Wise Blood

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Wise Blood Chapter 11 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
At noon the next day a figure in a long black raincoat with a lightish hat pulled down over his face is moving rapidly through the streets, a bundle about the size of a baby in his arms. The figure wears dark glasses and has a black beard pinned on with safety pins. He runs as it starts to rain heavily, ducking into a drugstore and lowering his glasses—it is Enoch, on his way to Hazel Motes’ house with the mummy, which he has stolen from the museum.
The initial description of this figure recalls Hazel’s normal attire, or even Asa Hawks’, and his identity is deliberately hidden. O’Connor soon reveals that the comic figure is a poorly disguised Enoch, running alone through the rainy streets with the mummy – stolen from the museum to become Hazel’s “new jesus.” She doesn’t give us an account of the act of stealing, but skips the practical details to instead deliver this scene of grotesque religious iconography.
Themes
Religious Belief, Redemption, and Sin Theme Icon
Free Will vs. Destiny Theme Icon
Instinct and the Animal Theme Icon
Isolation and the Outsider Theme Icon
Enoch stole the shriveled mummy the day before, smearing his face with brown shoe polish so that if he were seen people would “take him for a colored person.” At home he had taken the “new jesus” out of its sack and put it into the gilded cabinet. He waited for something supreme and unknown to happen, but then decided he needed to get things started. He inserted his own head into the cabinet, and after a few moments of silence, a violent sneeze caused Enoch to smash his head against the top of the cabinet. He then realized resentfully that he had to deliver the little man to Hazel. Enoch ate a candy bar rapidly, “as if he had something against it.”
O’Connor continues to remind her reader of the persistent racism in this community, although this is not a focus of the novel. Enoch treats the mummy with a religious reverence, making use of the pseudo-tabernacle that instinct and fate provided for this moment. He has a primitive, child-like appreciation for the power of the unknown, one that is undercut by the slapstick humor of hitting his head on the top of the cabinet. The adversarial way that Enoch approaches parts of the world – like this candy bar – feels distinctly animal.
Themes
Religious Belief, Redemption, and Sin Theme Icon
Free Will vs. Destiny Theme Icon
Instinct and the Animal Theme Icon
Now Enoch is on his way to Hazel’s house, although he has never been there before. He is sullen at having to spend his day off performing this task, which he never wanted to do in the first place. He opens his landlady’s ancient umbrella, but it comes stabbing down at him as soon as the rain touches it. He is forced to hold it open with one hand, so that the dog’s head carved into its base digs into his stomach. Despite all this he is still soaked, and ducks under the marquee of a movie house for shelter.
O’Connor offers up more slapstick comedy here with the malfunctioning umbrella. It seems as though the whole world is set against the lonely Enoch, who is driven by instinct and a semi-religious sense of destiny out into the rain, where another animal figure – the dog head on the umbrella’s handle – seems to be attacking him mercilessly.
Themes
Religious Belief, Redemption, and Sin Theme Icon
Free Will vs. Destiny Theme Icon
Instinct and the Animal Theme Icon
Isolation and the Outsider Theme Icon
A line of children waiting there observe him, laughing when his broken umbrella spills more water on his head. Enoch glares and lowers his glasses, and then turns to face a life-size poster of Gonga the Gorilla, who is scheduled to appear in person at noon. Enoch is usually “thinking something else at the moment that Fate began drawing back her leg to kick him,” as illustrated by a moment from his childhood when his father brought home a box of peanut brittle labeled A NUTTY SURPRISE!, from which a steel coil had sprung out and broken off Enoch’s two front teeth. Unlike that time, Enoch now feels certain that fate is giving him an opportunity, and his reverence for the new jesus is restored. Insulting this ape will be his reward.
The laughing children reinforce the image of Enoch as an outsider, a clown. The anecdote from his childhood again uses Enoch’s pain as a springboard for dark, slapstick comedy. That his father would have played this cruel joke is painful and tragic, but it again fits into the clown-like image of Enoch. O’Connor’s metaphor seems to put him in the place of a dog being kicked by Fate, while trying only to follow the orders of his master, instinct, or something more – in this case, a belief in the new jesus. Something, this story suggests, is about to go wrong.
Themes
Religious Belief, Redemption, and Sin Theme Icon
Free Will vs. Destiny Theme Icon
Instinct and the Animal Theme Icon
The Nature of Truth Theme Icon
Isolation and the Outsider Theme Icon
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Enoch gets in line with the children, who start to engage him in discussion, but he grits his teeth and ignores them. After a few minutes, a black truck appears in the rain, and two men get out, cursing, and open the back door, telling the figure inside to “make it snappy.” The phonograph announcing Gonga the Gorilla can barely be heard through the rain. At the men’s insistence, a furry arm emerges from the truck, but draws back when it feels the rain. One of the men takes of his raincoat, cursing, and passes it into the truck. Gonga then emerges wearing the coat buttoned up all the way. Led by a chain, he takes his place on a small platform and growls, a black growl that terrifies Enoch—“if he had not been surrounded by children, he would have run away.”
The children see Enoch as one of their own, which he resents. The scene painted by O’Connor of Gonga’s emergence from the van, though, makes it clear that a mature observer should be able to see fairly easily through the ruse of this publicity stunt, glimpsing the truth behind the unconvincing disguise – and the fact that Enoch doesn’t seem to suggests that he is more like the children than he wants to believe. He is just as terrified as any of them – more so – but is restrained by a sense of pride from running away.
Themes
Instinct and the Animal Theme Icon
The Nature of Truth Theme Icon
Isolation and the Outsider Theme Icon
The men call out for a brave child to shake Gonga’s hand, reminding them that the first ten to shake his hand will earn a free movie pass. No one moves. Finally a fierce little girl steps up and shakes Gonga’s hand, then another, then two boys. The line reforms, and Enoch gets closer and closer, panicking, unable to think of a suitable insult.
The bravery of the children exceeds Enoch’s own, with the fierce little girl – who perhaps fits into the category of female characters that includes many of the waitresses Enoch encounters – leading the way. Enoch is panicked as his moment of destiny approaches, and the earlier story of the spring in the box suggests that something is about to go very wrong.
Themes
Free Will vs. Destiny Theme Icon
Instinct and the Animal Theme Icon
Then Enoch is shaking Gonga’s warm, furry hand, and he realizes that it is the first time anyone has offered him their hand since he arrived in Taulkinham. Stammering, Enoch tells Gonga his name, that he attended Rodemill Boys’ Bible Academy, that he works for the zoo and is only eighteen years old, and that he has seen two of Gonga’s movies. Gonga leans in, and an ugly pair of human eyes stare at Enoch from behind an ape mask. Then Gonga tells him to go to hell, and jerks his hand away. Enoch is intensely humiliated, and he turns around three times, dazed, then runs off into the rain.
Completely starved for connection since arriving in this city, the lonely Enoch seizes this opportunity to engage with Gonga – and since Enoch doesn’t really distinguish between humans and animals in his mind, he does so by recounting his life story. When Gonga leans in, Enoch first sees through the ruse – seeing the human eyes – and, realizing his mistake, is then disastrously rejected at his most vulnerable moment.
Themes
Free Will vs. Destiny Theme Icon
Instinct and the Animal Theme Icon
The Nature of Truth Theme Icon
Isolation and the Outsider Theme Icon
Enoch and his bundle are soaked by the time he reaches the Hawks’ house, and he finds Sabbath Hawks in Hazel’s room, where Hazel is lying ashen-faced with a washcloth over his eyes. Sabbath turns when Enoch scratches at the wall, and leads him into the hallway, telling him that “[her] man” is sick and sleeping, since he didn’t sleep at all last night. Enoch gives her the bundle distrustfully, telling her it comes from a friend, and then insults her, needing some relief from his pain. He tells Sabbath that he can see why Hazel has to keep the washcloth over his eyes.
Sabbath, desperate and alone without Asa, has claimed possession over Hazel, and makes sure Enoch knows that they slept together the night before, marking her territory in a bestial way. Enoch then responds in his own habitual and instinctual fashion, with an insult. This insult—that Hazel prefers blindness over seeing Sabbath—resonates on a few levels. It relates to Hazel’s frequent inability or refusal to see the truth in front of him, and also foreshadows what is to come.
Themes
Instinct and the Animal Theme Icon
The Nature of Truth Theme Icon
Isolation and the Outsider Theme Icon
Sabbath takes the bundle to the bathroom where there is better light, reflecting on Hazel’s sickness. She thinks he is not really sick, just not used to her yet. She opens the package and stares, stunned, at the new jesus, seriously damaged after the journey. There is something familiar about him, and she begins to comb his hair and cradle him in her arms, pronouncing him “right cute.” She asks him who his momma and daddy are, and then understands the answer to her own question with a short, pleased bark. She heads back to the room where Hazel is sleeping, hoping to give him a “jolt.”
This is the culmination of Sabbath’s fascination with children and their stories. Fate has now delivered her a “child” of her own, in a dark, twisted way, so that she becomes a sort of Madonna figure for the new jesus. The “bark” with which she decides that the mummy will be child to Hazel and herself, coming as it has directly on the heels of their union, again reminds us of her animal nature. Sabbath hopes this creature will be a means of securing Hazel’s loyalty, and marking her own territory.
Themes
Religious Belief, Redemption, and Sin Theme Icon
Free Will vs. Destiny Theme Icon
Instinct and the Animal Theme Icon
Hazel is awake in the room, dressing quickly, when he sees that Sabbath is not there. His one thought is of moving immediately to another city and preaching the Church Without Christ there. He would get another room and another woman and make a new start. All of this is possible because of his car, and the sight of it out the window gives Hazel the energy to finish dressing, drawing him out of the consumptive hollowness he had felt last night. As he packs his duffel bag with his few belongings, Hazel carefully avoids touching the Bible that still sits like a rock in the bottom of the bag. His hand pulls out the case with his mother’s glasses. He puts them on, and the wall wavers slightly. He looks in the mirror and snaps his fingers nervously, seeing his mother’s face in the reflection.
Meanwhile Hazel is plotting his escape, retreating from his descent into the animal world by dressing once again, and eager to carry on his mission somewhere else, to take his car – vehicle of his free will and independence – and spread the Church Without Christ in another city. The idea that he might regain some control over his life strengthens Hazel’s will, even though the reminders of his past – and the religious destiny that was seeded in him there – are everywhere, as the Bible and glasses attest. When Hazel looks in the mirror and sees his mother, his fear of becoming like her seems realized.
Themes
Religious Belief, Redemption, and Sin Theme Icon
Free Will vs. Destiny Theme Icon
Isolation and the Outsider Theme Icon
Behind Hazel the door opens, and he turns to see a blurry pair of faces. Sabbath says “Call me Momma now,” and she asks where “daddy” is going, and isn’t he going to take them with him? Hazel stands motionless, his head thrust forward, and then he reaches out toward the little mummified creature, but he only grasps the air, as his depth perception is distorted by the glasses. He tries again, and then a third time, this time grabbing the little man and throwing him against the wall, so that his head pops off and the trash inside sprays out. Sabbath yells, as Hazel grabs what remains of the body, opens the door that drops into the backyard, and throws it out into the rain. Hazel leans out, his hat splattered with rain.
Unable to see clearly through his mother’s prescription glasses, Hazel is confused at first – it may be that he believes the little mummy is a real baby. He feels desperately trapped in this moment by Sabbath, whose clutches he had hoped to escape. The dark comedy of his near-blind groping in the air is mixed with horror, as his near escape seems foiled, and he is beset by the animal need of Sabbath, his free will compromised along with his spiritual destiny. Hazel’s reaction is violent, destroying Enoch’s “new jesus.”
Themes
Religious Belief, Redemption, and Sin Theme Icon
Free Will vs. Destiny Theme Icon
Instinct and the Animal Theme Icon
Sabbath yells, in a rage, that she knew from the first time she saw Hazel that he was mean and evil, wicked enough to throw a baby against a wall, and that he wouldn’t let himself or anyone else enjoy life since he wanted nothing but Jesus. Hazel gestures violently, almost falling out the door, and then tells Sabbath that he wants nothing but the truth. He tells her that he is leaving in the car, and that he will go to some other city and preach the Church Without Christ, the only truth there is. But then he coughs “like a little yell for help at the bottom of a canyon,” which interrupts his shouting, and his face drains of color entirely. He throws the glasses out the door, and says he will leave after he gets more sleep. Sabbath tells him he “ain’t going to get none.”
Sabbath reacts as though Hazel had in fact killed their child, and reveals what she has seen at Hazel’s core this whole time – what everyone sees but him – that he is mired in guilt, and his desperate need to escape his religious upbringing is in vain: it is his destiny. He begins to protest and assert his free will, leaning on the idea of the car, and a belief in the truth – but this blow has been too much, and he sinks down onto the bed, defeated. Sabbath hopes to take advantage of this to further enmesh Hazel there, so that he cannot leave her.
Themes
Religious Belief, Redemption, and Sin Theme Icon
Free Will vs. Destiny Theme Icon
The Nature of Truth Theme Icon
Isolation and the Outsider Theme Icon