Wise Blood

Wise Blood Summary and Analysis of Chapters 9-10


Chapter 9

Hazel Motes and the Hawkses have become quite estranged, as Asa Hawks refuses to let Hazel into their room, and Hazel continually rebuffs Sabbath's advances. Meanwhile, Hazel's attempt to show up Asa Hawks by attracting a following for his Church Without Christ has failed completely. However, there is one man who appears quite often in the crowds Hazel preaches to, smiling and winking at him.

One night this Onnie Jay Holy, as he introduces himself, begins to speak with the charisma of an experienced salesman of a sappily optimistic distortion of Hazel's preaching and thereby attracts a significant audience. Furious at this strange character, Hazel tries to drive off, but Holy is able to dog along due to the Essex's unreliable engine failing. Hazel kicks him out of his car, at which point Holy tells him that his name is Hoover Shoats and vows to run him out of business as a preacher. Hazel sleeps in his car and then gets up at midnight to see Hawks. He picks the lock and then with a candle held to the sleeping man's eyes, learns for himself that Hawks is in fact not blind.

Chapter 10

The next night Hazel goes to preach in front of a theater again, when suddenly Hoover Shoats shows up with a man with a striking resemblance to Hazel, who begins to preach Shoats' distorted version of Hazel's ideas. Hazel mumbles to himself that he must either hunt down and kill this twin or else be hunted down and killed himself, and then drives back to the boarding house, where he finds Sabbath in his bed. At first she expects him to drive her away again, but seeing that he has no such intention, she tells him that her father has abandoned her and that she can teach him how to like being filthy. Finally, he sleeps with her.


If Hazel Motes is an a sort of anti-preacher who preaches a Church Without Christ in an attempt to outdo and overcome his grandfather and Asa Hawks, then Hoover Shoats, alias Onnie Jay Holy, is an anti-anti-preacher who in turn takes over Hazel's words and religion. The very first descriptions of him portray him as such a distortion or parody of Hazel's preacher-like demeanor; not simply a derivative, he exhibits some threatening potential to the younger man: "under his smile, there was an honest look that fitted into his face like a set of false teeth" (148). The irony of this sentence should not escape us, for what is more oxymoronic than a "show of honesty"? "Every time Haze looked at him, the man winked" (148). It is almost as though to say, You and I are doing the same thing, speaking of truth dishonestly, almost just for the sake of deceiving people.

We have no reason to believe that Hoover Shoats is the man's real name, but, true name or not, "Hoover Shoats" is a perverse play on "Hazel Motes". Hazel's name indicates his character, as it bears references to the power of sight, and its corruption (eye color Hazel, nickname of "Haze") as well as a Biblical reference (see Analysis of Chapters 1-2). Now, consider "Hoover Shoats." Hoover is taken from the vacuum cleaner brand, and a shoat is a young pig. (Sparrow) We can infer just from his name that Shoats is a huckster and a pig.

Everything that Shoats says is a sort of parody on things that Hazel or, surprisingly or almost mystically, other characters have said. He begins by addressing a woman and then two men very personally, the same preacher's tactic as the potato peeler was described to have used; O'Connor even describes Shoats as speaking "confidentially" (149). He says, "Listen, friends…two months ago before I met the Prophet here, you wouldn't know me for the same man. I didn't have a friend in the world. Do you know what it's like to not have a friend in the world?" (149) Of course, this is almost exactly what Enoch had told Hazel, down to the "two months"; and for those who have lost their homes, the city is all the "world" to them, in which they know no one.

When he says, "My name is Onnie Jay Holy and I'm telling it to you so you can check up and see I don't tell you any lie," it brings to mind Asa Hawks' showing Hazel the newspaper clipping - a partial truth that deceives (150). In Holy's case, he may have in fact been a radio preacher, which he is happy to tell people unlike the true preacher who denies being a preacher, Hazel; but in the end he only wants to make money, and this is a truth that people cannot simply look up. We see how he has quickly picked up and learned to distort Hazel's words; instead of saying that he believes nothing, he preaches, "I wouldn't have you believe nothing you can't feel in your own hearts" (150). This statement is actually strikingly close to the sort of wise blood religious intuition that characterizes Hazel and Enoch in a positive, albeit manic, way. But as he continues, it turns out that it is not a kind of compulsive suffering and self-sacrifice that this idea of "heart" comprises, but a self-serving notion of inner "sweetness" and happiness. His story of the child losing its sweetness is moreover a parody of the stories of suffering children that Sabbath so loves to tell.

At one point, Shoats comes across as a parody of Protestant belief. He and Hazel diverge in a way that almost cannot be bridged by parody when he says that one only has to believe what one can understand, whereas Hazel says that the truth is the truth whether or not one understands it - the implication of course being that one will not and should not understand it, as with wise blood. The practical manifestation of Shoats' belief in understanding is that the Bible can simply be interpreted on one's own, raising the question of scriptural interpretation that was one of the original divides between Protestantism and Catholicism. Basically, Protestants believe that sacred authority lies only in the text itself, whereas Catholics also believe in a received tradition of biblical interpretation.

The sermon that Hazel preaches in Chapter 10 just before he is unceremoniously "run out of business" by Hoover Shoats and Solace Layfield, whom Shoats has set up as an imposter of Hazel, deserves some special attention if only because it is the last time that he preaches before blinding himself and becoming something of a hermit.

As with his religious thought in general, what Hazel deals with in his final sermon is the religious crisis of his time, in which whatever Christianity survives increasing secularization and urbanization becomes itself distorted into a feel-good, consumerist, ersatz religion. Forgoing the reactionary, conservative option of reaffirming and reasserting his religious faith against the perceived decadence of the city, Hazel finds a way to depart from that original home and at the same time not adopt the city as his new home: "I preached there are all kinds of truth, your truth and somebody else's, but behind all of them, there's only one truth and that is that there's no truth" (165). What kind of a truth is this? Just as his Church Without Christ is a kind of anti-church, so is the truth that he preaches a kind of anti-truth, a concept for which there happens to be an established notion: negative theology. We should keep these larger philosophical and theological issues in mind while reading.

"No truth behind all truths is what I and this church preach!" (165) It is taken for granted in the world of Wise Blood that any preacher has a message to give, usually of salvation and redemption, i.e. self-betterment, and a corresponding donation to ask for; in a sense, religious betterment is just another product that one may buy, such that people would actually feel suspicious to receive it without having to pay in money. Conversely, Hazel does not really give anyone anything through his preaching but challenges them to challenge themselves and their own complacently ossified religious beliefs, for which they need give no money but much suffering. Essentially, Hazel is establishing an alternative, more authentic "economy" of faith, which draws from the religious intensity of the Middle Ages (cf. his wrapping barbed wire around himself and his explanation to Mrs. Flood as to his motivations behind his action) rather than the commercialism of modern capitalistic society.

To that end, Hazel rejects the idea of belonging (i.e. a past one has come from) and self-betterment (i.e. a future one is going to) and focuses his entire sense of reality and religion into a present - which, crucially, is no home either but, "In yourself right now is all the place you've got" (166). Left without any other place or any other time, the present self is also without rest or redemption; Hazel challenges the crowd to identify how they have been personally redeemed, a reflection which basically amounts to: one is complacently "redeemed" so long as one does not look, but once one looks, one realizes that there was no redemption to begin with and in a sense "becomes" un-redeemed. He does not get the chance to say what to do after achieving such genuine self-consciousness before the imposters show up, almost as a result of his preaching about eliminating one's own imposters as the final act of self-consciousness.