The next night, Haze parks his car outside the Odeon theater and begins to preach, striking a strange pose atop his car. He tells the listeners that each of them has their own truth, but there is only one truth behind them all, and that is that there is no truth. He explains that there is no place for them—where they come from is gone, and where they were going was never there. There is no place for them outside themselves, and it does no good to look for one. Hazel continues: if there were a Fall, or a Redemption, or a Judgment, it would need to be in their bodies and their time, but there is none to be seen. The conscience is a trick, it doesn’t exist, and if it does it should be hunted down and killed.
This is Hazel’s lengthiest sermon on the nature of truth and human existence. There is no singular truth like the one claimed by Christianity, he says, no such thing as “truth” at all. There is a certain humor in the fact that this claim comes right on the heels of Onnie Jay Holy, the novel’s most brazen liar. Hazel preaches that the only truth is empirical—that is, what can be seen. There is no comfort available in religion, and no cure to the loneliness of life – but also, there is no need to feel guilt or be redeemed, and no such thing as sin. Conscience should be killed like an animal.
Hazel is preaching with such concentration that he doesn’t notice a rat-colored car pulling up across the street. He doesn’t see Hoover Shoats and a man dressed exactly like Hazel emerge and climb up on the nose of their car. When he sees them, he is struck by how thin and odd his imposter is, never having thought of himself that way. Hazel approaches their car, his gaze fixed on the bleak man impersonating him. Shoats gathers a crowd, and a fat woman near Hazel asks if he and the imposter are twins. Hazel replies that “if you don’t hunt it down and kill it, it’ll hunt you down and kill you.” She misinterprets his words, still thinking they are twins.
The revenge of Hoover Shoats is swift in coming, and darkly comic in its exacting reproduction of Hazel’s image. Having just discussed the conscience – a tool for looking at oneself, in a way – Hazel is presented with a unique chance to examine himself through this impostor who exactly resembles him, and he does not like what he sees. He is deeply disturbed by this view of himself, a complete outsider, by the dishonesty of the whole operation, and by the way the impostor’s appearance coincided with his sermon on conscience – as if by fate.
Hazel drives away in his car and returns to his room, where Sabbath Hawks is waiting in the bed. She stubbornly refuses to leave, but Hazel ignores her. She tells him that Asa has left, and says that she saw Hazel come in and uncover Asa’s secret. She’s amazed that anyone could have been fooled by such a little crook as Asa. Hazel unties his boots, which are painted black to obscure their army origins. Sabbath continues to talk, telling him that she has no place to go, and that from the minute she saw him, she knew that Hazel was the man for her, that he was filthy right down to the guts, like her. She offers to teach Hazel how to like being that way, and asks if he wants that.
Sabbath is not aware of just how deep a crisis Hazel is experiencing in this moment, but the reader knows that he is particularly vulnerable and alone. Sabbath, too, is in crisis – her father has left her here alone – and she is desperate to win Hazel over. Hazel’s boots are another reminder that the past is never far away, no matter how hard he tries to run. Sabbath can’t understand how anyone could have been so blind as to miss the truth that was right in front of them, but Hazel has been doing this all along. Sabbath, like Mrs. Watts, offers Hazel access to the animalistic side of life, to a world of sin and connection that is guilt-free.
Speaking for the first time, Hazel says “Yeah,” with no change in his expression. He takes off his coat and trousers, then his drawers, and puts them on the chair. Then he removes his socks and stares at his feet. Sabbath tells him to “make haste,” and Hazel unbuttons his shirt and drops it to the floor. He slides under the covers with her. Breathing quickly, Sabbath says, “Take off your hat, king of the beasts,” and snatches off the hat, throwing it across the room.
Moving almost automatically, in deliberate steps, Hazel asks to be shown this animal world free from guilt. He removes all of his clothes in a slow ritual that is not romantic so much as it is a stripping away of barriers, of inhibitions, of everything – most importantly his hat – that represents his humanity and spiritual destiny, until he is hailed by Sabbath as “king of the beasts.” He is once again trying to escape his spirituality by becoming beastlike.