Wise Blood is often described as a novel of great fierceness and frightening energy. Do you agree with this stylistic assessment?
Living in modern society so saturated with bizarre and exotic images and ideas, we must wonder at what makes Wise Blood particularly disturbing, especially in its religiously incisive way. If O'Connor had simply spoken through the mouth of Hazel's preacher grandfather, it might be conceivable for us readers to simply turn away from him as people on the street might; rather, she gets inside the very mechanism that allows us to turn away - irony - by manifesting it in the person of Hazel Motes. At first, we might empathize with Hazel and his attempts to escape his past, but as he becomes overwhelmed by forces outside his control, we find that our efforts to resist them have also failed, and so we feel struck by a religious force akin, to borrow a line from Hazel, to the sort of flagellation that religious fanatics felt in the Middle Ages.
According to Flannery O'Connor, what traits characterize a preacher? What is the significance of these traits in modern secular society?
The first we hear of a preacher in the novel is Hazel's black hat, which belies his youth and marks him as a man of great personal depth. Then, when he thinks of his grandfather, we realize that he has inherited such a fierce physical appearance and other preacherly traits from his grandfather. In a word, a preacher must have a kind of raw, visceral strength that usually manifests itself in some part of the body. Moreover, since he does not simply preach to a single church but rather travels preaching to all, the preacher must possess great mobility, as exemplified in his vehicle: the car. There is a significant sense in which the preacher shares much with that other charismatic figure of modern society, the salesman (e.g. the potato peeler seller and Hoover Shoats), but as Hazel demonstrates, the preacher must have the force of a deep personal belief that does not agree with the world.
What is the significance of race and racism in "Wise Blood"? Is it a standalone aspect, or is it connected with other major themes?
We hear of race only here and there, the most sustained portion being Hazel's confrontation with the train porter; however, especially to contemporary ears, its presence cannot be ignored. We might even consider it an analogue of the theme of religiosity, which similarly is not always at the forefront; for even when Hazel is preaching his Church without Christ, it is not on the literal surface of his cynical words but under them that the real dynamic of the story and his personal development move. It is then no coincidence that both racism and religiosity are charged with the same kind of suspicion, violence, and doubt.
O'Connor was a devout Catholic writing about a specific moment in the history of the south - the Jim Crow era following World War II. In a conversation for PBS's Religion & Ethics, Ralph Wood, scholar and author of Flannery O'Connor and the Christ-Haunted South says, "For Flannery O’Connor, race was indeed the curse of the south in the sense that it was the single-most important test which we as white Christians failed. For O’Connor, the mistreatment of black people is a violation of their being creatures made in the image of God." (PBS)
Identify and parse one important structural parallel in the novel, e.g. a recurring scene, line of dialogue, description, etc.
Although for much of the novel we see the crazy world of the city through Hazel's clear eyes, in its beginning and end it is instead Hazel whom we are looking at, specifically, his eyes. Although Hazel goes through a tortuous personal spiritual development in between, the striking similarity between the way that Mrs. Wally Bee Hitchcock and Mrs. Flood see him suggests that such a potential for self-negation and true religious intuition existed in Hazel all along. We might compare these two sentences, the first from Mrs. Hitchcock's perspective and the second from Mrs. Flood's perspective: "[Hazel's eyes] were the color of pecan shells and set in deep sockets. The outline of a skull under his skin was plain and insistent" (4) and "The outline of a skull was plain under his skin and the deep burned eye sockets seemed to lead into the dark tunnel where he had disappeared." (235)
What is the significance of Hazel's "rat-colored car"?
We readers probably quickly take note of Hazel's irrational, bordering on maniacal, faith in the junky Essex that he buys at a used car lot, considering all the times that it malfunctions; however, considering all the exaggeration in the novel, we might dismiss it prematurely. It is that classic comical motif, to be sure, of the tool which the character relies upon failing whenever it is most needed, such as to drive away from Hoover Shoats, but if we consider the explicit connection between Hazel's vocation as a preacher and the car he uses to get himself from one preaching location to the next and to use as a pulpit or platform, these seemingly random failures should seem like fate. The finest example of this would be, of course, the car's final destruction, seemingly arbitrary, at the hands of the policeman; and it is this incident, needless to say, that finally breaks Hazel's faith in being able to escape to another city, or to be able to outrun the Jesus moving from tree to tree chasing him in the back of his mind.