Wise Blood

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Coffins Symbol Icon

Coffins recur throughout the novel, first in a series of flashbacks that Hazel has of the funerals of his various family members. He is always convinced that they will escape just before the lid can be closed, and they never do. Coffins represent the ultimate trap—death—and the collapse of Hazel’s family.

Coffins Quotes in Wise Blood

The Wise Blood quotes below all refer to the symbol of Coffins. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Religious Belief, Redemption, and Sin Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Farrar, Strauss and Giroux edition of Wise Blood published in 2007.
Chapter 1 Quotes

In his half-sleep he thought where he was lying was like a coffin. The first coffin he had seen with someone in it was his grandfather’s. They had left it propped open with a stick of kindling the night it had sat in the house with the old man in it, and Hazel had watched from a distance, thinking: he ain’t going to let them shut it on him; when the time comes, his elbow is going to shoot into the crack. His grandfather had been a circuit preacher, a waspish old man who had ridden over three counties with Jesus hidden in his head like a stinger. When it was time to bury him, they shut the top of his box down and he didn’t make a move.

Related Characters: Hazel ‘Haze’ Motes
Related Symbols: Coffins
Page Number: 13-14
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, Hazel lies in a bunk of the train's sleeping compartment and reflects on the burials he has seen. Soon he will have an attack of claustrophobia, as the memories of the deaths of his various family members accumulate in his nightmare and overwhelm him. The first image from that string of burials is of his grandfather, a fiery country preacher who terrified and fascinated the young Hazel. That elder Motes, we later learn, instilled in Hazel the dark tendency toward a self-hating, guilty religious sensibility. For this "waspish" man, religion was something pointed and violent, and he often verbally abused the young Hazel to make his point. It is to avoid following in his grandfather's footsteps that Hazel is fleeing now, toward someplace new; he wants to escape the religious destiny that his family background had ordained for him. 

In the mind of the younger Hazel, his grandfather had supernatural, frightening powers, but he was nonetheless unable to escape death when his time came. Death comes inescapably to the rest of Hazel's family as well, leaving him an isolated outsider with an ingrained fear of the death that must come to him eventually. 

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Chapter 9 Quotes

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 Judgment because there was no Judgment, he was waiting on nothing. Various eyes looked through the back oval window at his situation, some with considerable reverence, like the boy from the zoo, and some only to see what they could see… Then a woman with two little boys on either side of her stopped and looked in, grinning. After a second, she pushed the boys out of view and indicated that she would climb in and keep him company for a while, but she couldn’t get through the glass and finally she went off.

Related Characters: Hazel ‘Haze’ Motes, Enoch Emory, The Woman (with the two little boys)
Related Symbols: Hazel’s Car, Coffins
Page Number: 160
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, Hazel falls asleep in his car and has a nightmare that centers on the final Judgment and the judging eyes of those around him. At the beginning of his nightmare, he is trapped in a coffin, an old fear that has haunted him since, as a young boy, he watched most of his family being buried, one by one. In this nightmare there is no Judgment, and this lack of Judgment seems to strike Hazel not as a sign of his freedom from sin, but rather as an invitation to infinite limbo, trapped forever with no hope of escape.

The eyes that look into his coffin, who may also be peering into the car where he sleeps, represent the many townspeople who view Hazel as an eccentric outsider – people with whom Hazel has tried and failed to form any connection. Enoch is mentioned, but only as "the boy from the zoo," revealing Hazel's casual attitude toward him. By directing Enoch's reverent gaze at Hazel behind the glass of his car window, O'Connor suggests that Hazel should be identified in some way with the small, shrunken mummy in the glass case of the museum. Hazel is on display, an oddity from a bygone era, not at home in the modern world – a vessel of spiritual power that is misunderstood and under appreciated. The woman with two boys, though, appreciates what he has to offer, in a lewd sense, desperate for an animal connection that frightens him most of all. 

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Coffins Symbol Timeline in Wise Blood

The timeline below shows where the symbol Coffins appears in Wise Blood. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Religious Belief, Redemption, and Sin Theme Icon
Free Will vs. Destiny Theme Icon
Isolation and the Outsider Theme Icon
...he wishes the darkness were absolute. Half asleep, he feels like he is in a coffin. Hazel remembers the first coffin he ever saw, which contained his grandfather, a fierce country... (full context)
Religious Belief, Redemption, and Sin Theme Icon
Isolation and the Outsider Theme Icon
...chifforobe is guarded. He remembers her worried face, glimpsing it through the crack in her coffin as they shut it on her when he was sixteen. As with his father, grandfather,... (full context)
Chapter 3
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
...this tent. Once inside, Hazel climbed up on a bench to peer over into a coffin-like box, where a naked woman was writhing. He then heard his father’s voice and fled,... (full context)
Chapter 5
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
...Hazel stealthily forward into a second hall, and then to a glass case like a coffin, where he stops with his neck thrust out and hands clasped together. Hazel looks and... (full context)
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
...from Hazel. She grins, and her reflection merges with Hazel’s in the glass of the coffin case. When Hazel sees her he starts, and a noise escapes from his mouth. Enoch... (full context)