Wise Blood

Wise Blood Summary and Analysis of Chapters 3-4


Chapter 3

The next night, Hazel is walking through the streets Taulkinham when a man selling potato peelers to a small crowd catches his attention. A blind preacher and his daughter (Asa and Sabbath Lily Hawks) appear asking for money and distributing pamphlets, which causes many in the crowd to leave. Enraged at losing his audience, the seller yells at the pair, thereby attracting another crowd. Meanwhile, Hazel takes a pamphlet from the girl and tears it up. The girl glares at Hazel. She attempts to buy one of the peelers, but she does not have enough money. She leaves with her father. Hazel buys a peeler and starts after the preacher and his daughter.

Enoch Emery, an energetic 18 year-old boy who has recently arrived in Taulkinham, tags along with Hazel, telling him about the unfriendliness of the city and acting as guide. Enoch tells Hazel that his father once traded him to a religious woman who sent him to the Rodemill Boys' Bible Academy. After four weeks fearing he'd be "sanctified crazy" (40), Enoch scares the woman into a heart attack and returns to his father. Deserted again by his father, now he is alone in Taulkinham.

They catch up to the preacher and his daughter outside a theater, where Hazel confronts them and gives the girl the potato peeler. The preacher accosts Hazel and urges him to repent, but Hazel insists that he does not believe in Jesus or sin. As the audience streams out of the theater, the preacher thrusts pamphlets at Hazel and Enoch to hand out, but Hazel instead denounces the preacher to the crowd and proclaims a church without Christ. As he walks away, the preacher yells to him that his name is Asa Hawks.

Enoch follows as Hazel returns to Leora Watts' house. Rebuffed by Hazel, Enoch cries and tells him that the girl told him their address so that Hazel could visit. Hazel goes in to Mrs. Watts' room again, and as they get to making love, he remembers sneaking into a strip show that his father was also attending. Upon returning home, his mother berates him, and then he goes out into the woods, fills his shoes with rocks, and walks a mile and a half in them.

Chapter 4

Hazel leaves Leora Watts' house early the next morning with the firm, though suddenly-formed, intention to buy a car. He goes to a used car lot, buys a busted Essex, and drives it onto the highway. At one point, a truck in front of him stops by a boulder with a slogan painted on it: "WOE TO THE BLASPHEMER AND WHOREMONGER! WILL HELL SWALLOW YOU UP?" (71)

The truck moves on, and Hazel pulls up next to the rock, noticing that "Jesus saves" is written in small letters at the bottom. As he studies this, another truck pulls up behind him and honks at Hazel to get going. Hazel does not respond, so the driver comes out and accosts him. Hazel explains that he is reading the sign and that he does not believe in sin or anything else; in fact, Hazel says, "Jesus is a trick on [blacks]*" (72). He then asks the driver for directions to the zoo. He drives off, to find Enoch.

*Wise Blood employs a racial slur for African Americans, common in 1940s American south, in its characters' dialogue.


In the frighteningly parodic universe of Wise Blood, modern secular society and its religious underside seem to constantly oppose each other. The potato peeler seller, like so many other characters in the novel, is a distortion of a preacher; his stand is even described as an "altar" (34). Like Hoover Shoats, who will appear later on, the seller does his "preaching" from the standpoint of pure charisma without any kind of content, spiritual or otherwise. In this passage, O'Connor also gives a singularly insightful description of how a preacher's voice works a crowd: "He was pitching his voice under the street noises so that it reached every ear distinctly as if in a private conversation" (34). In order to attract the attention of enough people to form a crowd, the preacher cannot simply speak to them as they are when they stream out of a movie theater in a large group. Rather, he finds a way to speak to everyone at once while making everyone feel as though he or she is being spoken to individually. When Asa Hawks shows up and provokes a confrontation with this man, it becomes apparent that Hawks too is a false preacher; such that eventually it is Hazel, the man who has made a point of telling most people he meets that he is not a preacher, who begins to counter-preach and stump for his anti-church, his "church without Christ."

The central motif of sight appears in Chapter 3 in a particularly interesting way that we should consider alongside Mrs. Flood's later attempts to understand and then marry Hazel: Hazel accuses Sabbath Hawks of "giving eye" to him, an accusation that she returns after he follows them, having been so affected by this. Hitherto, most of the characters have only stared at Hazel or been stared at by him, but in this case the vision seems to have not only gone one way but two. In another novel this might be the signal to the beginning of a romance - i.e. "love at first sight" - but as the story progresses, we will see how this meeting of gazes only leads to a very degenerate sort of relationship between Hazel and Sabbath.

One other point of interest in this Chapter 3 is the scene in which Hazel ignores a traffic light in crossing the street and Enoch tells the policeman that he will take care of Hazel. When the policeman asks him how long he has been in Taulkinham, Enoch replies, "I was born and raised here…This is my ol' home town," even though just a page before he told Hazel that he has only been in the city for two months and finds it a most unfriendly place where he does not belong (41-2). Though we could read this simply as one of the spontaneous things that comes out of Enoch's mouth, there is yet some truth in it; for although Enoch has some attachment to the past through "his daddy's wise blood," like Hazel if he ever had a home, it is gone. Therefore, it only makes sense that the city, the anti-home, is the home for the homeless.

If we recall that along with his powerful neck, Hazel's preacher grandfather relied upon his car for his vocation, Hazel's sudden desire to buy a car becomes all the more apparent. We might say that Hazel has "his grandfather's blood" - despite vehemently denying the man's beliefs. At the used car lot where an Essex catches Hazel's eye, we meet another one of the many eccentric and disturbed characters in the story: the son of the car lot owner, who curses compulsively. O'Connor describes this in ways that suggest physical illness: "It was like a hacking cough," and later his father says, "I don't never know what ails him" (68, 69). Of course, all the curses involve Jesus, much to Hazel's disturbance. The melding of physical illness, psychical malaise, and religious enthusiasm is the meaning of "wise blood." The car is also a symbol of home, as Hazel tells the dealer, “I wanted this car mostly to be a house for me,” he said to the man. “I ain’t got any place to be” (69). The narrator mentions in the first chapter that Hazel is searching for home, and his longing for Jesus was in fact a sense of homesickness. However, just as Eastrod is a deserted city in ruins, the Essex cannot become Hazel's new home. By nature, a vehicle is rootless. Hazel remains unmoored in Taulkinham.

One of O'Connor's masterful uses of irony involves Hazel banging on his nonfunctioning horn at a car in front of him and then in turn not noticing the properly functioning horn of the truck behind honking at him when he stops to read the rock. More than simple humor however, this passage elucidates the individual's capacity to ignore one's senses and the others around them. Hazel, incensed that he has to wait behind the driver, repeats this behavior when it his turn at the rock. Of course, we can imagine that Hazel's interpretation of the sign may be different than the man before him. Hazel here can be seen as egocentric and contradictory; he calls out others for behavior he adopts himself. Though not the intended outcome, the rock ultimately does serve its purpose; the rock does make Hazel think about sin and Jesus, and he soon follows through on the call to act.

When confronted by the angry driver, Hazel again starts "anti-preaching", telling the (uninterested) man he believes in nothing. His insistence that Jesus is a trick on blacks is an allusion to the usage of religion to defend prejudice, and the century of racist social and legal implications of that prejudice like slavery and segregation. However, Hazel exists 20 years before the effects of the Civil Rights Era's confrontation of the Jim Crow south. Therefore, he still refers to blacks by the n-word, and is astonished when the porter in Chapter 1 does not react as he is accustomed to being treated as a white man. Again, Hazel is a contradictory character.

It can be inferred that this statement reflects a belief held by O'Connor, a devout Catholic writing about this specific moment in the history of the south. 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)