The novel begins with Hazel looking with his sharp, clear eyes out of the train window and ends with Hazel blinded - perhaps even doubly-blinded, considering that he is dead. His spiritual development over the course of the story is most intimately tied to his vision, for he begins by speaking of hard facts and truths, only to realize that others cannot see what he sees and that he himself is unable to see many things for the very reason that he sees so well. Therefore, his blinding himself fulfills the main paradox of the novel. Asa Hawks is a blind preacher who turns out to be nothing more than a conman. He claimed he would blind himself as an act of faith, but he loses his resolve. We should also not forget the crucial detail that Enoch with his wise blood is described at one point as having poor eyesight.
Hazel's hat (symbol)
Apart from his striking eyes, Hazel's hat is one of the most conspicuous parts of his physical appearance. The first black hat gives many people he comes across the impression that he is a preacher and comes to stand for his very identity as a preacher and religious man in a secularized, or inauthentically religious world. This hat, however, is defaced by Leora Watts, making him buy a new white hat, which though he picked so as to be deliberately the opposite of a preacher's hat, is described as "fierce" and essentially gives off the same impression. Once again, in order for Hazel to make love, the woman, in this case Sabbath Hawks, must remove his hat and thus his religious symbol.
Hazel's car (symbol)
It is no coincidence that the idea of buying a car to use, as he says, as a home came to Hazel while he was lying in Leora Watts' bed; for Hazel had hoped to attain the feeling of being at home by having a woman while at the same time staying homeless by choosing a woman he obviously cannot love. One of his grandfather's most prized tools was his car, and Hazel follows his example by preaching from the hood of his Essex. The car Hazel chooses is barely functional; the horn doesn't work, there are cracks in the engine and it keeps stalling. Finally, Hazel uses his car as a murder weapon, running over the man pretending to preach Hazel's gospel. Hazel's car is an extension of his preaching, and it is just as faulty and violent as his own faith in crisis.
The animals in Wise Blood are all described in very negative and disturbing ways, and to that extent provide the human characters with mirrors to better understand themselves. Both Enoch and Hazel take special interests in the animals in the zoo and elsewhere; Enoch ends up becoming the gorilla Gonga, and Hazel loses not only one eye as the owl he sees, but both. The implication is that the animals, despite being unintelligent in a human sense, are able to sense more for having a kind of intuitive sense.
Wanting to see another's eyes (motif)
Given the importance of sight in Wise Blood, it should come as no surprise that characters take a keen interest in each other's eyes. It is through Mrs. Hitchcock's interest in Hazel's eyes that we first learn of their frightening clarity, and then Hazel himself in turn becomes intensely eager to see Asa Hawks' supposedly blinded eyes. Eventually after Hazel blinds himself, the also very clear-sighted Mrs. Flood becomes obsessed with trying to figure out what is going on behind his ruined eyes.
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.