Wise Blood

Wise Blood Themes


Redemption is a key theme of Wise Blood, in that it is what Hazel Motes both vehemently denies as well as what he ultimately is in search of. As a young boy in the shadow of his frightening preacher grandfather, he learned that Jesus died for his sins - but he got the impression that Jesus was somehow stalking the sinful to remind them of his sacrifice. Therefore, Hazel decides he must avoid Jesus by avoiding sin: he refuses to go to the brothel with is army friends; he reads only the Bible; and he walks with rocks in his shoes to atone for catching a glimpse of a peep show. Of course, this means that, paradoxically, Hazel acts according to a morality he struggles to deny. During the war, the soldiers tell him he has no soul. The information frees Hazel, and he comes to believe that redemption is not necessary because sin is a lie; there is only truth. By the end of the novel, however, he has committed a mortal sin, murder, and seeks redemption through extreme acts of faith - blinding himself, putting rocks and glass in his shoes, and wrapping his chest in barbed wire. Hazel returns to medieval acts of atonement in seek of the redemption that has eluded him his search for truth.


Despite Hazel's frequent and impassioned claims to be seeking and preaching the truth, we ought to wonder as readers where that truth is in the thoroughly ironic and cynical world of Wise Blood. Although, with his clear sight, Hazel speaks in very direct and materialistic terms of how truth must be physically encounterable, to the point that he calls for a physical "new jesus," the sight of which will save people. However, if anything, Enoch's ridiculous, unintentionally satirical delivery of the mummy as the new jesus refutes this sort of truth and shows Hazel to actually be looking for something beyond, a truth he can only see after he blinds himself.


The theme of home is what brings together a great many of the parts of Wise Blood, as is seen most clearly by the fact that the story is bookended with women talking to Hazel Motes about his home. In the beginning, while he is on the train to Taulkinham, Hazel is traveling away from the home he lost in Eastrod, which he had longed to return to during his service in the army and considered the true cause of his unsettledness, rather than his religious doubt. By the end, after all his experiences in the city, which can never be a home, and the loss of his car, which had served as a mobile home or a way to other homes, he finally makes his way to the only true home: death.


The symbolism of eyes and sight are repeated throughout the novel. Hazel Motes is described by his eyes that are clear and all-seeing, seeing what is beyond what others perceive. Sight is the symbol for his religious devotion, in contrast to other preachers who spout dogma divorced from the real world. Asa Hawks is revealed to be a false preacher because he is not blind; his nerve failed after professing to blind himself as a testament to his faith. Asa's daughter Sabbath notes Hazel's eyes, and find something dangerous and seductive in them. In the end, Hazel blinds himself to atone for the murder of Solace Layfield, and as a return to his faith. He is redeemed by blinding himself, and landlady Mrs. Flood searches for wisdom in his sightless eyes.

Past Haunting the Present

Even after Hazel returns from four years of war, finds that his home of Eastrod is gone, and goes to the city of Taulkinham to start his life anew, he cannot escape his past, which tails him like the figure of Jesus that moves from tree to tree in the back of his mind. In the sleeping berth of the train, he has nightmares recollecting the frightful religiosity that his preacher grandfather instilled in him and the horror of death that he encountered during the funerals of several of his family members. Enoch is similarly haunted, for although he likes to boast of his job at the city park, he is just as terribly out of place in the city as Hazel is and finds his only source of connection in the past, to his "wise blood" that is "his daddy's blood."

Intention and Resignation

Hazel sets out to Taulkinham in the beginning of the novel with an astonishingly sharp set of eyes, which nevertheless suggest a kind of mysterious profundity by the depth of their sockets; and so we see him trying to use that sight to make his way in the city preaching to free himself from the Jesus chasing him in his mind. However, in the end he is overcome by all the forces around him, the last straw being the reasonless destruction of his car, the very symbol of his individual freedom. However, he is paradoxically freed once he resigns himself completely and blinds himself, much as Enoch takes on the gorilla persona.

Female Sexuality

Ever since his childhood, Hazel has had a very uneasy relationship with female sexuality, to say the least. A combination of unusually strong moral integrity on one hand and a cynicism against religious beliefs leads him to indulge in things he considers sinful while always preserving the sense of sinfulness. As a child, he see a peep show - and then punished himself by walking with rocks in his shoes - and though he refuses to accompany his friends to the brothel while in the army, he does make good on his intention to do things he has never done in the city by making his way to Mrs. Leora Watts with little hesitation, with whom he loses his virginity. However, he becomes dissatisfied with this way of dissatisfying himself and so moves onto Sabbath; though even she is unable to change him and make him like sinning. All in all, the females characters in this novel are presented as temptresses.


There are very few elements in this novel, whether character traits, defining pieces of clothing, or lines of dialogue, that are not repeated by some other character in a mocking way. Each character is inextricably bound to others and thereby cannot truly be him- or herself, and it should come as no surprise that Hazel Motes is at the center of the whole nexus. We may see Enoch as a parody of his raw religious intuition ("wise blood"); Hoover Shoats (with his name so close to Hazel Motes') as a parody of his preacher's charisma; Solace Layfield as a parody of his professed disbelief; Mrs. Flood as a parody of his clear-sightedness, and so on.


If the characters in this novel seem grotesque, the animals represent an even more raw distillation of the destructive and disturbing aspects of human nature. The zoo in the city park, through which Enoch takes Hazel before showing him the mummy, is not unlike a stereotypical mental asylum, where the sane (Hazel) are disturbed to see themselves reflected in the insane (the one-eyed owl). Of course, it is Enoch who finally does become an animal by donning the Gonga suit, as though he hoped to become accepted in the human world and received many handshakes as a result of giving into his animalistic "wise blood"; however, this is denied him, as even in his animalistic form cannot escape the profound alienation of the city.