On his first night with the false Prophet, Hoover Shoats earns fifteen dollars and thirty-five cents. Three dollars go to the “Prophet” for his services and use of his car. The impostor’s name is Solace Layfield, and he has consumption and six children. He never considers that the job of Prophet might be dangerous, and he doesn’t noticed the rat-colored car parked a half block from them on the second night, or the white face watching him “with the kind of intensity that means something is going to happen no matter what is done to keep it from happening.”
These logistical details – and the success that Shoats is having, in contrast to Hazel’s failure – emphasize the appeal of the kind of false, hollow religion he preaches. Solace is a pitiful figure, and his sad life story inspires sympathy in the face of the misfortune that seems about to befall his. This white face—Hazel’s—is determined beyond any doubt, and so Solace’s sad fate is set.
Hazel’s face watches Shoats and the “Prophet” for an hour, and then his car follows Solace’s while he drops off Shoats and carries on to his own home. As Solace turns off the main road, Hazel gradually comes closer, until he suddenly rams the back of Solace’s car with his own. Solace gets out of his car and asks Hazel what he wants. In response, Hazel rams the other car again, so that it rolls into the ditch. Solace runs back to his window, and Hazel asks why he keeps a car like that on the road. Solace insists that there is nothing wrong with his car.
Now it is Hazel who is stalking his prey, although his method is deliberate, serious, and premeditated, unlike Enoch’s. Suspense builds on the journey home, and then violence erupts – first against the car, which represents an attack on the vehicle of Hazel’s free will, and the closest thing he has to a home. Hazel insults Solace’s car, which exactly resembles his own, and Solace echoes the obviously false response that Hazel has given many times: it’s a good car. Blind to his own faults, Hazel sees them all too clearly when they are embodied by Solace.
Hazel tells him to take off the hat. Beginning to cough, Solace asks him to stop staring and say what he wants. Hazel replies “you ain’t true,” asking why he gets up on the car and preaches what he doesn’t believe in. He repeats his question, and finally Solace responds that “A man has to look out for hisself.” “You ain’t true,” says Haze, “You believe in Jesus.” Then he tells Solace again to take off the suit and hat. Solace says he isn’t trying to mock Hazel, but Hazel reaches out and knocks off the hat.
Hazel’s wild, tight rage against Solace’s dishonesty and belief in Jesus mirrors his anger at the car’s ugliness – he sees in Solace all of the things he fears are true in himself, but refuses to believe. The rage he feels is self-hating, fueled by guilt and an inability to accept the truth of his destiny, of the religious feelings he cannot escape. Hazel wants to destroy Solace, since he reminds him of his own failures.
Solace begins to walk away down the middle of the road, and Hazel starts the car, yelling at him to take off the suit. Solace begins to pull it off as he lopes down the road, and he starts to run as Hazel’s car comes forward more rapidly. As Solace takes off his trousers and starts grabbing for his shoes, Hazel’s car knocks him flat and runs him over. Hazel then reverses and drives back over the body again. He steps out of the car and stands over Solace, telling him that there are two things he can’t stand: “a man that ain’t true and one that mocks what is.” Solace, wheezing, tries to say something, and Hazel squats down to hear him. Solace is confessing his sins before dying, and Hazel leans closer to hear even as he tells him repeatedly to shut up. As Solace wheezes “Jesus hep me,” Hazel slaps him in the back, hard, and Solace stops breathing. Hazel cleans off the blood from the front of his car and leaves.
The dark, tragic comedy of poor Solace stripping while he runs down the road only adds to the horror of his death. The enraged Hazel, still unaware that what he hates most in this man is true of himself as well, denounces him as a liar and a fake. Hazel’s inner conflict continues, as on the one hand he leans in, priest-like, to hear the confession of the dying Solace, and on the other hand he tells him to shut up. He is dismayed to see this fearful belief, this guilt, this desperate need for redemption in a man who is a mirror of himself. Unable to let himself hear the confession any longer, to believe that he too might have this guilt in him, Hazel finishes the job and coldly leaves.
Early the next morning Hazel drives to a filling station to get the car ready for his trip. He has spent the night in the car, in an alley. He tells the sleepy attendant that he wants the car prepared, and when the boy expresses doubt that it will make the journey, Hazel tells him that “nobody with a good car needed to worry about anything.” He follows the boy around the car while he does the work, telling him about the Church Without Christ—that one can only believe in what can be seen or held or tested with one’s teeth, and that he used to believe in blasphemy but not any longer, since that required believing in something to blaspheme. Then Hazel begins to blaspheme Jesus in a quiet and intense way, so that the boy pauses to listen.
Back to his blind refusal to look the truth of his life in the face, Hazel persists in his false confidence about the state of his car—and the state of his independence from the religious destiny that follows him at every step. Even as a little awareness of the hypocrisy at the core of his belief in blasphemy creeps in – to believe in blasphemy, one must believe in Jesus – Hazel does not stop his intense litany of curses, not seeing the double standard right in front of him. He believes, and cannot escape that fact.
Finishing his work, the boy tells Hazel that there is a leak in the gas tank and two in the radiator, and the rear tire might last twenty miles if he goes slow. Hazel responds that the car is just beginning its life, and a bolt of lightning couldn’t stop it. Then he drives away, leaving a trail of water and oil on the road. He drives very fast out of town, but has the sense that he isn’t going anywhere. At one point he sees a sign that says “Jesus Died for YOU.” Hazel deliberately avoids reading it.
Once more in front of his eyes, letting himself be blinded to the reality of his broken-down car and his own inner conflict, Hazel attempts yet again to flee, leaving a comic trail of oil behind him. His destiny won’t leave him alone, though, as the sign – a direct echo of what his grandfather used to say – calls him out. To deliberately avoid reading it, after already having done so, is a comic contradiction.
Five miles down the highway Hazel is pulled over by a policeman, who tells Hazel that he pulled him over because he doesn’t like his face. He asks Hazel for his license. Hazel tells the policeman that he doesn’t like his face either, and he doesn’t have a license. The policeman asks Hazel to drive to the top of a nearby hill to see the view, and Hazel assumes he wants to fight. He obligingly drives the car up to the top of the hill, and turns it toward the embankment as the cop suggests. The cop then tells Hazel that he will be able to see better from outside the car, so he steps out, looking out over the pasture thirty feet below, where a lone cow sits. From behind, the patrolman pushes Hazel’s car over the embankment, and it falls into the pasture, landing on its top. The cow gallops away.
Like the policeman who stopped Hazel for jaywalking earlier in the novel, this officer is confrontational and predatory, and Hazel responds in kind, his animal instincts raised. As blind as ever to the obvious around him, Hazel naively follows the policeman’s instruction to drive his car right up to the embankment at the top of the hill and step out. Then comes the act of random, unwarranted, shallow violence that finally pushes Hazel over the edge, as his car – the last vestige of independence he had refused to let go – is destroyed.
Hazel stands silently looking out at the pasture and into the gray sky, his face reflecting a great distance. Then his knees buckle, and he sits on the edge of the embankment. The policeman asks if he can give Hazel a ride to where he was going, but Hazel remains silent. He asks again, and then a third time, this time more anxiously. Hazel says no. His face is concentrated on the space ahead of him. Confused, the policeman goes back to his car, says goodbye to Hazel, and drives away.
Hazel is broken by the unmotivated cruelty of this act (although it’s a cruelty that echoes his own murder of Solace), so much so that the policeman begins to feel some guilt and concern. Something has changed in Hazel now, putting him far beyond the reach of the policeman, isolating him once and for all from the world of the primitive, animal-like people of Taulkinham. In this moment Hazel has resigned himself to his destiny, and this is the beginning of his punishment for the sin he committed.
After a while Hazel stands up and walks back to town. It takes three hours. On the way he buys a sack of lime and a tin bucket, and when he reaches the house he fills the bucket with lime and water. His landlady, Mrs. Flood, asks what he is doing, and he tells her he is going to blind himself. She doesn’t understand why someone who felt that bad wouldn’t just commit suicide, and can’t understand why anyone would blind themselves. For a moment she confronts the idea that when she dies, she too will be blind, but then she clears her mind. She is not a morbid or religious person, but has some respect for those who are that way. She does not doubt that Hazel will blind himself—there is something a little bit off about all preachers, after all. What else could explain why someone wouldn’t want to enjoy themselves?
Hazel’s resignation is complete now, his pace deliberate. Unlike Asa, his moment of blinding is not announced ahead of time to induce conversions – there is no fanfare, only a quiet, dark conviction, as Hazel prepares to complete the act that Asa was unable to carry through to its conclusion. He is withdrawing from the world, and opening himself up to the inner truths he had chosen to ignore – his destiny, and his belief in God and sin. As the perspective switches to Mrs. Flood, her lack of surprise again illustrates how this conviction has always been visible to everyone but Hazel. He has always lacked joy, always been mired in guilt. The switch of perspective also emphasizes Hazel’s new disconnection—not even the narrator has access to his inner life anymore.