Wise Blood

Wise Blood Summary and Analysis of Chapter 14


Mrs. Flood, Hazel Motes' landlady, begins to take a particular interest in him after, true to his word, he blinds himself with lime. A clear-sighted woman who wants to understand and acquire almost everything she lays her eyes on, she is baffled by Hazel's unseeing, ruined eyes and his empty personality. She feels as though he is cheating her out of something and knows something she does not, so she tries to get to know him and, finding out he barely spends any of the money awarded to him because of his war injury, raises his rent.

Sabbath leaves Hazel because "she hadn't counted on no honest-to-Jesus blind man" (219). After two weeks, she returns, to the chagrin of Mrs. Flood. She tells Hazel that she'll have to charge them double if the "harpy" stays, and that Sabbath is only after his money. Hazel pays without commentary or emotion. But Mrs. Flood has Sabbath remanded to a detention center.

Mrs. Flood finds Hazel doing inexplicable things like walking with rocks in his shoes and wrapping barbed wire around his chest, and at a certain point the strange wonder she feels towards him turns into a plan to marry him. However, when she approaches him with this idea, he escapes from the house. After a cold, rainy night, she reports him to the police as missing - and delinquent on his rent. The police find him lying barely alive in a ditch, hit him in the head with a club, and then bring him to Mrs. Flood, who, thinking him alive, tells him that he does not have to pay rent anymore. She tries to peer into his eyes and understand him.


Even after Hazel has put lime in his eyes, the story continues in its blindingly clear-sighted manner through the intact eyes of Mrs. Flood, to whom we were introduced in the previous chapter, which ends: "What possible reason could a sane person have for wanting to not enjoy himself any more? She certainly couldn't say." (213) This final chapter continues with great understatement: "But she kept it in mind because after he had done it, he continued to live in her house and every day the sight of him presented her with the question." (217) Thus, his sight is lost, but it is the sight of Hazel that has a preacherly, unsettling impression on others, which forces them to question themselves.

In fact, Hazel has become what he once mistook Asa Hawks to be; that is, one who preaches through deed. We witness Mrs. Flood behaving towards Hazel in much the same way that Hazel behaved to Hawks: If she didn't keep her mind going on something else when he was near her, "she would find herself leaning forward, staring into his face as if she expected to see something she hadn't seen before" (217). Although her logic generally follows along a very pecuniary bent, it is still very similar to Hazel's; for she has a very strong sense of self and longing to bring everything else into clear understanding: "She couldn't look at anything steadily without wanting it, and what provoked her most was the thought that there might be something valuable hidden near her, something she couldn't see" (218). This personality that Mrs. Flood and Hazel share may be contrasted with that of the myopic Enoch, who despite his so-called "ambition" is far more passive in wanting to be accepted by others and following the commands of his wise blood.

Despite this similarity with Hazel, Mrs. Flood is blocked by her own strong sense of conventionality and normality, which stands between her and Hazel until the very end. She cannot understand why he walks with rocks and glass in his shoes, and why he wraps his chest in barbed wire. We know that Hazel has done this before - to atone for spying on the peep show, he walked with rocks in his shoes until his feet bled. Of course, this self-inflicted punishment in childhood does not culminate in the desired effect, redemption, and instead becomes one of the motivating factors for Hazel to begin his anti-church later in life. But now, after truly doing something amoral - murdering Solace Layfield, a crime that goes unpunished by the authorities - Hazel returns to extreme tests of faith. He blinds himself with lime, completing the act Asa Hawks could not bring himself to do, and wallows in self harm. Can we then interpret that Hazel has rejected the tenets of his Church Without Christ and returned to the faith of his youth?

Collected in The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O'Connor, O'Connor writes,

"Haze is saved by virtue of having wise blood; it's too wise for him ultimately to deny Christ. Wise blood as to be these people's means of grace - they have no sacraments. The religion of the South is a do-it-yourself religion, something which I as a Catholic find painful and touching and grimly comic. It's full of unconscious pride that lands them in all sorts of ridiculous religious predicaments. They have nothing to correct their practical heresies and so they work them out dramatically. If this were merely comic to me, it would be no good, but I accept the same fundamental doctrines of sin and redemption and judgment that they do" (O'Connor, ed. Fitzgerald 350).

Hazel ultimately returns to his faith by creating a new sacrament for atonement: "And having preached the counter-gospel that nothing is true but one's own body and place, Motes must work out his salvation precisely there, by mutilating the flesh that he had once deified" (Wood 169). He has sinned, but also found redemption in judging himself.

The novel concludes with an extraordinary passage illustrating one man's salvation and the ultimate failure of others to understand him:

"She felt as if she were blocked at the entrance of something. She was staring with her eyes shut, into his eyes, and felt as if she had finally got to the beginning of something she couldn't begin, and she saw him moving farther and farther away, farther and farther into the darkness until he was the pin point of light" (236).

Intuitively, Mrs. Flood realized that she could only see into Hazel's blind eyes by temporarily blinding herself of her own clear sight. Her time with Hazel makes her ponder the metaphysical, and though she does not achieve the same grace as Hazel does in his death, there is a glimmer of hope that, at last, Hazel has reached another through his extreme, personal preaching: "in his martyrdom he serves as the vehicle for Mrs. Flood’s possible reception of grace, and because she serves as our eyes, she allows readers to access that same mystery" (Demory).