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Literary Critique Of Wise Blood English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1621 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Flannery O’Connor is known for her southern stories that explore “the psychological and spiritual landscapes of the human soul” (Meyer 363) as well as for her creation of characters “that are alternately absurdly comic and tragic” (366). Wise Blood, her first novel, demonstrates her artistic ability as a writer. In this novel, Flannery O’Connor uses vivid descriptions, mimicry, and shocking violence to captivate her readers.

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Wise Blood is Flannery O’Connor’s first novel. This novel follows the stories of two main characters, Hazel Motes and Enoch Emery. Hazel Motes is a preacher unlike the rest. He creates “The Church Without Christ”. He is on a quest to prove to himself and others that Jesus does not exist. Enoch Emery is an eighteen year old in search of success. He is also on a quest to follow his instincts which he terms “Wise Blood”. Both these characters come to shocking ends in the story.

One technique that O’Connor uses very well in this novel is vivid descriptions. For example, she describes Mrs. Wally Bee Hitchcock as a “fat woman with pink collars and cuffs and pear-shaped legs that slanted off the train seat and didn’t reach the floor” (O’Connor 3). O’Connor presents a very vivid image of Mrs. Wally Bee Hitchcock in this sentence. The word “fat” can be opaque, including a variety of shapes. By using the imagery of a pear and the space between her legs and the floor, O’Connor gives readers a clear and interesting image of the character.

Another example of this excellent use of description is found in Hazel Motes imagination. “He saw Jesus move from tree to tree in the back of his mind, a wild ragged figure motioning to him to turn around and come off into the dark where he was not sure of his footing, where he might be walking on the water and not know it and then suddenly know it and drown.” (11). The image of Jesus as a wild man deep in the dark of a jungle trapping Hazel Motes into drowning shows that Hazel Motes feels at a great distance from Jesus, and that he is also afraid of Jesus and the unknown. This imagery gives readers an interesting and clear insight into Hazel Motes mind.

O’Connor also uses animal imagery throughout the novel. An example of this occurs when Hazel Motes sits down in a dining cart with “three youngish women dressed like parrots. Their hands were resting on the table, red-speared at the tips” (7). From this image the reader can determine that the women are wearing very colorful clothing accentuated by red nail polish on their fingers. The waiter is also described with animal imagery. He had “greased black hair and a greased black look to his suit. He moved like a crow, darting from table to table” (6). This presents a vivid image of the character’s look and movement.

Another excellent use of animal imagery is the description of Hazel Motes. “He had a nose like a shrike’s bill and a long vertical crease on either side of his mouth; His hair looked as if it had been permanently flattened under the heavy hat” (3-4). Not only does this description convey to the reader Hazel Motes birdlike looks, it also works on a deeper level. Hazel Motes tries empty humans of their consciences (93-95), just as a shrike impales its victims. This image gives readers a detailed physical description of Hazel Motes while also giving insight into his personality.

Again, O’Connor uses this twofold animal imagery when describing Hazel Motes’ grandfather. “His grandfather had been a circuit preacher, a waspish old man who had ridden over three countries with Jesus hidden in his head like a stinger” (9-10). This description conveys the image of a severe looking man. It also indicates that Hazel Motes’ grandfather used Jesus as a weapon against people, just as a wasp uses its stinger as a weapon.

Another example of O’Connor’s use of twofold animal imagery is the character of Enoch Emery. “He looked like a friendly hound dog with light mange” (23). This imagery tells the reader that Enoch Emery is an amiable boy with an unkempt appearance. It also indicates that he follows his instincts rather than making choices based on rationality. Enoch Emory follows his “wise blood” (44) and allows it to rule his decisions, just as a hound dog follows the scent of the hunted.

While O’Connor makes great use of vivid descriptions, one of the more intriguing aspects of her novel is the use of mimicry. One example of this mimicry is Hazel Motes and his church. Hazel Motes mimics his grandfather and other evangelical preachers. Hazel Motes’ grandfather “had a particular disrespect for him because his own face was repeated almost exactly in the child’s and seemed to mock him” (11). Not only does Hazel Motes look just like his grandfather, he preaches from the hood of his car (58), just like his grandfather did (10). Hazel Motes’ church, “The Church Without Christ” (58), preaches salvation without Jesus. In this way it mimics the churches of the evangelical preachers that preach that Jesus is the key to salvation.

O’Connor further develops this mimicry in a comical way through the characters of Hoover Shoats and Solace Layfield. Hoover Shoats tries to take over the “Church Without Christ” for monetary gain. He changes the name of the church to the “Holy Church of Christ Without Christ”. He also hires Solace Layfield as the “True Prophet” (94). Solace Layfield looks just like Hazel Motes, wears similar clothes, and drives a similar car (94). In this way, the “Holy Church of Christ without Christ” and Solace Layfield are a mimicry of Hazel Motes and the “Church Without Christ”.

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Another intriguing example of O’Connor’s use of mimicry is the mummy. The mummy becomes the new Jesus for the “Church Without Christ”. Hazel Motes tells the people that his church needs a new Jesus. He tells them that “it needs one that’s all man, without blood to waste, and it needs one that don’t look like any other man” (80). Enoch Emery then steals the mummy from the museum to give to Hazel Motes as the new Jesus (97). The mummy “was naked and a dried yellow color and his eyes were drawn almost shut as if a giant block of steel were falling down on top of him” (56). As the new Jesus for Hazel Motes’ mock church, the shriveled up mummy mimics the resurrected Christ.

This mimicry of Jesus is further developed in the portrayal of Sabbath Lily Hawks. Although the name Lily suggests purity, Sabbath Lily Hawks seduces Hazel Motes (10-11). When Enoch brings the mummy to Hazel Motes house, Sabbath Lily Hawks answers the door, takes the mummy, and cradles it.

Her hands grew accustomed to the feel of his skin. Some of his hair had come undone and she brushed it back where it belonged, holding him in the crook of her arm and looking down into his squinched face. His mouth had been knocked a little to one side so that there was just a trace of a grin covering his terrified look. She began to rock him a little in her arm and a slight reflection of that same grin appeared on her own face (104).

As Sabbath Lily Hawks holds and rocks the mummy, she mimics the Virgin Mary holding Jesus. These instances of inverse mimicry are both comical and grotesque and further absorb readers in the novel.

While O’Connor’s use of vivid descriptions and mimicry are intriguing, her use of violence to captivate readers is the most effective technique. When Enoch Emery takes Hazel Motes to see the mummy, he becomes so frightened that he forgets the address to Asa Hawks’ house. Hazel Motes throws a rock at him because of this. Enoch Emery “turned his head and saw a drop of blood on the ground and as he looked at it, he thought it widened like a little spring. He sat straight up, frozen-skinned, and put his finger in it, and very faintly he could hear his blood beating, his secret blood…Then he knew whatever was expected of him was only just the beginning” (57). This violence is unexpected and effectively grabs the readers’ attention. This violent scene is also used as foreshadowing to further absorb readers into the novel.

Another example of O’Connor’s effective use of violence is when Hazel Motes murders Solace Layfield. Hazel Motes runs over Solace Layfield with his car. He then “drove about twenty feet and stopped the car and then began to back it. He backed it over the body…A lot of blood was coming out of him and forming a puddle around his head” (115). This instance of shocking violence is riveting and also gives the reader further insight into the character of Hazel Motes. Hazel Motes murders Solace Layfield in a final attempt to kill his own conscience. The fact that Solace Layfield is also a mimic of Hazel Motes emphasizes the fact that Hazel Motes is attempting to kill a part of himself, namely his conscience.

Wise blood is filled with vivid descriptions, intriguing mimicry, and startling violence which effectively keeps readers absorbed in the novel. This novel certainly conveys Flannery O’Connor’s ability to write artistically and effectively. For this reason, readers will certainly be drawn to read her other works.


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