’s first novel, published in 1952, explores themes of entrapment and redemption. The story centers on Hazel Motes’ lifelong crisis of faith that leads him to create an antireligious ministry, the Church Without Christ.
Hazel’s feelings of entrapment are referenced throughout the story. He grew up under the influence of his preacher grandfather, a character Hazel associates not only with Christianity but also with entrapment. Hazel seems to reject his childhood desire that he “knew by the time he was twelve years old that he was going to be a preacher” (10). Ironically, though, by beginning his anti-religious ministry, Hazel is entrapped by the same religious ideas that he is trying to reject. Additionally, Hazel’s car, a battered Essex, becomes a symbol of entrapment. Hazel says his grandfather “wanted this car mostly to be a house for me” (37). Again, Hazel cannot escape the legacy of his grandfather. The car serves a religious function in Hazel’s ministry and later becomes a murder weapon.
Redemption is a central theme of the novel. Hazel seems to passionately reject the idea that men are born in sin and may only be redeemed through belief in Christ. However, his anti-Christ ministry actually serves to reinforce Hazel’s preoccupation with guilt and redemption. He reacts to his feelings of guilt through physical self-harm, something he did even as a child. Hazel eventually admits to his landlady that he is “unclean,” a perception he had violently fought throughout the story. Although all characters in this story see themselves as Christian or fundamentally good, they reveal otherwise through their actions.
In the story, Hazel Motes sought redemption but not through Christ. However, through development of his ideology, he concluded that it was sin that gave rise to the need for redemption. Through his summons he asserted that if sin is denied then redemption is pointless. According to him, sin was a form of entrapment leading to the growing need to seek redemption among Christians who believed in Jesus. Throughout the story, Hazel attempted to convince the people he met and preached to that Jesus did not exist.
“There are all kinds of truth ... but behind all of them there is only one truth and that is that there's no truth.”
In another instance that confirmed the themes of entrapment and redemption, Hazel attempts to seduce Sabbath in a clear case of entrapment in order to impose his ideology about ‘true redemption’ on Hawks, Sabbath’s father and a preacher who believed in Jesus. However, both Hawks and Sabbath plotted a similar situation against Hazel in order to convince him of their beliefs. Sabbath seduced Hazel while Hawks did not fully disclose the information regarding his ‘fake blindness’.
Hazel’s death at the end of the story signified his redemption from entrapment in the form of self inflicted blindness and physical pain.