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.
The Nature of Truth Theme Icon

Perhaps Hazel’s most lucid and compelling point as a preacher is the assertion that there is no truth, aside from the truth that there is no truth. He promotes empiricism, the belief that one can only know whatever one has direct experience of, and rejects those who claim to find truth through faith. This intellectual argument, though piercing, has little effect on the few listeners who assemble to hear Hazel’s speeches in the street.

On the other hand, the secondary characters in the novel seem capable of seeing a truth about Hazel that Hazel himself prefers to deny – that is, the spiritual calling that is a product either of his background or his inherent nature. Nearly everyone he meets seems aware of this spiritual side of Hazel, assuming he is a preacher, which only frustrates him. Hazel is blind to the ‘empirical’ truth of his life in other ways as well, most obviously in his constant insistence that the broken down old car he buys has nothing at all wrong with it. By showing us the ways that Hazel is not always able to see the truth that is in front of him, O’Connor gives the reader a reason to suspect that his denial of Christianity may not be valid either.

In a novel so concerned with the nature of truth, it is significant that the town of Taulkinham is populated by so many liars, from scheming scam artist Hoover Shoats, who becomes a money-grubbing competitor of Hazel’s church under the alias Onnie Jay Holy, to lying auto mechanics, to the enigmatic Asa Hawks, who only pretends to be blind. There is a dark humor in the fact that Hazel, who so fervently denies the existence of sin, hates deception so deeply, and is disgusted by the easy lies of the Christian people he attempts to convert away from their religion – since they themselves seem quite comfortable with living sinful lives and telling lies.

Hazel refuses to lie or to compromise his integrity at the request of scam artists like Onnie Jay Holy, even when it would make him money or increase his appeal. Truth is a very important principle to him, even as he denies Christianity’s claim to it.

Ultimately it is partly this respect for the truth that seems to drive Hazel’s choice to blind himself, an act that rejects the dishonesty of Asa Hawks’ false promise to do so many years before. Although still conflicted in the way he discusses Jesus with his landlady, Mrs. Flood, Hazel’s actions suggest that he has come around to the idea that there is a deeper, fuller truth to be found in religion – one that can only be found, perhaps, by escaping the shallowness of the world. He says that “if there’s no bottom to your eyes, they hold more,” and seems to have access, after blinding himself, to a truth about what comes after life that Mrs. Flood, for one, is desperate to uncover.

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The Nature of Truth ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in Wise Blood related to the theme of The Nature of Truth.
Chapter 1 Quotes

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. 


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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. 

“Sweet Jesus Christ Crucified,” he said, “I want to tell you people something. Maybe you think you’re not clean because you don’t believe. Well you are clean, let me tell you that. Every one of you people are clean and let me tell you why if you think it’s because of Jesus Christ Crucified you’re wrong. I don’t say he wasn’t crucified but I say it wasn’t for you. Listenhere, I’m a preacher myself and I preach the truth.”

Related Characters: Hazel ‘Haze’ Motes (speaker)
Page Number: 51
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, Hazel makes up his mind to become a sort of anti-preacher, finding at long last the purpose behind his voyage to Taulkinham and the self-made expression of free will that he believes most perfectly subverts the religious destiny he hopes to avoid. Ironically, though, this new role will only further the public perception that he is a man of religion, and reveals his continuing obsession with the Church (even if that obsession reveals itself through his anti-Church teachings). This irony is encapsulated in Hazel's choice to begin his tirade with a curse that actually just invokes the figure, Christ, that Hazel had hoped to reject.

Rather than giving up the spiritual as he had hoped, he finds himself focused on it from another direction, reacting in anger against Asa Hawks' Christian evangelizing by evangelizing on behalf of his own, particular atheism. The most important principle of Hazel's new Church at this early stage is a vicious devotion to the truth, an atheistic truth that rejects any comfort Christianity might offer. At the same time, though, it relieves any guilt that Christianity might impose, by claiming that everyone is already clean and does not need to be cleaned, spiritually, by the sacrifice of the crucifixion. This obsession with cleanliness is a major part of Hazel's relationship to religion – he has been brought up to feel the guilt of sin very acutely, and fought all of his life to escape from the sense of dirtiness that his grandfather's version of Christianity suggested followed everyone wherever they went. 

“What you seen?” she said, using the same tone of voice all the time. She hit him across the legs with the stick, but he was like part of the tree. “Jesus died to redeem you,” she said.
“I never ast him,” he muttered.
She didn’t hit him again but she stood looking at him, shut-mouthed, and he forgot the guilt of the tent for the nameless unplaced guilt that was in him.

Related Characters: Hazel ‘Haze’ Motes (speaker)
Page Number: 59
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, Hazel experiences a flashback to his youth, when his mother punished him for having looked into a tent in the traveling circus that contained a naked woman, where he also saw his father in the audience. Although she does not know his crime, something in her senses his guilt, and the young Hazel feels this uncleanliness acutely.

The exchange between the two, as she hits his unflinching legs and tells him that "Jesus died to redeem" him, and he mutters back that he "never ast him," perfectly sums up the resentment that Hazel has been conditioned to feel toward a God who, he has been taught to believe, sees him as dirty, stupid, and fallen. He feels a debt to this God, and that debt weighs on him so that he cannot escape it. Hazel remains trapped within this "nameless unplaced guilt," placed upon him by his street preacher grandfather and pious mother, and spends years in the army attempting to escape its grip – it's this same escape attempt that brings him to Taulkinham, where he struggles desperately to deny the inner truth of his religiosity.  

Chapter 6 Quotes

Ten years ago at a revival he had intended to blind himself and two hundred people or more were there, waiting for him to do it. He had preached for an hour on the blindness of Paul, working himself up until he had saw himself struck blind by a Divine flash of lightning and, with courage enough then, he had thrust his hands into the bucket of wet lime and streaked them down his face; but he hadn’t been able to let any of it get into his eyes. He had been possessed of as many devils as were necessary to do it, but at that instant, they disappeared, and he saw himself standing there as he was.

Related Characters: Asa Hawks / The Blind Man
Page Number: 109
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, the dramatic truth behind Asa Hawks' false identity as the blind preacher is revealed. He is not blind at all, in fact; although he had once promised to blind himself, to prove his religious zeal, he was unable to carry out the blinding in front of those who had massed to witness the act. Asa now lives a lie, as a false preacher and beggar. He is not the pure, spiritual threat that Hazel at first saw in him, but a deeply hypocritical, bitter figure whose entire persona is based in a deception. Any true believer in Christ threatens Hazel's claim that there is no soul, but the threat that Asa represents is – in some ways disappointingly, for Hazel, when he discovers the truth – a hollow one. 

Back in his days as a preacher, Asa's zeal seemed real enough; he was prepared to blind himself, with a fiery passion that recalls the vengeful rhetoric of Hazel's grandfather. Ultimately, though, this passion was also deceptive, based in a need to over-perform belief. Hazel, later in the novel, rejects this need to perform and the lie at Asa's core by actually blinding himself and withdrawing from the world entirely, retreating into himself and his painful self-inflicted penance.

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 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. 

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. 

“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 13 Quotes

“You shut up,” Haze said, leaning his head closer to hear the confession.
“Told where his still was and got five dollars for it,” the man gasped.
“You shut up now,” Haze said.
“Jesus…” the man said.
“Shut up like I told you to now,” Haze said.
“Jesus hep me,” the man wheezed.
Haze gave him a hard slap on the back and he was quiet. He leaned down to hear if he was going to say anything else but he wasn’t breathing any more.

Related Characters: Hazel ‘Haze’ Motes (speaker), Solace Layfield (speaker)
Page Number: 207
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, Haze kneels over the dying Solace Layfield, the man hired by Hoover Shoats to impersonate him, after having run Solace down with his car. Even after having committed murder, in a new attempt to refuse the calling of his soul and reject the truth about his destiny that seeing Layfield made all too obvious for him, Hazel is thrust as ever against his will into the role of a preacher, forced to hear the dying man's confession.

Full of contradiction still, though, Hazel leans in to hear what Layfield has to say even as he warns him to shut up. Hazel has rejected the whole concept of confession, based in ideas of sin and redemption that he associates with the horrible, haunting guilt of his childhood. But now, faced with the dying Layfield, he cannot help but perform his natural role as a confessor. This continues until, anticlimactically, Hazel ushers the pitiful Layfield into death with a hard slap on the back, stopping his mouth once and for all. 

Haze followed him around, telling him what it was right to believe. He said it was not right to believe anything you couldn’t see or hold in your hands or test with your teeth. He said he had only a few days ago believed in blasphemy as the way to salvation, but that you couldn’t even believe in that because then you were believing in something to blaspheme. As for the Jesus who was reported to have been born at Bethlehem and crucified on Calvary for man’s sins, Haze said, He was too foul a notion for a sane person to carry in his head… he began to curse and blaspheme Jesus in a quiet but intense way but with such conviction that the boy paused from his work to listen.

Related Characters: Hazel ‘Haze’ Motes
Page Number: 208
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, Hazel berates the gas station attendant with his usual tirade on the nonexistence of Christ, but with his angry speech only continues to emphasize the depth of those beliefs he wants desperately to escape. Totally unprompted by the attendant, Hazel launches into his monologue about truth and religion, but his obsessive denial of Christianity has begun to collapse on itself. He has begun to realize, in just the last few days, that blasphemy cannot be the way to the salvation because you can't believe in blasphemy without "believing in something to blaspheme."

Hazel almost seems, in this moment, to be taking a step toward self-awareness, realizing that the truth of his crusade against religion is actually an obsession with redemption and sin, that in attempting to run away from his destiny he only circles back around from the other side. This self-awareness vanishes, though, as, just after warning the boy against blasphemy, Hazel begins to blaspheme with such intensity that the boy pauses in his work to listen. Hazel is incapable of recognizing the hypocrisy of his speech, even as he turns from one argument to another in the course of a single tirade. 

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.