Wise Blood

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Wise Blood Chapter 8 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Enoch feels deeply that something monumental is beginning, and his wise blood is stirring. He does not plan, but finds himself proceeding according to instinct, like a bird builds a nest without thinking. This started when Hazel saw the dark secret at the museum. Enoch’s sensitive blood knows that what he will do will be awful, but he is ignorant of what it could be.
O’Connor switches back to Enoch’s perspective here, as his instincts begin to stir again. She explicitly compares his way of acting to that of an animal – his instinct and belief circumvents or precedes thought. There is a sense of something dark and dangerous to come, but Enoch knows he cannot avoid it – his fate is outside of his control.
Themes
Religious Belief, Redemption, and Sin Theme Icon
Free Will vs. Destiny Theme Icon
Instinct and the Animal Theme Icon
First, Enoch begins to save his pay, which is unusual. He also regularly steals from supermarkets, where he customarily spends an hour each day after the park, but he thinks the extra money exceeds what he is saving by stealing. He also finds himself cleaning his room, which is part of a mummified old house. He hangs a rug out for air and it disintegrates. When he washes the bed and chair he uncovers a layer of gold paint, but this also disappears. The chair collapses, and he has an urge to kick it, but he leaves it, unsure if it is a “sign.” There is also a clawed washstand with a “tabernacle-like” cabinet that Enoch keeps empty, since he doesn’t have a slop-jar and has a “certain reverence for the purpose of things.”
Enoch’s instincts are not just of the “run, jump, hide” variety – he follows the voice of his wise blood almost religiously, like a prophet, wherever it leads him. In this case he is driven to save and to clean. He has a reverence for the mysterious actions and their consequences, as evidenced by the chair incident – a reverence that helps check his animal impulse to attack the chair. Enoch’s belief in things, like the tabernacle, is child-like, investing awe in what he doesn’t understand.
Themes
Religious Belief, Redemption, and Sin Theme Icon
Free Will vs. Destiny Theme Icon
Instinct and the Animal Theme Icon
The washstand is what Enoch feels is most important in the room, most linked to mysterious rites he does not understand. Because he always proceeds from least to most important, though, he first turns his attention to the paintings on his wall. One, belonging to the near-blind landlady, is of a moose. Enoch finds it insufferable, thinking of the moose as a terrible roommate. He insults the moose continually in his mind, although he is more careful when speaking aloud. Enoch realizes that removing the painting’s ornate frame will leave the moose naked and shameful, and he snickers as he does so. Enoch’s favorite painting is from a calendar, and shows a small boy kneeling at his bed, saying “and bless daddy.” The final painting, also from a calendar, shows a woman wearing a tire.
Ever a creature of ritual and habit, Enoch goes about his task with purpose. The way that Enoch thinks of the moose, as with the antagonism that he feels toward the animals in the zoo, betrays that he thinks of himself as being on a similar, animal level to it – as if the two are roommates. The fact that it is a painted moose, and that he speaks to it continuously, also leads us to question his mental balance, and to see just how lonely he is for companionship. His solution to the moose’s snobbery—to remove the frame as if it were the moose’s clothing—is juvenile and comic. The final two paintings reinforce this sense that Enoch is young and alone, lacking his father, love, and connection.
Themes
Religious Belief, Redemption, and Sin Theme Icon
Instinct and the Animal Theme Icon
Isolation and the Outsider Theme Icon
On the orders of his wise blood, Enoch buys some curtains, gilt paint, and a brush. He is disappointed because he had hoped the saved money would be for new clothes. It isn’t until he gets home that he realizes the gilt is for painting the inside of the cabinet, preparing it for something yet unknown. Enoch doesn’t rush his wise blood to reveal its secret, but waits for the certainty he knows will come.
There is a dark comedy in the disconnect between what Enoch wants or hopes for (new clothes) and what his instinct selects for him. He resigns himself more or less completely to the fate decided by his wise blood, and uses the paint to prepare the tabernacle for some mystery yet to be revealed.
Themes
Religious Belief, Redemption, and Sin Theme Icon
Free Will vs. Destiny Theme Icon
Instinct and the Animal Theme Icon
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The next, Monday, Enoch wakes up knowing that whatever important event is to come will happen that day. His blood rushes around, but he tries rebelliously to stay in bed and avoid what’s coming, surly at this insistent force. Naturally, Enoch gives in, and is at the zoo only a half hour later than he should have been. All through his shift he fights his blood’s wild feeling, and when he finishes, he heads toward town. This is the last place he wants to be, because anything might happen there, but his actions seem to be outside of his control. Exhausted from the struggle, Enoch leans against the Walgreen’s window and begins to scratch himself against the glass, with its colorful displays.
The resignation to his fate is less evident here, as Enoch tries in vain to assert his free will by staying in bed. He is unable to do so for very long, though, with a wild sense of what must be done, again resembling a reluctant prophet figure from the Old Testament. Ultimately he cannot resist, and heads into town. Enoch moves like an animal, scratching himself against the glass, but with the awareness of a higher purpose chasing him at every step.
Themes
Religious Belief, Redemption, and Sin Theme Icon
Free Will vs. Destiny Theme Icon
Instinct and the Animal Theme Icon
Enoch is drawn toward a popcorn machine, and fishes two nickels out of the money pouch his father had given him. The boy serving the popcorn compliments the purse, but Enoch is too preoccupied to try and make a friend, and he heads back to the drug store. Inside, he goes to the counter, and the waitress offers him a Lime-Cherry Surprise from beneath the counter. As she insists that it is fresh, Enoch tells her that “something is going to happen today.” Finally she says “God” and jerks away the drink, making him a new one. Enoch leaves it there and exits the store.
Normally, the lonely Enoch would have been thrilled to discuss his father’s pouch with this potential friend, but today his attention is on his fated mission. He has another in the series of comical, misunderstanding-laden interactions with waitresses throughout the novel, further revealing his inability to relate to people – especially women. He is too preoccupied to understand what it is that she wants from him.
Themes
Free Will vs. Destiny Theme Icon
Instinct and the Animal Theme Icon
Isolation and the Outsider Theme Icon
Enoch is hurrying home now, eager to escape whatever thing his blood has in store for him. He is mad that his money was wasted on drapes instead of a new, shiny tie, and is sure that whatever is about to happen will be against the law, and against his will. He passes a poster for a horror movie and tells himself there is no way he will go in to see a movie like that—but then he finds himself buying a ticket and feeling around in the dark of the theater, like the Biblical Jonah inside the whale. Enoch tells himself that he won’t watch the movie, but he peers out from behind his knees and sits through three movies. The last one, about a baboon who saves children from a burning building and is given a medal, finally pushes him over the edge, and he rushes out of the theater.
Rebelling further against his instincts, against fate, and against this force that seems to be calling him to dangerous action, Enoch tries to escape, but he is inexorably drawn along against his will into the theater. O’Connor compares Enoch directly to Jonah, the reluctant prophet who tried to escape his duty, and was punished by being swallowed by a whale. Enoch cuts a comic, lonely figure, with his knees up, sequestered in the dark theater until he can’t stand it any longer – a hated baboon is earning good favor, and he is envious.
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 recovers against the wall outside, and feels that his fate is almost upon him. At this point his resignation is perfect. He begins to walk as if led by “one of those whistles that only dogs hear,” and comes upon the figure of Hazel Motes preaching on top of his car. Enoch has not seen Hazel since the day in the park, and now he listens as Hazel preaches about the peace to be found in the Church Without Christ. A few people start to walk away, and Hazel shouts after them that the truth doesn’t matter to them, since Jesus existing or not doesn’t change their lives in any way. What they and the Church Without Christ need, he says, is a new jesus, one who is all man, without blood to waste on redemption, one who looks like no one else. Hazel calls for someone to show him this Jesus.
Beaten down by his experience in the figurative belly of the whale, Enoch is now prepared for what is to come. The metaphor of the dog whistle that O’Connor uses to describe Enoch’s movement is a perfect way of understanding his character – animal, and driven by something invisible (and, perhaps, painful) that the rest of us cannot understand. Again his fate intersects with Hazel’s. Hazel is preaching about the truth, insisting that Jesus does not affect them, and issuing the call for a “new jesus” with no blood to waste. In this moment Enoch understands that his mission is to find the “new jesus”—the shriveled man in the museum.
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
Enoch begins to shout in response, but without making a sound. Hazel continues preaching, telling people to take counsel from their blood and enter into the Church Without Christ. Enoch tries to bellow that he has the new jesus, but his blood stops him from speaking, reminding him that the last time he saw Hazel, Hazel had hit him over the head with a rock. But Enoch knows his purpose now, and he realizes that the cabinet in his room has been prepared to hold the mummified corpse, which he must steal from the museum. He hurries away, almost running into a taxi. Not reacting in anger to the driver’s insults as he normally would, Enoch heads home.
Hazel’s sermon happens, whether by coincidence or fate, to overlap with Enoch’s thought processes, as he advises people to follow their blood. Enoch finds himself unable to speak, despite his excitement at the revelation of his mission, because his blood fears what Hazel’s reaction might be. Enoch is portrayed as a kind of John the Baptist in the wilderness, a prophet preparing the way for the “new jesus,” with his carefully painted tabernacle waiting to receive him. Now it is Enoch’s turn to be so consumed by purpose that he is nearly run over by a car.
Themes
Religious Belief, Redemption, and Sin Theme Icon
Free Will vs. Destiny Theme Icon
Instinct and the Animal Theme Icon