Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

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...

(The entire section is 585 words.)

Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


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...

(The entire section is 601 words.)


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

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...

(The entire section is 418 words.)

Historical Context

(Novels for Students)

Evangelist Tom Presnell Published by Gale Cengage

According to Michael Kreyling in the introduction to New Essays on Wise Blood, O'Connor's attention to religious themes in...

(The entire section is 659 words.)

Literary Style

(Novels for Students)

Point of View
Until Mrs. Flood enters the story at the end of the book, Flannery O'Connor writes Wise Blood...

(The entire section is 727 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

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...

(The entire section is 363 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Novels for Students)

  • Late 1930s and 1940s: Reeling from the effects of the Great Depression Americans conserved their money....

(The entire section is 338 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Novels for Students)

  • Wise Blood depicts a man who denies Christianity to the point of extremes. Like Hazel Motes, many people feel a pull towards...

(The entire section is 267 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

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...

(The entire section is 219 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The Violent Bear It Away (1960) is a full-length treatment of the modern college-educated personality who has been brainwashed, from...

(The entire section is 704 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

In 1979, John Huston made a feature length film of Wise Blood. (Produced by Michael Fitzgerald, directed by John Huston, written by...

(The entire section is 149 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Novels for Students)

  • Director John Huston adapted Wise Blood to film in 1979. Brad Dourif starred as Hazel Motes. Other cast members included Ned...

(The entire section is 40 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Novels for Students)

  • Flannery O'Connor's "Everything that Rises Must Converge," first published in 1964, and included in the 1965 short story collection of the...

(The entire section is 308 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Novels for Students)

Allen, William Rodney. "The Cage of Matter: The World as Zoo in Flannery O'Connor's 'Wise Blood.'" In...

(The entire section is 628 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

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,...

(The entire section is 430 words.)