Wise Blood

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Themes and Colors
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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Wise Blood, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Instinct and the Animal Theme Icon

The novel’s treatment of its two main characters, Hazel and Enoch, illustrates a classic divide between the spiritual and the animal sides of humanity.

While Hazel constantly attempts to escape his spiritual calling and often acts instinctively as a means of avoiding it, he ultimately fails to escape his inner spiritualism. In the moment that he finally gives in to Sabbath Hawks’ attempts at seduction, for instance, she throws away his hat. This is the last item of his clothing, which is often thought of as separating men from animals, to be stripped off. It is also a symbol of his spiritual calling, since it often causes him to be mistaken for a preacher. As she removes the hat, Sabbath drives this transition from the spiritual to the animal home when she calls him the ‘king of the beasts.’ This animal moment does not last long, however – by the next morning Hazel is eager to escape again, deeply uncomfortable with Sabbath’s fleshly appetites. By the end of the novel, he has retreated completely from the world by blinding himself, withdrawing further and further into himself such that his landlady Mrs. Flood suggests that he ought to live in a “monkery.”

Enoch, in contrast, is a pure vessel for the animal urges of his ‘wise blood,’ driven by instincts that seem outside of his control until he is finally stripped of his humanity and takes on the form of a gorilla. Enoch’s antagonistic relationship to animals is a running theme of the novel, as he insults the bears at the zoo, feels threatened by a painting of a moose in his room, and is terrified by Gonga the Gorilla. His actions, though, are often animal-like, driven by instinct. He burrows down through a tunnel to hide in the bushes and eye the women swimming in the pool near the zoo, and prowls about town indulging his habits and appetites, reveling in ‘base’ pleasures – sugary food, women, insults. When the reader is first introduced to Enoch, he follows Hazel like a wounded animal looking for help, resembling nothing more than a lost puppy, doggedly pursuing a friend (or, even, a master). In some ways, though, Enoch’s intense devotion to the rituals of his life, the calling of his blood, and the mummy-like figure of the ‘new jesus,’ suggest an inner spiritualism, an animal-like fear and appreciation for mysteries he does not understand.

O’Connor doesn’t just limit her exploration of animal behaviors to Hazel and Enoch. In fact, the novel portrays a grotesque, animal aspect to all of the people in the town. Their uglier instincts rear up in the form of offhand racism, persistent sexism, and dishonesty. Many characters are driven by instinct or desire, and O’Connor’s prose does not give much room to the intellectual or spiritual side of these figures, whose animal nature sometimes seems to assail Hazel’s attempt to communicate a deeper spiritual truth. One striking image comes when, at the pool, the woman with two kids catches Hazel watching her and leers back, undoing her shoulder straps. Hazel is so taken aback by this open display – reminiscent of an animal’s mating ritual – that he jumps up violently, retreating to his car.

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Instinct and the Animal ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Instinct and the Animal appears in each chapter of Wise Blood. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Instinct and the Animal Quotes in Wise Blood

Below you will find the important quotes in Wise Blood related to the theme of Instinct and the Animal.
Chapter 2 Quotes

They stared at each other for almost a minute and neither moved. Then he said in a voice that was higher than his usual voice, “What I mean to have you know is I’m no goddamn preacher.”
Mrs. Watts eyed him steadily and with only a slight smirk. Then she put her other hand under his face and tickled it in a motherly way. “That’s okay, son,” she said. “Momma don’t mind if you ain’t a preacher.”

Related Characters: Hazel ‘Haze’ Motes (speaker), Leora Watts (speaker)
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, Hazel puts up resistance for one final moment before giving in to the waiting Mrs. Watts, a town prostitute whose address Hazel found scrawled on a bathroom stall in the town's train station. He has snuck into her bedroom uninvited, but she lies in wait on the bed, a grotesque, motherly figure. The two size one another up in silence, in an animal stare-down that ends when the highly agitated Hazel asserts his most important truth – he is no "goddamn preacher." This protest is unprompted, at least by Mrs. Watts – it's a response, rather, to the misunderstanding of his cab driver, who saw his hat and assumed he was a country preacher, and to the destiny he is desperate to escape.

This desperation is what led him to Mrs. Watts, since he believes that sin as an expression of his free will will finally break the hold that the guilt of religion has over his conscience. Hazel wants to escape his spirituality by chasing the animal in himself, and he comes to the animalistic Mrs. Watts to gain refuge from or otherwise try to escape that spiritual, religious side of himself. Be believes that sex with Mrs. Watts will be proof of his rigid belief in the nonexistence of the soul, an act of principle linked with instinct, but mostly divorced from desire. Mrs. Watts, for her part, misunderstands the frustrated Hazel, forgiving him good-naturedly as if he had been confessing a shameful fact about himself. 


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Chapter 3 Quotes

Mrs. Watts’ grin was as curved and sharp as the blade of a sickle. It was plain that she was so well-adjusted that she didn’t have to think anymore. Her eyes took everything in whole, like quicksand. “That Jesus-seeing hat!” she said. She sat up and pulled her nightgown from under her and took it off. She reached for his hat and put it on her head and sat with her hands on her hips, walling her eyes in a comical way. Haze stared for a minute, then he made three quick noises that were laughs. He jumped for the electric light cord and took off his clothes in the dark.

Related Characters: Leora Watts (speaker), Hazel ‘Haze’ Motes
Related Symbols: Hazel’s Hat
Page Number: 56
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, Hazel returns to Mrs. Watts' room one more time. He seeks companionship, perhaps, and also to drown himself in the physical, animal intimacy that he has decided proves he no longer believes in sin or being unclean – that he no longer believes in the soul at all. The notion that visiting a whorehouse is a rejection of the soul has been with Hazel since the army, when his fellow soldiers offered to take him there. Now, Hazel finally finds himself capable of following their example, after having found his purpose in Taulkinham as a preacher of the Church Without Christ. This is a triumphant moment for him, then – but he still has difficulty giving in, at last, to this animal act.

It is not until he sees Mrs. Watts complete disregard for the spiritual, embodied by her comic turn in the preacher hat, that he feels aroused; he is excited by the truly animal simplicity of this woman, who feels no guilt at her dirtiness, existing in a state of innocence that he yearns for desperately. She is "so well-adjusted that she didn't have to think anymore", and he has struggled all his life to escape the thoughts that haunt his every step. Now, finally, he laughs at the naked Mrs. Watts, a true embodiment of the new ideal of cleanliness he preaches in the Church Without Christ – someone who feels no guilt or self-consciousness, an unapologetic servant of instinct. This is what he longs to be, and as he takes off his clothes and "barks," he takes a step closer to his animal nature at long last. 

Chapter 5 Quotes

He put his fingers to his forehead and then held them in front of his eyes. They were streaked with red. He turned his head and saw a drop of blood on the ground and as he looked at it, he thought it widened like a little spring. He sat straight up, frozen-skinned, and put his finger in it, and very faintly he could hear his blood beating, his secret blood, in the center of the city. Then he knew that whatever was expected of him was only just beginning.

Related Characters: Enoch Emory
Page Number: 95
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, Enoch recovers after Hazel throws a rock that strikes him in the head, as the two of them flee from the museum at the center of the park that houses a shrunken mummy Enoch views as a religious idol. Enoch has gradually pushed Hazel toward this place, in response to the calling of his "wise blood," a sort of prophetic instinct that commands his actions. According to this instinct of Enoch's, Hazel has been chosen to receive the special mystery of the shrunken mummy – but when Enoch shows him, at long last, this secret idol, Hazel angrily rejects this calling. Now, injured and alone again, Enoch is exultant, seeing the world through the streaks of his literal blood. This blood seems magical, imbued with the power to create a spring in the earth.

This moment feels like an ancient ritual of sacrifice, one that might have been appreciated by the makers of the shrunken mummy, for instance. Instinct and religion blend for Enoch, who feels a deep reverence for the signs the world gives him, and a sense of destiny driven by the "secret blood" spilled in front of him now. 

Chapter 8 Quotes

Enoch Emery knew now that his life would never be the same again, because the thing that was going to happen to him had started to happen. He had always known that something was going to happen but he hadn’t known what. If he had been much given to thought, he might have thought that now was the time for him to justify his daddy’s blood, but he didn’t think in broad sweeps like that, he thought what he would do next. Sometimes he didn’t think, he only wondered; then before long he would find himself doing this or that, like a bird finds itself building a nest when it hasn’t actually been planning to.

Related Characters: Enoch Emory
Related Symbols: Blood
Page Number: 129
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, Enoch prepares for the destiny he feels coming inevitably toward him. His response to the beginning of this destiny reveals the extent to which he has been preparing for this moment his whole life – there is a sense in which Enoch functions as a prophet, the puppet for some divine instinct transmitted through his blood.

As a foil to Hazel, Enoch does not question this primitive religious sense of destiny. Rather than dwelling on the spiritual in an intellectual way, Enoch does not “think in broad sweeps” at all, focusing only on what is directly in front of him, with an animal’s instinct.O’Connor compares this instinct to the nest-building drive of a bird, suggesting that all of Enoch’s actions are deeply spontaneous and unplanned, but also part of a larger plan that he cannot see, but which is built into his DNA, inherited through his “daddy’s blood.”  

I ain’t going in, he said.
Two doors flew open and he found himself moving down a long red foyer and then up a darker tunnel and then a higher, still darker tunnel. In a few minutes he was up in a high part of the maw, feeling around, like Jonah, for a seat. I ain’t going to look at it, he said furiously. He didn’t like any picture shows but colored musical ones.

Related Characters: Enoch Emory
Page Number: 138
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, Enoch is wandering the town, attempting to avoid the call of his “wise blood,” but finds himself inevitably drawn by its command into a movie theater he had stubbornly hoped to escape. Here, O’Connor makes an explicit comparison between Enoch and a famous Old Testament prophet, Jonah, transforming the movie theater into the belly of the whale with a gaping ‘maw,’ or mouth. Jonah, too, had tried to escape his destiny by denying God’s call, but was duly punished by a storm that forced him to jump into the sea, where the whale swallowed him. In his inner dialogue, Enoch repeatedly denies the impulse of his “wise blood,” his frustration mounting as instinct continues to overcome his will to deny it.

O’Connor’s prose removes the decision-making from Enoch’s power – the doors to the cinema “flew open,” seemingly without his active participation, and he “found himself moving.” He is almost unconscious of the actions of his body, completely out of control of his instinct-driven choices.  

Chapter 10 Quotes

“Who is that that says it’s your conscience?” he cried, looking around with a constricted face as if he could smell the particular person who thought that. “Your conscience is a trick,” he said, “it don’t exist though you may think it does, and if you think it does, you had best get it out in the open and hunt it down and kill it, because it’s no more than your face in the mirror is or your shadow behind you.”

Related Characters: Hazel ‘Haze’ Motes (speaker)
Page Number: 166
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, Hazel preaches to the few people who stand and watch him, denying the existence of a conscience. He wants desperately to escape the influence of his own conscience, instilled by his religious upbringing, which led him to see sin as a deep stain that could never be removed except by the blood of a nightmarish Christ. Ironically, no one in the town of Taulkinham seems at all bothered by matters of conscience, aside from Hazel himself; nearly all of the townspeople he encounters follow an un-self-conscious, instinctive lifestyle that never dwells in the dark guilt that Hazel cannot help but feel, even as he preaches against it so intensely. The locals, by contrast, deceive easily and consume lustfully with no qualms whatsoever. 

There is also a foreshadowing of Solace Layfield in these words, the man whom Hoover Shoats hires as Hazel's impersonator. Layfield becomes like a "face in the mirror" or a shadow to Hazel, showing him the faults and self-deceptions he refuses to see otherwise until, finally, Hazel makes the decision to run him down, destroying his double in an unsuccessful attempt to kill his own conscience. 

Then he slid his legs under the cover by her and sat there as if he were waiting to remember one more thing. She was breathing very quickly. “Take off your hat, king of the beasts,” she said gruffly and her hand came up behind his head and snatched the hat off and sent it flying across the room in the dark.

Related Characters: Sabbath Lily Hawks / The Young Girl (speaker), Hazel ‘Haze’ Motes
Related Symbols: Hazel’s Hat
Page Number: 170
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, Hazel finally gives in to Sabbath's sexual advances, after escaping them first with obliviousness, and then conscious resistance. Sabbath is persistent in her desire for Hazel, as she chooses him as a replacement for her father, Asa, who is leaving soon.

Hazel resists, still, subconsciously, even after having made the decision to get in bed with Sabbath. He proceeds slowly, step by step, as she waits with impatience, and is distant and controlled, in direct contrast to her heavy breathing. This sort of passionate behavior is not natural to him, and he has to force himself to betray his spiritual nature to follow the animal instinct he has claimed to believe in. He succeeded, once, with Mrs. Watts, but quickly realized it was not a sustainable choice. Now he has been worn down, and is surrendering again in an effort to sustain his belief that sin cannot exist. When she removes his hat, the last part of his clothing left, Sabbath removes a symbol of the spiritual and reveals the animal, hailing him as "king of the beasts." This is what Sabbath wants – to teach Hazel how to follow his instincts without guilt – but it is clearly still a struggle for him to reach that point. 

Chapter 11 Quotes

The child in front of him finished and stepped aside and left him facing the ape, who took his hand with an automatic motion. It was the first hand that had been extended to Enoch since he had come to the city. It was warm and soft. For a second he only stood there, clasping it. Then he began to stammer. “My name is Enoch Emery,” he mumbled…
The star leaned slightly forward and a change came in his eyes: an ugly pair of human ones moved closer and squinted at Enoch from behind the celluloid pair. “You go to hell,” a surly voice inside the ape-suit said, low but distinctly, and the hand was jerked away.

Related Characters: Enoch Emory (speaker), Gonga the Gorilla (speaker)
Page Number: 182
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, Enoch waits in line to meet Gonga the Gorilla, an experience he sees as his divine reward for having followed his wise blood's commands so far. He plans to insult Gonga, an idea that gives him great pleasure – but when he feels the warm hand extended toward him, the first he has felt since arriving in Taulkinham, his loneliness takes over, and he decides to make a friend instead. Enoch's quest for connection reaches a climax here, then, as he reaches out to Gonga and is rejected by the man behind the mask, who tells him to "go to hell."

The man's ugly eyes emerge from the depths of the ape suit, which seems to have convinced Enoch he was speaking with a real ape until this very moment; Enoch feels real fear while waiting in line, taken in by the illusion just as much as the small children who wait with him. The revelation that Gonga is a man shocks Enoch, who reels at the collapse of a lie he has believed all this time. He vows revenge, having suffered the deepest rejection possible. 

Chapter 12 Quotes

No gorilla in existence, whether in the jungles of Africa or California, or in New York City in the finest apartment in the world, was happier at that moment than this one, whose god had finally rewarded it.

Related Characters: Enoch Emory
Page Number: 199
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, Enoch strolls through the woods in Gonga's gorilla costume, having murdered its previous occupant and buried his own clothing. He has been completely transfigured into an animal – arguably, the state to which he has always felt most drawn. For Enoch, this transformation is a moment of perfect, religious joy, the completion of a quest to find his destiny that led him down many unexpected paths, as he followed the command of his wise blood, driven by instinct to this new form. He is perfectly happy in this moment, having achieved religious perfection in a way opposite to the intellectual, guilt-ridden, spiritual path walked so laboriously by Hazel Motes.

By comparing Enoch, as a gorilla, to other gorillas in "the jungles of Africa or California, or in New York City in the finest apartment in the world," O'Connor is taking on the somewhat childish, and perhaps even mentally deranged perspective of Enoch, using his inability to distinguish between man and gorilla as a surprisingly effective means of questioning the actual difference between the two. 

Chapter 14 Quotes

“People have quit doing it,” she repeated. “What do you do it for?”
“I’m not clean,” he said.
She stood staring at him, unmindful of the broken dishes at her feet. “I know it,” she said after a minute, “you got blood on that night shirt and on the bed. You ought to get you a washwoman…”
“That’s not the kind of clean,” he said.
“There’s only one kind of clean, Mr. Motes,” she muttered.

Related Characters: Hazel ‘Haze’ Motes (speaker), Mrs. Flood (speaker)
Related Symbols: Blood
Page Number: 228
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, Mrs. Flood discovers Haze's self-imposed penance, seeing him in his room with barbed wire wrapped underneath his bloody shirt. The simple Mrs. Flood, who is not in the least spiritually inclined, cannot comprehend Haze's decision to punish himself for being unclean, fixating instead on the literal mess that his blood has caused. As far as Mrs. Flood is concerned, there really is no kind of clean outside of the literal.

Mrs' Flood's blissful ignorance of sin and guilt is in many ways the animal approach to living that Hazel tried so hard to adopt, but his spiritual destiny would never allow him to forget his conscience, formed by a deeply religious upbringing with an emphasis on redemption. Now, just as Hazel was never able to truly understand the un-self-conscious living of Ms. Watts or Mrs. Flood, Mrs. Flood finds herself unable to understand Hazel's spiritual obsession.