I am not 100% sure what to make of this book, but the mixture of religious symbolism applied to consumer goods and an almost romantic mystification of landscape makes this an interesting read.
Hazel Motes, the main character, doesn’t believe in anything intangible: „He had all the time he could to study his soul in and assure himself that it was not there.“ (O’Connor, 1988, p.12). Not having to work and wanting to convince others from his believe, he sets up his own church: „the church of truth without Jesus Christ Crucified. It won’t cost you nothing to join my church.“ (O’Connor, 1988, p.31).
As he doesn’t believe in anything immaterial in his church there is no sin, and no redemption: „„ I’m member and preacher to that church where the blind don’t see and the lame don’t walk and what’s dead stays that way. Ask me about that church and I’ll tell you it’s the church that the blood of Jesus don’t foul with redemption.“ (O’Connor, 1988, p.59). „“If you had been redeemed,“ Hazel Motes was shouting, „you would care about redemption, but you don’t. Look inside yourselves and see if you hadn’t rather it wasn’t if it was. There’s no peace for the redeemed,“ he shouted, „and I preach peace, I preach the Church without Christ, the church peaceful and satisfied!“ (O’Connor, 1988, p.80).
What matter in his church are material things, such as his car: „He would get another room there and another woman and make a new start with nothing on his mind. The entire possibility of this came from the advantage of having a car – of having something that moved fast, in privacy, to the place you wanted to be.“ (O’Connor, 1988, p.105).
Then a young man, Enoch, brings him a material Jesus (in the form of a mummified corpse stolen from a museum): „What you need is something to take the place of Jesus, something that would speak plain. The Church without Christ don’t have a Jesus but it needs one“ It needs a new jesus! It needs one that’s all man, without blood to waste, and it needs one that don’t look like any other man so you’ll look at him. Give me such a jesus, you people. Give me such a jesus and you’ll see how far the Church without Christ can go.“ (O’Connor, 1988, p.80).
Yet Hazel, starts having doubts: „Haze stayed in his car about an hour and had a bad experience in it: he dreamed he was not dead but only buried. He was not waiting on the Judgement because there was no Judgement, he was waiting on nothing.“ (O’Connor, 1988, p.91). „He said it was not right to believe in anything you couldn’t see or hold in your hands or test with your teeth. He said he had only a few days ago believed in blasphemy as the way to salvation, but that you couldn’t even believe i that because then you were believing in something to blaspheme.“ (O’Connor, 1988, p.116).
Putting his doubts into action he renounces his materialism to the extreme. Renouncing his own body: he blinds himself and makes himself suffer as much as possible – he leaves the material world behind away form materialism and focuses inwards: „Why had he destroyed his eyes and saved himself unless he had some plan, unless he saw something that he couldn’t get without being blind to everything else?“ (O’Connor, 1988, p.122).
„She could not make up her mind what would be inside his head and what out. She thought of her own head as a switchbox where she controlled from; but with him, she could only imagine the outside in, the whole black world in his head and his bigger than the world, his head big enough to include the sky and the planets and whatever was or had been or would be. How would he know if time was going backwards or forwards or if he was going with it? She imagined it was like you were walking in a tunnel and all you could see was a pin point of light. She had to imagine the pin point of light; she couldn’t think of it at all without that. She saw it as some kind of star, like the star on Christmas cards. She saw him going backwards to Bethlehem and she had to laugh.“ (O’Connor, 1988, p.123).
He makes himself suffer and it appears as if he wants to relive the passion of Christ – he puts gravel and glass in his shoes and puts barbed wire around his chest:
„“What do you walk on rocks for?“ „To pay,“ he said in a harsh voice. „Pay for what?“ „It don’t make no difference for what,“ he said. „I’m paying.““ (O’Connor, 1988, p.125). So instead of Nothingness he realizes the world still needs saving. He doesn’t simply accept that and relies on the church, but, just like Christ, he takes on the sins of the world with self inflicted pain and death. Is he successful and is that really what he wants? I’m not sure, but it makes the Wise Blood a very intriguing read.