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Wise Blood chronicles the last few months of Hazel Motes’s life, beginning with his leaving the army and moving to the city and ending with his death there. His pilgrimage dramatizes his attempt to disprove the religion of his grandfather, an itinerant backwoods preacher. Two images—one of his grandfather preaching from the hood of his old car and another of a ragged Christ who stalks him from behind trees—have haunted him so thoroughly that Hazel feels compelled to test God.
From the beginning of the novel, Hazel concentrates on making a sort of antireligious testimony to anyone who will listen. He startles two women on the train to Taulkinham by suddenly announcing that he has no use for salvation. In a similar negative testimony, he spends his first few nights in the city with a prostitute, Leora Watts. Ironically, like the cab driver who took Hazel to Mrs. Watts’s house, Leora Watts recognizes immediately that Hazel is driven by religion, although she supposes that he is some sort of preacher.
It is Jesus whom Hazel most wants to escape, and thus, moved partly by the sight of the false preacher Asa Hawks, Hazel creates the Church Without Christ. He believes that his church will demonstrate the truth of his belief that Jesus is only a trick. For the same reason, Hazel buys a car, an ancient, rat-colored Essex. His claim that a man with a good car has no need of salvation is a sort of parody of all the slogans of the secular world. The more he tries to escape his grandfather’s vision of the purpose of life, however, the more he seems to imitate it, so that even Asa Hawks can say, in his not-quite-blindness, that a preacher has marked Hazel.
This portion of Hazel’s journal culminates in his experiences with Enoch Emery. Like the others, Enoch recognizes Hazel as a marked man almost from the moment they meet on the streets of Taulkinham. Early on, Enoch’s loneliness leads him to entice Hazel into a place of mystery and power—the city museum. Together, they gaze into a glass case at the tiny mummified man that has enthralled Enoch. Thus, it is no surprise when, after elaborate and ritualistic preparations, Enoch steals the mummy and presents it to Hazel as the “new jesus.”
Hazel finds the mummy in his room, cradled in the arms of Sabbath Lily, a parodic madonna and child. Rejecting the whole picture, Hazel smashes the mummy against the wall; the new jesus is worthless, filled with trash.
Soon afterward, Hazel has an even more powerful crisis. He murders the man whom Hoover Shoates hired to imitate him, Solace Layfield, the “True Prophet,” by driving over him in his car. As Hazel leaves the city, intent on starting the Church Without Christ in some other place that is more receptive to it, a policeman stops him for a traffic violation and pushes his unlicensed car over a cliff.
Hazel returns to his rooming house and lives through part of the winter in an agony of self-flagellation. He binds his chest with barbed wire, puts stones in his shoes, and eventually blinds himself. At last, after staggering blindly through the winter streets, feverish with pneumonia, he dies in a ditch. After his death, his landlady, Mrs. Flood, looks at him intently, for she seems to see in his face an indication that he has followed pinpoints of light that suggest the star of Bethlehem.
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Taulkinham. Imaginary Alabama city that is the setting for most of the action of Wise Blood; loosely modeled on Birmingham, Alabama. Hazel Motes decides to go to Taulkinham when he discovers, after leaving the Army, that none of his family remains in the family home in Eastrod, Tennessee. Taulkinham is filled with characters and locations that are rooted in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Its street preachers, movie promotions, car salesmen, prostitutes, and bumpkins can be found in any time or place, but Flannery O’Connor gives these a southern flavor.
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.
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Flannery O’Connor’s reputation has rested on her significance as a Southern writer who dealt with religious themes, a recognition she herself would probably have found more than satisfactory. As her various nonfiction writings make clear (especially the collection Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose, 1969), O’Connor was very seriously interested in the craft of fiction and in using that craft to communicate her religious vision. She was emphatic in arguing that in everything she wrote there was a moment of grace in which a character somehow had a chance to recognize divine love.
To express those themes, O’Connor drew on the rural South and its people and their religion. That was the world she knew best, having lived almost her whole life in it. Indeed, after 1950, when she was diagnosed with lupus, traveling from her home in Milledgeville, Georgia, became increasingly difficult for her. As her many letters make clear, however, the inhabitants of her world were a rich source of interest and amusement to her, and she seems never to have felt any lack of richer experience. She took special delight in their language, and often represented rural white speech in her fiction and imitated it in her letters.
O’Connor lived in a world that was on the edge of great social change, particularly regarding civil rights, but she remained uninterested in social issues. In fact, sociologists (and psychologists) are frequently the objects of her satire. Although she was not unsympathetic to the plight of the disenfranchised, she argued that no white person could know enough about the black experience to write meaningfully about it. Black characters move through her fiction like shadows; her central characters are all white.
She was also not particularly interested in women’s issues, although she created many female characters—some of them modeled on the rural women, both poor and middle-class, who surrounded her; some of them lumpishly intellectual and scornful of the limited world of their sisters. O’Connor satirized them both. To her, social issues were subordinate to more important themes, and her pictures of the world usually laugh at the superficiality of its allures. O’Connor was never very successful in describing romantic or sexual relationships between men and women, and she was not very interested in those themes.
O’Connor’s best contribution to American fiction, however, was her combination of the comedic and the serious, a combining that was quite in keeping with her intense belief in the saving power of divine love.
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According to Michael Kreyling in the introduction to New Essays on Wise Blood, O'Connor's attention to religious themes in her writing render her writing timeless. He also states that "the historical context of O'Connor's work has been the least-explored critical territory." O'Connor places the events of the story Wise Blood in Taulkinham, Tennessee, but does not specify exact dates. Given the events in the story and the time O'Connor wrote it, however, critics set the story sometime in the mid-twentieth century. One event that lends credence to critics' timeline for the story is Motes's reflection on his stint in the army and the war injury that sent him home. Given the fact that O'Connor wrote the book in the late '40s, and Harcourt published it in 1952, Motes probably served in World War II. The events of the story, then, most likely occur in the latter half of the 1940s.
Post-World War II Growth and Prosperity
Immediately after World War II, Americans enjoyed a surge of population growth and prosperity. By 1950, the more than 151 million Americans could take advantage of many innovations that would make their lives easier and safer, and their leisure time more enjoyable. For example, technological advances created microwave ovens and fast foods, conveniences that helped provide Americans with more time. Medical researchers developed polio and measles vaccinations, as well as the birth-control pill, enabling children to live longer and couples to plan their families better. Since people had more time and were in better health, they found new ways to enjoy their free time. Commercial hotel chains and jet transport, modern turnpikes, and faster cars contributed to increased travel in America in the 1950s. Americans became passionate about automobiles and the conveniences cars allowed.
O'Connor uses America's obsession with prosperity and its love affair with cars to provide a basis for the spiritual chaos the characters in Wise Blood experience. O'Connor states in The Living Novel: A Symposium that she believes "unparalleled prosperity" results in a "distorted sense of spiritual purpose." Wise Blood expands that theme more than any of her other works. Throughout the novel, O'Connor presents motifs and images portraying a prosperous society. Money reigns as king: Mrs. Hitchcock checks the price tag on Motes's coat; street vendors and used-car salesmen haggle over prices; and fake preachers brag about their salaries. In addition, commercial advertising takes over the landscape in the form of signs on buildings, billboards along the roadside, and the business establishments themselves. The novel's characters focus so intently on money-related issues and prosperity that their spirituality disappears and their morals disintegrate.
Religion attracted scores of Americans during the 1950s. Not only did church affiliation soar to 63.6 percent of the population, but also religious contributions, media attention, films, and books increased tremendously. For example, people's average yearly donations to the church peaked, and movies about biblical stories, such as The Robe, drew huge crowds. Ministers who brought modern, positive messages attracted the thousands who believed that having a religious identification was synonymous with being an American. Even political advertising extolled the virtues of religion. Politicians allowed the addition of "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance and adopted "In God We Trust" as the national motto. Some religious critics, however, wondered whether this wholesale acceptance of religion was sincere, or whether it was just another symbol adopted by people to demonstrate their status and prosperity.
Hazel Motes denies religion as vehemently as people of the 1950s embraced it. M. J. Fitzgerald states in the Reference Guide to American Literaturethat the "mystery of the impulse towards holiness … and the destructiveness of that impulse when carried to extremes" is the basis of Wise Blood. Motes's acts of violence suggest extremism, as does the seemingly blind adoption of religion by Americans living in the 1950s. O'Connor draws the parallel between the novel and real life with images of a prosperous society and of people who lack spiritual purpose as a result of it.
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Point of View
Until Mrs. Flood enters the story at the end of the book, Flannery O'Connor writes Wise Blood from an "all-knowing" point of view, or, in other words, from a narrator's point of view. From this perspective, the author can enter the minds of all the characters and tell their thoughts. For example, O'Connor divulges that Emery secretly believes that the waitress at the Frosty Bottle is in love with him. At the end of the novel, however, O'Connor switches to the partially omniscient point of view, with Mrs. Flood telling the story. This switch comes in Chapter 14, where Mrs. Flood ponders her relationship with Motes. O'Connor has Motes act and speak, but she does not reveal his thoughts.
Taulkinham, a small town in Tennessee, sets the stage for the events that take place in Wise Blood. Although the author does not provide a particular time in history, critics believe that the book takes place in the mid-twentieth century.
Many symbolic images exist in Wise Blood to help portray Motes's denial of Christ. The reader first encounters the symbols of material prosperity that relate to Enoch Emery and Hazel Motes. Emery seeks to "become something." He views the zoo, park, pool, museum, and theater as conveniences that people who have achieved success can enjoy. Motes sees his car, a modern luxury, as proof that he has achieved his success in denying his religious upbringing: "Nobody with a good car needs to be justified," he declares.
In addition to the symbols of prosperity, literary experts have noted symbolic representation in characters' actions. First, both Motes's leaving Sabbath Lily and his throwing out the new Jesus and his mother's glasses stand for his initial efforts to rid himself of his religious past. Second, killing his "twin," Layfield, represents Motes's destruction of another portion of his conscience Motes's final symbolic attempt to deny his connection to Christ occurs when he blinds himself.
O'Connor portrays her characters as grotesque, or bizarre, in their appearances and natures. While many critics disagree over O'Connor's reasons for her use of grotesque characterization in Wise Blood, Marshall Bruce Gentry offers a unique view in a Modern Fiction Studies article. He suggests that while the characters' grotesqueness might be what critics view as a negative sign of their helplessness and individualism in an uncaring society, it might also present the positive traits that allow them to rejoin a community with whom they feel a kinship. In "Mystery and Manners," O'Connor says of her own work that her characters "have an inner coherence, if not always a coherence to their social framework. Their fictional qualities lean away from typical social patterns, toward mystery and the unexpected." Gentry submits that while readers might interpret Motes's actions as basically evil, those actions actually stem from an inner adherence to a belief system that eventually leads him to salvation, or a rejoining with his religious past.
Critics agree that the characters in Wise Blood exhibit animal-like tendencies. Not only do their names and appearances suggest beasts, but their actions also simulate those of animals. For example, Daniel Littlefield, Jr., says in Mississippi Quarterly that Hawks's name corresponds with the bird of prey, and that he turns his back on his daughter like a bird might throw its baby out of the nest. Littlefield also notes that several animal images relate to Emery, who resembles a hound dog with mange. Like a dog, he crawls on his belly and burrows under bushes to watch the woman at the pool. He even "becomes" a gorilla. Literary experts speculate that O'Connor uses animal images in this story to emphasize the characters' grotesqueness and their distorted spirituality.
O'Connor uses Solace Layfield as Motes's doppelganger to represent part of Motes's consciousness. "Doppelganger" means spirit-like twin or counterpart. Layfield resembles Motes so much that one woman in the book asks, "Him and you twins?"
Two flashbacks occur in Wise Blood. One happens when Motes is riding the train and dreaming about his grandfather. He pictures his grandfather preaching from the car hood and pointing Motes out as an example for sinners. Motes's night with Mrs. Watts prompts the second flashback. He remembers attending a carnival at age ten, seeing a naked woman, and his mother's punishing him for it. Both incidents depict Motes's strict upbringing and unhappy childhood.
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This unusual novel both won O'Connor the Rinehart-Iowa prize for a first novel and led to her severing her relationship with the publisher Rinehart altogether. Her editor, John Selby, was absolutely unsympathetic to her intent and to the thrust of the novel; perhaps he did not understand it in the first place, for he wrote to her saying she seemed like a "straight shooter," a phrase she found particularly obtuse, and asked her to clarify practically everything. O'Connor wrote to her agent, Elizabeth McKee, "Please tell me what is under this Sears Roebuck Straight Shooter approach . . . The criticism is vague and really tells me nothing except that they don't like it . . . the thought of working with them specifically to correct these lacks they mention is repulsive to me." To Selby she firmly explained, "I am not writing a conventional novel, and I think that the quality of the novel I write will derive precisely from the peculiarity or aloneness, if you will, of the experience I write from ... I am amenable to criticism but only within the sphere of what I am trying to do."
O'Connor uses comic irony in almost every phase of the novel, as she continued to do throughout her career. She also exhibits the fondness for the grotesque and the macabre that remained typical of her work in the blinding, the extremism of Hazel's actions and opinions, the theft of the mummy, and in Hazel's death in a squad car. The depiction of a spiritual dilemma in graphic and down-to-earth terms is probably the thing that most closely connects this work with the rest of O'Connor's fiction and perhaps also serves to alienate the audience that prefers not to read about spiritual problems at all; essentially, the current ideology runs, all problems are psychological and must be dealt with rationally. As the landlady points out, speaking of the barbed wire, " . . . it's something people have quit doing — like boiling in oil or being a saint or walling up cats. There's no reason for it. People have quit doing it." Hazel's rejoinder is like O'Connor's own defense of her orthodoxy — "They ain't quit doing it as long as I'm doing it."
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Late 1930s and 1940s: Reeling from the effects of the Great Depression Americans conserved their money.
1950s: Americans became avid consumers, spending more and more money to buy the new products that technological advances provided them.
Today: With the advent of shopping services on the Internet and television, as well as the proliferation of shopping malls (which first began in the 1950s), and a strong economy, consumerism defines much of American life.
Late 1930s and 1940s: Population growth was at a virtual standstill. People did not want to have children for whom they could not provide.
1950s: America experienced a baby boom related to the improved economy. The American people thought that having more Americans would better support the growing economy.
Today: The Baby Boomers are aging, causing increased concerns about health care, while an increasing percentage of population growth is due to a new influx of immigrants from Asia Mexico and the Middle East.
Late 1930s and 1940s: Americans viewed cars as workhorses; they took people where they wanted to go.
1950s: Americans began their love affair with automobiles. Faster, sleeker cars were available, as well as better roads and services. Cars became symbols of prosperity and luxury.
Today: Cars are still a central part of American culture and a major status symbol; people are often defined by whether they drive a minivan, a sport utility vehicle, or a compact car. Cars become increasingly expensive due, in part, to safety regulations, spurring an increase in used car sales.
Late 1930s and 1940s: People went to church as a matter of routine. The Protestant ethic dominated.
1950s: A religious awakening began, with church affiliation at an all-time high. The Catholic Church became an American institution.
Today: Increasing numbers of people are staying away from traditional churches, such as the Catholic Church, to the point that many religious leaders are concerned about shrinking memberships. More people who still wish to go to church are attending nondenominational congregations that stress social issues as much as—or even more than—religion.
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Flannery O'Connor read very widely, as her library holdings and her many literary references in her letters show. For this reason it is hard to pinpoint any one or two influences which are most dominant. She often said that Edgar Allan Poe was the one who came to mind most frequently, and she read and enjoyed most of the other short story writers and many of the novelists of the past one hundred years. While her Catholic orthodoxy is probably the most dominant influence in her thought, she is most commonly categorized according to her technique, as a Southern Gothic author. In terms of her ironic point of view, her use of the vernacular in dialogue, her use of Southern settings and her love of the grotesque, she is indebted to everyone from Mark Twain to William Faulkner to Truman Capote, but the one work that is most often cited as an influence on Wise Blood is Miss Lonelyhearts (1933), Nathanael West's short and intense novel about a man who writes a newspaper column answering letters from troubled people and who undergoes his major spiritual crisis as a result. It is definite that O'Connor had read Oedipus Rex not long before writing the novel, and that the idea for the blinding as an act of penance comes directly from there.
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In 1979, John Huston made a feature length film of Wise Blood. (Produced by Michael Fitzgerald, directed by John Huston, written by Benedict Fitzgerald.) The movie, filmed in Macon, Georgia, follows the novel very closely. As the screenwriter, Benedict Fitzgerald pointed out, there had never been a character like Hazel presented on the American screen, and the appeal lay in his intensity as well as in his sense of purpose, which, while admittedly bizarre, was at least a mission in life, which most contemporary film heroes lack.
Done in black and white, the film stars Brad Dourif as Hazell Motes; Daniel Shor as Enoch Emery; Ned Beatty as Hoover Shoats; Harry Dean Stanton as Asa Hawks; Amy Wright as Sabbath Lily Hawks; Mary Nell Santacroce as Mrs. Flood, the landlady. The final members of the Fitzgerald family to be involved were Kathy Fitzgerald as co-producer and Sally Fitzgerald as costumer.
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- Director John Huston adapted Wise Blood to film in 1979. Brad Dourif starred as Hazel Motes. Other cast members included Ned Beatty, Harry Dean Stanton, Dan Shor, and Amy Wright. Rated PG, the film is distributed by Universal Studios Home Video.
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Allen, William Rodney. "The Cage of Matter: The World as Zoo in Flannery O'Connor's 'Wise Blood.'" In American Literature, Vol. 58, No. 2, May, 1986, pp. 256-70.
Bacon, Jon Lance. "A Fondness for Supermarkets: 'Wise Blood' and Consumer Culture." In New Essays on Wise Blood, edited by Michael Kreyling. Cambridge University Press, 1995, pp. 25-49.
Bleikasten, Andre. "The Heresy of Flannery O'Connor." In Critical Essays on Flannery O'Connor, edited by Melvin J. Friedman and Beverly Lyon Clark. G. K. Hall, 1985, pp. 138-58.
Brinkmeyer, Robert H., Jr. "'Jesus, Stab Me in the Heart': Wise Blood, Wounding, and Sacramental Aesthetics." In New Essays on Wise Blood, edited by Michael Kreyling. Cambridge University Press, 1995, pp. 71-89.
Donahoo, Robert. "The Problem with Peelers: 'Wise Blood' as Social Criticism." In Flannery O'Connor Bulletin, Vol. 21, 1992, pp. 43-57.
Feeley, Margaret Peller. "Flannery O'Connor's 'Wise Blood': The Negative Way." In Southern Quarterly, Vol. 17, No. 2, 1979, pp. 104-22.
Fitzgerald, M. J. Review in Reference Guide to American Literature, 3rd edition. St. James Press, 1994, p. 1058.
Fitzgerald, Sally. "Introduction to 'Three by Flannery O'Connor.'" In Three by Flannery O'Connor. Signet Classic, 1983, pp. vii-xxxiv.
Gentry, Marshall. "The Eye vs. the Body: Individual and Communal Grotesqueness in Wise Blood." In Modern Fiction Studies, Vol. 28, No. 3, Autumn, 1982, pp. 487-93.
Gordon, Caroline. "Flannery O'Connor's Wise Blood." In Critique, Vol. 2, 1958, pp. 3-10.
Kreyling, Michael. "Introduction." In New Essays on Wise Blood, edited by Michael Kreyling. Cambridge University Press, 1995, p. 21.
Lawson, Lewis. "Flannery O'Connor and the Grotesque: Wise Blood." In Flannery O'Connor. B. Herder Books, c. 1968, p. 52.
Littlefield, Daniel. "Flannery O'Connor's Wise Blood: 'Unparalleled Prosperity' and Spiritual Chaos." In Mississippi Quarterly, Vol. 23, No. 2, Spring, 1970, p. 122.
Nielsen, Erik. "The Hidden Structure of Wise Blood." In New Orleans Review, Vol. 19, Nos. 3 & 4, Fall & Winter, 1992, pp. 91-97.
O'Connor, Flannery. "The Fiction Writer and His Country." In The Living Novel: A Symposium, edited by Granville Hicks. Macmillan, 1957, pp. 161-63.
———. Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose, edited by Sally and Robert Fitzgerald. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1979, pp. 43-44.
———. Wise Blood. Noon Day Press, 1990.
Rosenfeld, Isaac. "To Win by Default." In New Republic, July 7, 1952, pp. 19-20.
For Further Study
Byars, John. "Notes and Discussion: Mimicry and Parody in Wise Blood." In College Literature, Vol. 11, No. 3, 1984, pp. 276-79. A review that describes ironies in the novel that O'Connor communicates through the use of twins, grandfather, Layfield, and Hawks. Byars also supports O'Connor's use of parody through various animal incidents.
Fitzgerald, Robert. "Introduction" to Everything That Rises Must Converge. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1965. Fitzgerald shares his personal memories of O'Connor as a close family friend. He describes her difficult times with lupus and provides insight into some of her writing.
Golden, Robert, and Mary Sullivan. Flannery O'Connor and Caroline Gordon: A Reference Guide. G. K. Hall, 1977. This book provides a complete guide to reviews, articles, and books about Flannery O'Connor and her work. In addition, the introduction written by Golden explains criticism of O'Connor's works in terms of four schools of thought about the religious issues they raise.
Kennedy, Laura. "Exhortation in Wise Blood: Rhetorical Theory as an Approach to Flannery O'Connor." In Flannery O'Connor: New Perspectives, edited by Sura Rath and Mary Shaw. University of Georgia Press, 1996, pp. 152-68. Kennedy explains the three distinguishable features of exhortative discourse and demonstrates how O'Connor's work meets the requirements.
Phillips, Robert. Coping with Lupus. Avery, 1991. This book provides an explanation of lupus and the ways it can affect the body. Along with a straightforward description of the function of the body's immune system, the book also addresses other effects on people—emotional, relational, and financial.
Witt, Jonathan. "Wise Blood and the Irony of Redemption." In the Flannery O'Connor Bulletin, Vol. 22, 1993-94, pp. 12-24. This article presents evidence for the redemptive theme in the novel. The characters' names and their images take on new meaning through Witt's description.
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Sources for Further Study
Baumgaertner, 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.
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