Wise Blood

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Isolation and the Outsider Theme Analysis

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.
Isolation and the Outsider Theme Icon

O’Connor’s novel tells the story of two deeply lonely outsiders - Enoch and Hazel – along with a set of supporting characters who are often equally isolated, from the tormented false preacher Asa Hawks to the lovelorn landlady, Mrs. Flood. These lonely characters are often driven primarily by a desire to connect with one another.

Enoch, for example, follows the unwelcoming Hazel in pursuit of a friend. Enoch has habitual (and thorny, characterized by insults) interactions with many people (and animals) – waitresses, salesmen, his landlady – that reveal a desire to belong, but their contempt for him is obvious in O’Connor’s descriptions. This pursuit of connection is what pushes him to his most vulnerable moment, when, face to face with Gonga the Gorilla, whose warm, furry handshake is the first offered him since arriving in Taulkinham two months earlier, he makes an attempt to connect by telling the gorilla about his life, only to have the actor behind the mask lean in and tell him to go to hell. Thwarted here, his pursuit of connection continues through his final moment in the novel, when, dressed in the stolen gorilla suit, he reaches out to an unnamed couple in the woods for a handshake, just as he has witnessed Gonga do, and is left sitting alone on a rock when they run away.

Hazel, too, is alone in the world. In the first chapter we are told the story of Hazel’s return from the war, and given a window into the deep longing for home that he feels – in many ways this chapter provides the deepest view into Hazel’s hard-to-pierce inner thoughts, revealing just how lonely he is. Death is the ultimate isolator – in the first chapter we learn that Hazel has lost every member of his family, and he vividly remembers the closing of each of their coffins as he begins to panic, triggered by the coffin-like bunk of the train in which the porter has locked him. Still, although he longs for a home, connection to other people often seems to send Hazel into a blank, withdrawn, or angry state – perhaps because their actions are often disappointing, grotesque, or animalistic. Although conflict draws Hazel out of his shell at a few points in the novel, his interactions with the people around him are nearly always forced and awkward. In fact, by the end of the book it seems that what Hazel wishes above all else is to be isolated from the world, living life as a monk. Finally, after having blinded himself, he withdraws completely into his inner world, and the reader retreats into the lonely Mrs. Flood’s perspective as the protagonist becomes silent, his life summed up into a single point of light that she sees retreating into the distance.

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Isolation and the Outsider ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in Wise Blood related to the theme of Isolation and the Outsider.
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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They told him he didn’t have any soul and left him for their brothel. He took a long time to believe them because he wanted to believe them. All he wanted was to believe them and get rid of it once and for all, and he saw the opportunity here to get rid of it without corruption, to be converted to nothing instead of to evil.

Related Characters: Hazel ‘Haze’ Motes
Page Number: 18
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, Hazel remembers his introduction to the army, when two of his fellow soldiers invited him to join them at the brothel and he refused for religious reasons, to keep his soul clean. They respond by mocking Hazel's refusal, and at his attempt to convert them, confirming the novel's continual painting of Hazel as an outsider, different from the people around him.

Hazel is intrigued by their idea that he does not have a soul at all, since all his life he has felt chained down by his obligation to resist sin, weighed down by guilt. All he wants is to escape, and to sin deliberately would be one means of doing so – but he does not have the same animal ability to leave his conscience behind exhibited by his fellow soldiers, much as he would like to. He envies them this easy relationship with sin, a relationship that essentially negates the whole concept of sin by denying the existence of the soul. This is the truth that Hazel finishes his time in the army by believing, and now that he is back in the South he is determined to spread this truth – that there is no soul, and no sin, and no evil to be afraid of. 

Chapter 3 Quotes

“I come a long way,” Haze said, “since I would believe anything. I come halfway around the world.
“Me too,” Enoch Emery said.
“You ain’t come so far that you could keep from following me,” the blind man said. He reached out suddenly and his hands covered Haze’s face. For a second Haze didn’t move or make any sound. Then he knocked the hands off.

Related Characters: Hazel ‘Haze’ Motes (speaker), Enoch Emory (speaker), Asa Hawks / The Blind Man (speaker)
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, Hazel confronts the blind street preacher, Asa Hawks. Hawks is a figure of what Hazel might have become if he had followed in the footsteps of his grandfather, and Hazel seems fascinated by the dark vision that he represents – a fascination that Hawks picks up on, taking it as evidence that Hazel has some unresolved religious destiny that haunts his past and will inevitably catch back up to him in the future. The surprisingly intimate moment here, initiated by Hawks, who puts his hands over Hazel's face, shows us the kinship between the two dark souls, even as Hazel quickly rejects Hawks' touch. That Hawks presumes he has a right to this intimacy deeply angers Hazel, who has decided to distance himself from his religious destiny and hates being reminded that it follows him in spite of the many miles he has traveled during his time in the military, and the many experiences that ought to have divided him from people like Hawks. 

Enoch, meanwhile, pipes up in an attempt to join in, desperate as he is for connection, but is ignored by all parties. He is an outsider, even here among society's outsiders. 

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 7 Quotes

They climbed the hill and went down the other side of it, she a little ahead of Haze. He saw that sitting under a tree with her might help him to seduce her, but he was in no hurry to get on with it, considering her innocence. He felt it was too hard of a job to be done in an afternoon. She sat down under a large pine and patted the ground close beside her for him to sit on, but he sat about five feet away from her on a rock. He rested his chin on his knees and looked straight ahead.

Related Characters: Hazel ‘Haze’ Motes, Sabbath Lily Hawks / The Young Girl
Page Number: 119
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, Hazel and Sabbath take a walk in the countryside after Sabbath hides in the back of Hazel's car, hoping to seduce the young newcomer. Barefoot now, Sabbath runs ahead and they find a tree to sit under. This is a romantic situation, but Hazel, the social outsider, is completely oblivious to Sabbath's advances. In fact, he has decided to seduce Sabbath, for reasons of principle – that is, to prove to her father, Asa Hawks, that he is serious in his rejection of the idea of sin and religion.

Having made this decision, he fails completely to take advantage of the situation in front of him, mistaking the truth of Sabbath's intentions and seeing only the innocent idea he has of her. He is statuesque in his studied indifference, ignoring entirely her invitation to sit beside her. Clearly, entering into this animal, physical realm is not something with which he feels truly comfortable, but rather a deliberate, studied expression of his principled rejection of the spiritual. Blind to this truth about himself and the true aims of Sabbath, Hazel reveals his hazy relationship to the truth he claims to worship. 

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. 

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. 

The entire possibility of this came from the advantage of having a car—of having something that moved fast, in privacy, to the place you wanted to be. He looked out the window at the Essex. It sat high and square in the pouring rain. He didn’t notice the rain, only the car; if asked he would not have been able to say it was raining.

Related Characters: Hazel ‘Haze’ Motes
Related Symbols: Hazel’s Car
Page Number: 186
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, Hazel clings to the hope of escape from destiny that his car represents, at the moment when he feels most trapped, having begun his relationship with Sabbath Hawks. He is desperate to leave this place, this town, where he has only ended up circling closer to the religious destiny he had hoped to avoid. This desperate hope fills his whole mind, blocking out even any awareness he has of the rain pouring just outside. 

Hazel's car is a symbol of free will, and he sees it as a beautiful, precious vehicle capable of anything – in spite of the many voices that speak to the contrary, pointing out that it is in reality a cheap, broken-down, ugly clunker that is lucky to move at all. He is blinded by what it represents, by his desperation, and still unable to see that in fact both the car, and any notion of escape or free will, are doomed to fail. 

“I knew when I first seen you you were mean and evil,” a furious voice behind him said. “ I seen you wouldn’t let nobody have nothing. I seen you were mean enough to slam a baby against a wall. I seen you wouldn’t never have no fun or let anybody else because you didn’t want nothing but Jesus!”
He turned and raised his arm in a vicious gesture, almost losing his balance in the door. Drops of rain water were splattered over the front of the glasses and on his red face and here and there they hung sparkling from the brim of his hat. “I don’t want nothing but the truth!” he shouted, “and what you see is the truth and I’ve seen it!”

Related Characters: Hazel ‘Haze’ Motes (speaker), Sabbath Lily Hawks / The Young Girl (speaker)
Page Number: 188
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, a dramatic confrontation between Hazel and Sabbath erupts when, after their first night together, she finds the shrunken mummy that Enoch has stolen from the park's museum and brings it to him, cradling it like the Madonna with Child. Hazel had been preparing his escape, gazing longingly at his car, when she entered the room, and he slammed the small figure against the wall in his rage. He feels trapped, desperate to escape the destiny crashing down around him, and Sabbath finds just the right words to stoke his greatest fear; by telling him that she knew as soon as they met that he would "never have no fun" because he "didn't want nothing but Jesus," she confirms that all of this work he has done to distance himself from his spiritual destiny is false and futile. 

Hazel, isolating himself again from any human connection, rejects her diagnosis of his inner desire for Jesus, and turns instead toward the truth as his ultimate goal. He is more deeply moved here than we have ever seen him, clinging to the truth as an excuse while remaining oblivious to the truth of the real world around him, nearly falling out the open door onto the wet ground below. 

Chapter 14 Quotes

She had never observed his face so composed and she grabbed his hand and held it to her heart. It was resistless and dry. The outline of a skull was plain under his skin and the deep burned eye sockets seemed to lead into the dark tunnel where he had disappeared. She leaned closer and closer to his face, looking deep into them, trying to see how she had been cheated or what had cheated her, but she couldn’t see anything. She shut her eyes and saw the pin point of light but so far away that she could not hold it steady in her mind. She felt as if she were blocked at the entrance of something. She sat staring with her eyes shut, into his eyes, and felt as if she had finally got to the beginning of something she couldn’t begin, and she saw him moving farther and farther away, farther and farther into the darkness until he was the pin point of light.

Related Characters: Hazel ‘Haze’ Motes, Mrs. Flood
Page Number: 235
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, Mrs. Flood stares into Hazel's eyes after he has passed away, brought back from the winter storm by a pair of policemen who accidentally kill him en route. Mrs. Flood has become fascinated by the distance that separates her from Hazel, by his perspective on the world which is so foreign and inscrutable to her, and now that he is dead this distance is all the greater, drawing her in still further so that she holds his hand to her heart. The outline of a skull in his face, a sort of Memento Mori, is a reminder of the ephemerality of life and the closeness of death, which Hazel sought out so determinedly. 

Determined to bridge the gap between them and understand the secret that gives Hazel the composure and conviction she sees in him now, Mrs. Flood closes her eyes; Hazel has already told her that one sees more acutely when one is blind, a claim he makes literal by blinding himself to the world in order to see inside himself more clearly. With the focus that this gives her, she is able to see what is perhaps the image of Hazel's soul passing on into the afterlife, peaceful and distant, leaving the world and its struggles behind forever.