(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Like all Flannery O’Connor’s fiction, Wise Blood is intended to articulate religious truths that O’Connor, writing from her faith as a Roman Catholic, took very seriously. Typically, she clothed those truths in comic, even satiric, pictures of the rural South and its inhabitants, the very world O’Connor lived in almost all of her life. O’Connor always protested the labeling of her comic characters as grotesque, claiming them to be realistic pictures of the people around her. Thus, her portrayal of Hazel Motes is both comic and serious, and Hazel’s journey embodies the novel’s central themes.

In a novel filled with people who make claims on religion, only Hazel Motes is truly serious about it, so serious that he feels compelled to deny religion until he is forced to face the truth. Throughout most of the novel, Hazel does everything he can to evade the truth that he finally faces. The most striking example is his “Church Without Christ,” with which he intends to demonstrate the irrelevance of the Christ his grandfather preached so intently. His denial is blocked at every turn, however, as people recognize that Hazel is somehow marked by God.

Even Hazel’s church is not spared; Hoover Shoates’s false claims about Hazel’s powers as a prophet are a mere attempt to extort money from passersby. In short, Shoates intends to corrupt Hazel’s “church” in exactly the same way that he would try to corrupt any other religious movement. Like most of the novel’s characters, he cannot imagine that anyone is serious about religion.

An important exception is Enoch Emery. In his desperate need for human contact, he is so willing to accept whatever Hazel says about himself or his church that he finds himself drawn into Hazel’s claims, almost without conscious awareness of what is...

(The entire section is 751 words.)