The boy didn't need to hear it. There was already a deep black wordless conviction in him that the way to avoid Jesus was to avoid sin.
As a young child, Hazel Motes was in thrall to his grandfather, a fiery preacher. His grandfather would point to him during sermons and say that Jesus died for his sins. Young Hazel was terrified by this, but also knew he would become a preacher. However, the image of Jesus stalking him from tree to tree led Hazel to avoid sin at all costs - in order to protect him from Jesus. This points to a contradictory, almost paradoxical nature of Hazel's faith, that will develop throughout the novel; he rejects Christian morality (Jesus), but in avoiding sin, he acts in accordance with Christian morality.
"Listen," he said, "get this: I don't believe in anything."
"Not in nothing at all?" he asked, leaving his mouth open after the question.
"I don't have to say it but once to nobody," Haze said.
The driver closed his mouth and after a second he returned the piece of cigar to it. "That's the trouble with you preachers," he said. "You've all got too good to believe in anything," and he drove off with a look of disgust and righteousness.
Hazel is offended when the taxi driver taking him to prostitute Mrs. Leora Watts assumes he is a preacher. He professes to believe in nothing, which distresses the taxi driver - because he feels that preachers have become "too good" to sympathize or empathize with the common man. The taxi driver unwittingly affirms Hazel's belief that preachers do not preach the truth. This moment is also one of comic miscommunication; both men are irritated by the other, and both are self-righteous.
"Is it a n***er?" Haze asked. "Are they doing something to a n***er?"
Although the novel only contains one African-American character, the train porter, and only mentions African-Americans tangentially, the issue of Southern racism lies in the background of much of the novel just as sexuality and religiosity do. In this passage, the young Hazel is trying to see a peep show, which though he is too young to understand, intuits that it is something taboo. Therefore, it is his honest misunderstanding to guess that something unpleasant is being done to a black person - for just like female sexuality, racism is a very real but suppressed force in the society in which Hazel exists.
Later, Hazel says that Jesus is a trick on blacks, hinting at a post-war evolution in his worldview (albeit, one that still uses slurs). O'Connor attempts to address the failures of white Catholics to confront racism in these lines, though the language is still couched in the vernacular of the time.
"I like his eyes," she observed, "They don't look like they see what he's looking at but they keep on looking."
As Sabbath tells Hazel later, it is his eyes that make him attractive to her. The way that she phrases it in this passage suggests the odd notion that Hazel's sight and his eye's sight may be different; that is, that Hazel can look at one thing but that his vision itself would force him to look even further. This is the curse of his too-clear sight that reveals religiously disturbing things to him.
"There was this child once," she said, turning over on her stomach, "that nobody cared if it lived or died. Its kin sent it around from one to another of them and finally to its grandmother who was a very evil woman and she couldn't stand to have it around because the least good thing made her break out in these welps...It seen its granny in hell-fire, swoll and burning, and it told her everything it seen and she got so swoll until finally she went to the well and wrapped the well rope around her neck and let down the bucket and broke her neck."
In the middle of her trying to seduce him on the side of the road, Sabbath tells Hazel a story about a little girl denied by her family. The good child caused an extreme, almost allergic, reaction in its grandmother. The grandmother locks the child in a chicken coop, but this doesn't stop the girl from telling the woman all about how she will burn in hell. Finally, the grandmother is so tired of her agitation that she drowns herself in a well.
In Catholicism, suicide is a mortal sin and, according to doctrine, the grandmother will be resigned to hell for committing the act. This story mirrors Hazel's journey of redemption in that what the woman tries to avoid becomes prophecy of her own destruction. Being told she will go to hell by a good girl drives the woman to suicide - thus, condemning her to hell. Hazel's search for the truth leads him to commit murder, and straight to the type of redemption through punishment that he tried to avoid his whole life.
"Look at me!...and you look at a peaceful man! Peaceful because my blood has set me free."
Hazel is preaching this while also asking for a "new jesus," which Enoch hears. In one of the few times that Hazel mentions his own "blood," that trait which is usually explicitly associated with Enoch, he tells the people to whom he preaches that they should rely on their own blood instead of the blood of Jesus.
"Where you come from is gone, where you thought you were going to never was there, and where you are is no good unless you can get away from it. Where is there a place for you to be? No place...In yourself right now is all the place you've got."
The themes of home and redemption coalesce in this quote. The city of Hazel's birth is literally gone, so he has to find solace in himself - a person displaced and isolated in a city. He preaches against the idea of a heavenly reward here, undermining the idea that sin will be punished and good deeds rewarded in the afterlife. All there is is the here and now, and your own body and place is all the truth we have.
In spite of himself, Enoch couldn't get over the expectation that the new jesus was going to do something for him in return of his services. This was the virtue of Hope, which was made up, in Enoch, of two parts suspicion and one part lust...He had only a vague idea how he wanted to be rewarded, but he was not a boy without ambition: he wanted to become something.
His wise blood fulfilled, Enoch waits to be changed for his good deed of delivering the new jesus to Hazel and Sabbath. He hopes to become something, instead of the nobody he is in Taulkinham. However, we see that the new jesus is dismissed and destroyed by Hazel; Enoch has not found a new savior. Enoch is described as being both suspicious and lustful, desiring a reward yet remaining skeptical. But the growing feeling in him since Hazel's arrival culminates with him stealing the Gonga costume. His wise blood leads him to literally become something - no longer a man, but an animal.
The gorilla stood as though surprised and presently its arm fell to its side. It sat down on the rock where they had been sitting and stared over the valley at the uneven skyline of the city.
After Enoch steals the Gonga costume and puts it on, he becomes the gorilla itself and, so he had hoped, gained its charisma and likability. However, when he tries to shake the hands of a young couple, they flee from him and leave him alone looking over the city still trapped in loneliness.
"Two things I can't stand," Haze said, "-a man that ain't true and one that mocks what is."
When Onnie Jay Holy shows up and starts to take over his preaching, Hazel repeatedly tries to tell the crowd what is perhaps the best understanding of the situation: namely, that Hazel himself preaches the truth, albeit a kind of anti-truth, whereas Holy is only speaking a "truth" for the sake of getting money. Before he kills Solace Layfield, he tells him that he isn't true because he believes in Jesus and, furthermore, mocks what is true by dressing up like Hazel for profit. Hazel's reaction is, of course, extreme, and he ends up committing murder to prove his point.
"I believe that what's right today is wrong tomorrow and that the time to enjoy yourself is now so long as you let others do the same. I'm as good, Mr. Motes," she said, "not believing in Jesus as a many a one that does."
"You're better," he said, leaning forward suddenly. "If you believed in Jesus, you wouldn't be so good."
Unknowingly, Mrs. Flood articulates the core of Hazel's Church Without Christ. All she has to rely on is her self and a sense of decency. Though Mrs. Flood is portrayed as both conniving and suspicious of being cheated, she follows a code outside of religious doctrine that still reflects religious morality - she does unto others as would be done on her. Without traditional faith she arrives at the same conclusion, much like Hazel's own journey to redemption absent of belief in sin.
Wise Blood Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Wise Blood is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.