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
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.
Enoch Emery Enoch Emery meets Hazel Motes on Motes's second night in town. He becomes Motes's most dedicated follower, taking to heart Motes's call for a "new jesus." A welfare woman who believed in the "old" Jesus had removed Emery from his father's care at the age of twelve. The woman had then sent him away to attend a Bible academy and threatened him with life in the penitentiary if he did not do what she demanded of him. After having successfully escaped the woman, Emery wants nothing to do with "the Jesus kind."
Emery returns to his father's home only to be thrown out at the age of eighteen. With a pimply face that resembles a fox's, Emery does not make friends easily. To pass the time, he maintains a daily routine that consists of work and a visit to the park at the end of his shift. It is at the park that he first climbs into bushes and spies on women at the pool. He then goes to a refreshment stand, where he orders a milkshake and makes lewd remarks to the waitress. Next, he views caged animals, hating and loving them at the same time. Finally, he visits a museum in the center of the park that houses a shriveled mummy. The mummy represents something important to him, something that he does not quite understand.
Emery feels compelled to show the mummy to someone, yet he does not know who that person is. He awakens one morning with a feeling in his blood, "wise blood like his daddy," that the person to whom he will show the mummy will appear. When Hazel Motes drives by the park that day, Emery realizes that his blood had been telling him the truth. After showing Motes the mummy, Emery again feels that his blood is telling him something—that he is going to be a part of something big that is only beginning.
Mrs. Flood Mrs. Flood owns the boarding house in which Motes lives. After Motes blinds himself, she intends to marry and institutionalize him so that she can get the pension he receives from the government. She feels that the government owes her for the taxes she has paid over the years that were used to support people who did not deserve the help. Even though she raises Motes's room and board to get a larger share of his money, she still feels cheated. She believes Motes must have a plan for something more and that he is not sharing it with her.
Against her will, Mrs. Flood begins to enjoy her time spent with Motes. She tries to understand why he has blinded himself and why he has no interest in doing anything but sitting on her porch. She puzzles over why he wears his shoes with rocks and glass in them and puts barbs of wire around his chest. When Motes becomes ill with the flu, Mrs. Flood decides to marry him and keep him. He dies, however, before she can complete her plan. She tries to look into his dead eyes to see how and by whom she was cheated, but she sees nothing. When she closes her own eyes, she sees a point of light far off in the distance that eventually becomes Motes. She has a feeling that she "finally got to the beginning of something she couldn't begin."
Asa Hawks Scar-faced Asa Hawks pretends to be a preacher who has blinded himself for Jesus. Dressed in black, wearing dark glasses, and pale enough to look like a corpse, Hawks uses a white cane and carries a tin cup. He implores people to repent, but if they will not he asks them to help by putting coins in his cup. His daughter, Sabbath Lily, follows Hawks, handing out pamphlets that say "Jesus calls you."
While Hawks did have good spiritual intentions at one time, along with a congregation who believed in him, he has lost his sense of purpose. This loss of direction resulted from a failure in his own faith, when he lost his courage to blind himself to justify his belief in Jesus. He senses the true Jesus in Motes, while he himself has become nothing more than a beggar, competing with street "hawkers" for the buyers' money.
Sabbath Lily Hawks Sabbath Lily Hawks imitates her father's false morality by handing out pamphlets that proclaim Jesus's desire for people to follow him. Fifteen-year-old Sabbath Lily's large red lips contrast vividly with skin that is almost as pale as her father's and the innocence that her homely appearance might imply.
Sabbath Lily tells her father "I never seen a boy that I liked the looks of any better," and wants her father to help her get Motes. She tries desperately to seduce Motes, telling him how she has written to the lovelorn column in the newspaper asking if she should go all the way or not. Nothing Sabbath Lily tries works to change Motes's mind, until she appears one night in his bed. She tells him that she knows he is "pure filthy right down to the guts" like her, and that she can teach him to like being that way.
While Sabbath Lily does succeed in seducing Motes, it does not result in the permanent relationship with Motes that she had hoped would free her from her father. Her father leaves her, and Motes ignores her. While she says that "she hadn't counted on no honest-to-Jesus blind man," she makes such a nuisance of herself at Motes's home that the landlady finally calls social services and has her put in a detention center.
Haze See Hazel Motes
Mrs. Hitchcock At the beginning of the novel, Motes finds himself seated on the train across from a fat woman who has pear-shaped legs that do not reach the floor. She identifies herself as Mrs. Hitchcock and tells Motes that she is traveling to Florida to visit her daughter. Dressed in pink with a flat, reddish face, Mrs. Hitchcock tries to get Motes to talk about himself. While she is drawn to Motes's eyes, she fears something in them and looks, instead, at the price tag still dangling from his coat. She represents the first of the characters who irritate Motes by trying to associate him with preaching.
Onnie Jay Holy See Hoover Shoats
Solace Layfield Shoats hires Solace Layfield to pose as the True Prophet because he drives a rat-colored car and wears a blue suit like Motes's. Suffering from tuberculosis, Layfield coughs continually from the depths of his hollow-chested, gaunt body. Layfield only preaches for Shoats to earn money to support his wife and six children. Motes hates him for being "a man that ain't true and one that mocks what is." Motes follows Layfield one night, forces him to take off his suit, and runs over him with his car. Layfield's last words are "Jesus hep me."
Hazel Motes O'Connor portrays Hazel Motes, the main character, as a man who takes everything at face value and wants to deny God's existence. People see Motes as a preacher, a label which he strongly protests. Even the taxi driver tells Motes that his hat and "a look in your face somewheres" make him look like a preacher.
Motes judges everyone by their appearances, yet he cannot help but search their faces for some indication of their worth. He yearns for proof that people have no connection to the divine. While he objects to his own spiritual connection, Motes feels a pull towards Christ, or "the wild ragged figure motioning him to turn around and come off into the dark."
Motes's name and appearance depict a man who peers into the beyond. Appropriately, the name "Hazel" comes from the Hebrew for "he who sees God." Motes's prominent forehead, hooked nose, creased mouth, and flattened hair prompt the landlady to note that his "face had a peculiar pushing look as if it were going forward after something it could just distinguish in the distance." In addition, Motes's deep-set, pecan-colored eyes beckon people to surrender their wills to one who is stronger. For example, when Mrs. Hitchcock meets Motes on the train, she feels drawn to his eyes, like they were "passages leading somewhere," but she senses danger in them, too.
In his efforts to deny God's existence, Motes attempts to establish the "Church Without Christ." He buys a car and uses it as his church, preaching from its hood. The car becomes a symbol of Motes's rejection of Christ. He claims that "Nobody with a good car needs to be justified." Motes preaches that since God does not exist, neither do sin or redemption. He offers people a "new jesus" that they can see, one who can save them in a way that their Jesus has not been able to. Ironically, it is the loss of his car that results in Motes's salvation.
Prophet See Hazel Motes
Hoover Shoats Hoover Shoats is a plump, curly-haired man who wears sideburns and a black suit with silver stripes. Shoats recognizes a way to make money when he sees one. When he hears Motes preaching his Church Without Christ message and losing his audience, he steps in and tries to sell himself as a man who has followed—and has absolute faith in—Motes and his church. Smiling, and with an honest look on his face, Shoats can convince people of almost anything.
Motes, however, does not appreciate Shoats's trying to take over. He especially dislikes his changing the church's name from the Church Without Christ to the Church of Christ Without Christ. Even though Shoats does his best to convince Motes that selling the public on the "new jesus" has great financial possibilities, Motes turns him down. In retaliation, Shoats hires Solace Layfield to pose as the "True Prophet" and preach the message of the Church of Chnst Without Christ.
True Prophet See Solace Layfield
Mrs. Watts Mrs. Watts owns a house of ill repute in Taulkinham. When Motes arrives in town, he has the taxi driver take him there. He wants to prove to the driver, and to himself, that he is not a preacher and has no connection to Christ. Motes engages in illicit sex with Mrs. Watts to try to finalize this denial of religion in his life. To Motes, having sex with Mrs. Watts demonstrates that he believes in nothing.