Wise Blood

Wise Blood Summary and Analysis of Chapter 13


The second night that Hoover Shoats goes preaching with his surrogate for Hazel, whose name is actually Solace Layfield, Hazel watches them from his car and then follows Layfield when he drives off. After Hazel rams Layfield's car with his own, Layfield gets out and asks Hazel what he wants. Hazel accuses him of being not true and forces him to remove his hat and suit, which imitate Hazel's own dress. As Layfield runs away, Hazel runs him down in his car and then hears the man's last words before driving off.

The next morning Hazel tries to drive out to a new city, but is stopped on the highway by a policeman who tells him to drive his car up onto an embankment and then get out to look at the view. After Hazel complies, the policeman pushes the Essex down the hill, and Hazel can only stare blankly into the distance as his prized possession smashes into pieces below. Refusing the policeman's offer of a ride, Hazel walks back to the city, gets a bucket of lime, and tells his landlady he is going to blind himself.


In this chapter, Hazel makes his last desperate attempts to make good on his life by eliminating the false Prophet that Hoover Shoats has set up and by driving off to a different city to preach. However, this turns out to be his final spurt of willfulness, after which there is nothing left for him to do but to blind himself in a resignation not unlike Enoch's.

Of course, what disturbs Hazel the most about his imposter is not so much that he steals Hazel's crowds but the frightening resemblance not simply of clothing, but also of demeanor - and not simply of demeanor, but of religious belief. In a sense, Hazel is deconstructing himself by knocking the man's car into a ditch and forcing him to undress - starting with his signature preacher's hat - and finally running him over. Other than Solace Layfield's general obliviousness in the situation, what may stoke a note of sympathy for him is that he says, "He bought me thisyer suit. I thrown my othern away," which should remind us of course of how Enoch buried his own clothes and donned the Gonga costume (205). There is a certain hypocrisy in Hazel's accusing the man of posing as something that he does not believe in, for what is that but Hazel's whole project of the Church Without Christ? Indeed, putting on masks and living in contradiction is not something that belongs to Hazel alone but nearly all of his society.

Nevertheless, we must give close consideration to Hazel's denunciation: "Two things I can't stand…a man that ain't true and one that mocks what is" (206). This is a rather odd statement to read in a book that is filled with truths that are untruths (e.g. Hazel preaching against Christ) and mockery. In fact, it seems that the only way for true, and holy, things to happen in this bizarre world is through irony, parody, and mockery. However, we might understand Hazel in the sense that whereas he cannot live comfortably in this sort of world because of his unusual moral integrity and passion for truth, others like Hoover Shoats and Solace Layfield are content to blaspheme the truth to make a buck. Hazel's search for ultimate truth, however, leads him to a deeply immoral act - murder. Though he seemingly gets away with the crime, he is punished first by a cosmic joke. The police officer who pulls him over does not arrest him for murder, instead he destroys Hazel's car for mysterious reasons. Hazel is thus resigned to Taulkinham, unable to escape to a new city to preach the truth. Hazel buys lime and finishes the job that Asa Hawks, another false preacher, was unable to. Hazel returns to his faith, which includes the self-inflicted punishments of his youth, and begins a medieval atonement for his sins.

At the end of the chapter, the perspective shifts from Hazel's to his landlady, Mrs. Flood. He arrives home with the lime, announces he intends to blind himself and then goes upstairs. The narrator remains with Mrs. Flood as he muses about Hazel's odd behavior. She can't imagine why anyone would want to be blind; she imagines death as an eternal blindness and does not know why anyone would chose to not seek more enjoyment out of life. Though she does not know it yet, Mrs. Flood is about to be changed by Hazel's act.