Wise Blood

Wise Blood Chapter 14 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
This question—what would drive someone to blind themselves—stays with Mrs. Flood, because Hazel does indeed blind himself, and she is constantly reminded of this fact by his scars, since he refuses to wear dark glasses. He is a silent houseguest, but offers to pay extra to keep his room, since he knows the space. She accepts, still curious about the blind man. She knows that he receives a disability check from the government, and feels justified getting back any of the money she feels has been stolen from her as taxes. She feels like the blind Hazel has the “look of seeing something,” so that even though he is blind it always seems as though he is straining forward to see something distant.
O’Connor’s perspective continues to follow Mrs. Flood here, giving the reader a glimpse at the inner life of this lonely landlady. Her moral logic for charging Hazel higher rent is unapologetically self-centered, but in what seems to be a fairly harmless way. She is drawn in by an unquenchable curiosity about what secret truth Hazel seems to know, what spiritual knowledge justified his blinding himself, and what exactly goes on inside his mind, behind his scarred eyes that seem to see something. Just as we began with Mrs. Hitchcock’s confused impressions of Hazel, so we end with Mrs. Flood’s.
Themes
Religious Belief, Redemption, and Sin Theme Icon
The Nature of Truth Theme Icon
Isolation and the Outsider Theme Icon
The other boarders largely ignore Hazel now, although at first they had been afraid of him. When he blinded himself, Sabbath had run to everyone to tell them what happened. She left a few days later, saying that she had not counted on him being an “honest-to-Jesus blind man,” and that she missed her father, Asa. Two months later Sabbath returned, shouting and screaming. Mrs. Flood told Hazel he would have to pay double if she stayed, so he did. When Mrs. Flood warns him that Sabbath is only after his money, Hazel says that if she were, he would pay her to leave. The landlady arranges to have Sabbath put into a Welfare home.
O’Connor is pitiless in portraying how Hazel’s life has had little effect on the world around him, but his blinding, at least, has a nagging effect on the curious Mrs. Flood. Sabbath does not know how to respond to this dark act, which reverses the cowardice of Asa, replacing it with a merciless conviction. Hazel demonstrates in his response to Mrs. Flood and Sabbath’s requests of him that he cares nothing for money or attachment, and wants only to be left alone.
Themes
Religious Belief, Redemption, and Sin Theme Icon
The Nature of Truth Theme Icon
Isolation and the Outsider Theme Icon
Later, Mrs. Flood steams open the envelope containing Hazel’s government check, and raises his rent when she finds out how much is there. She starts to cook his meals for him as well, and to charge for board. She can’t shake the feeling that he is cheating her somehow. He must have had some plan when he blinded himself, so what does he know that she doesn’t? Mrs. Flood tries to find out more about Hazel, telling him that her people are all dead, and she supposes his are too. He says that yes, they are.
Mrs. Flood’s subtle swindling of the blind Hazel is automatic more than it is malicious. Even though she is the one cheating him, her conviction that there is something that is being hidden will not be shaken. Her curiosity begins to grow into an obsession, as she finds common ground between them: both are alone in the world, their whole families having died already.
Themes
Religious Belief, Redemption, and Sin Theme Icon
The Nature of Truth Theme Icon
Isolation and the Outsider Theme Icon
Mrs. Flood enjoys sitting on the porch with Hazel, although she cannot always tell if he knows she is there. She talks at length, but he rarely responds. If she forgets to stop herself she begins to stare into his damaged eyes, mouth open. “Anyone who saw her from the sidewalk would think she was being courted by a corpse.” She notes that he never eats much, and he doesn’t care what it is he eats. His cough deepens with time, and his limp worsens. Hazel spends half the day walking around in a five-block radius from the house, even in winter when he is sick. Mrs. Flood reflects that he might as well be “one of those monks” in a “monkery.” She still feels vaguely cheated, as she wants to understand everything.
The lonely Mrs. Flood begins to take on Hazel as her chief companion, although the relationship seems very one-sided – another example from O’Connor of the ease with which people can create illusions for themselves. Hazel is growing gradually weaker, and seems unattached to anything in his life except for routine – this leads to Mrs. Flood’s remark that he ought to live in a “monkery.” Hazel seems resigned now to a quiet, arguably religious life, although now it is as hard for the reader to see inside his mind as it is for Mrs. Flood.
Themes
Religious Belief, Redemption, and Sin Theme Icon
Free Will vs. Destiny Theme Icon
The Nature of Truth Theme Icon
Isolation and the Outsider Theme Icon
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Mrs. Flood reflects on what is inside Hazel’s head, and decides that it must be big enough to contain everything, the whole world and sky and planets, making what is outside seem tiny—but it is the opposite for her. Mrs. Flood has to imagine Hazel’s dark inner world as containing a pinprick of light, like the star on Christmas cards, and laughs when she imagines him going “backwards to Bethlehem.” She wants to find something to give him a connection to the real world, and suggests that he take up the guitar, creating a vision of the two of them sitting on the porch while he strums. He never takes her suggestion.
There is something different about Hazel, and there always has been: he is fated for the spiritual life, set apart in some way from the mundane, animal world of Mrs. Flood and the citizens of Taulkinham. Hazel has now embraced this destiny and retreated further into this spiritualism, withdrawing from the world altogether. Mrs. Flood feels a deep curiosity about his spiritual quest, combined with a comic desire to tease him away from it.
Themes
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
Mrs. Flood wonders what happens with the extra third of Hazel’s benefit check. She knows that it goes unused, and thinks of what benefits a widow of his might accrue. One day she finds four dollars and some change in his wastebasket, and when she asks him why they’re there, he says they were left over. She is shocked by this waste, asking why he doesn’t at least give it away. He tells her that she can have it.
Here the idea of marrying Hazel begins to enter Mrs. Flood’s practical mind. The episode with the wastebasket, which truly shocks her, cements the fact that Hazel is now living completely apart from the world, in a monk-like, ascetic way. He is no longer looking to escape anything, but has resigned himself to suffering.
Themes
Religious Belief, Redemption, and Sin Theme Icon
Free Will vs. Destiny Theme Icon
Isolation and the Outsider Theme Icon
Mrs. Flood decides, officially, to marry Hazel, so that he is under the control of “a sensible person.” In order to seduce him, she tries to take an interest in what matters to him: preaching. She asks why he doesn’t preach anymore, suggesting that a seeing-eye dog would certainly draw a crowd. She tells him that, personally, she is just as good with Jesus as without, and he interjects to say that she is better without. She takes this as a compliment, and tells him he should continue preaching, but he says he has no time.
Mrs. Flood’s project of seducing the completely withdrawn Hazel is tragic and comic at once. Hazel’s answer to her statement about Jesus, as well as his assertion that she is better off without him, is a sign that even as he has given in to his destiny, Hazel continues to envy the people who can enjoy life without guilt and the self-hatred that accompanies it.
Themes
Religious Belief, Redemption, and Sin Theme Icon
Free Will vs. Destiny Theme Icon
Isolation and the Outsider Theme Icon
Later Mrs. Flood discovers what is taking Hazel’s time, and why he limps. Cleaning his room one day, she finds that his shoes are full of bits of rock and glass. Confused, she asks him why he walks on rocks, and he responds, harshly, “to pay.” When she asks “for what,” Hazel says it doesn’t make any difference, and to mind her own business, because she “can’t see.” Mrs. Flood asks him whether he thinks that when you’re dead, you’re blind, and Hazel says that he hopes so, because “if there’s no bottom in your eyes, they hold more.”
The mystery of Hazel’s routine is revealed at last—he has returned to the self-harm that we first witnessed in his story about seeing the naked woman at the carnival. Hazel has now devoted his life to paying for his sins with self-inflicted pain and punishment. It’s unclear if this is a search for redemption and freedom, however, or merely Hazel enacting what he sees as an inexorable justice. Hazel’s assertion suggests that he can see a greater truth now that he is blinded, and has left behind all of the self-deception and hypocrisy of his earlier life. This statement also echoes Hawks’ earlier one—although Hazel has real conviction and blindness behind his claim.
Themes
Religious Belief, Redemption, and Sin Theme Icon
Free Will vs. Destiny Theme Icon
The Nature of Truth Theme Icon
Mrs. Flood becomes obsessed by Hazel, following him on his walks and badgering him about his health. He didn’t seem to notice her, or else swats at her voice as if it were a mosquito. For a while he stops eating at the boarding house, going to a nearby restaurant instead, and she is dismayed. Soon enough Hazel catches influenza, however, and is too weak to walk out. One day she walks in on him sleeping, and sees barbed wire wrapped around his chest, through his open shirt. Mrs. Flood is so shocked by this that she drops a tray of dishes.
Mrs. Flood becomes one more thing for Hazel to endure, one more trial, even as she tries to help and understand him and his dark religious purpose. His self-harm is more serious than Mrs. Flood knew at first, and the revelation of the barbed wire truly shakes her – what is it that she doesn’t understand, that could drive him to do this awful thing to himself? He is moving beyond her, and beyond the world.
Themes
Religious Belief, Redemption, and Sin Theme Icon
Isolation and the Outsider Theme Icon
Mrs. Flood wakes Hazel and asks why he does these “unnatural” things. He says that they are natural. She says that it’s something people have quit doing, “like boiling in oil or being a saint.” He says that “they ain’t quit doing it as long as I’m doing it,” and that he does it because he is “not clean.” She agrees, pointing out that he has bloodied his shirt and the sheets, but he says it’s “not that kind of clean.” Mrs. Flood mutters that there is “only one kind of clean,” and begins to sweep up the broken dishes. She tells Hazel that he must have been lying about not believing in Jesus, that she wouldn’t be surprised if he were some kind of agent of the pope.
Mrs. Flood’s animal instinct is for self-preservation, and so for her Hazel’s actions are unnatural, but his instincts, and the fate he cannot escape, have always been spiritual and somehow elevated. Hazel seems like he belongs to another time, one when saints walked the earth—not what O’Connor portrays as a modern, shallow age. Hazel’s actions are driven by a guilty need for redemption that Mrs. Flood cannot even begin to understand – she is the kind of person that Hazel wanted so desperately to be, someone who only understands “clean” in the physical sense.
Themes
Religious Belief, Redemption, and Sin Theme Icon
Free Will vs. Destiny Theme Icon
Instinct and the Animal Theme Icon
At first Mrs. Flood had planned to marry Hazel and then commit him to the insane asylum, but now she plans to keep him. She has grown used to watching his face and trying to see what is really behind his eyes. One day, the coldest of that winter, she goes to his room and makes the proposition, gradually suggesting that it would be easier for them both if she didn’t have to climb the stairs up to his room, and if he moved in with her. As she speaks, Hazel begins to put on his clothes: his faded suit, the panama hat, and finally his rock-filled shoes. Mrs. Flood finishes her speech, saying that nobody ought to be without a place to be in this empty world. She says that she will give him a home. Hazel walks slowly towards her and then past her, into the hall and down the stairs.
Even as Hazel’s actions mystify her more and more, Mrs. Flood is determined to keep him around so that she can unlock the secret motivations behind them. Her proposal is practical and gentle, but Hazel is clearly struck with a deep need to escape, as she is trying to draw him back out of himself and down into the world of other people, with their mundanity and animal nature. Hazel dresses in his preacher’s clothes and silently rejects her offer of a home, the thing that, at the novel’s beginning, he claimed to be looking for. Mrs. Flood offers comfort against the world’s loneliness, but Hazel embraces that loneliness, choosing truth over happiness.
Themes
Free Will vs. Destiny Theme Icon
Instinct and the Animal Theme Icon
The Nature of Truth Theme Icon
Isolation and the Outsider Theme Icon
As Hazel leaves, Mrs. Flood tells him that there’s no other place for him to go. She’s sure he will return. That night, as the icy wind blows, Mrs. Flood starts to weep, wanting to run out into the storm and find Hazel, to tell him that the two of them could go wherever he is going together. She is old, and has had a hard life, and deserves a friend. If she was going to be blind when she was dead, then who better to lead her than a blind man? At dawn she goes out looking for Hazel, and alerts the police when he is nowhere to be found.
Mrs. Flood has been transformed by her exposure to the spiritually intense Hazel, and she is more aware of her loneliness and unhappiness than she ever has been before. She now recognizes that there might be something missing from her life – some secret realm or afterlife to which Hazel holds the key, something to stave off the fear of death that is beginning to gnaw at her.
Themes
Religious Belief, Redemption, and Sin Theme Icon
Instinct and the Animal Theme Icon
The Nature of Truth Theme Icon
Isolation and the Outsider Theme Icon
Two days later a pair of young, fat, blond policemen find Hazel lying in a ditch. They tell him that he needs to come with them and pay his rent. Barely conscious, Hazel tells them he wants to go on where he is going. The fatter cop hits him over the head with his new billy club so that he won’t be any trouble. Hazel dies in the back of the squad car, but the policemen don’t notice, and they deliver his corpse to Mrs. Flood.
More in the line of nasty authority figures, these cruel and grotesque policemen find the weakened Hazel and accidentally kill him, in an act of violence that is tragically quiet and careless. Hazel seems to want to die, however. He craves release from the world that treated him so poorly, and which is so unclean in his eyes.
Themes
Religious Belief, Redemption, and Sin Theme Icon
Free Will vs. Destiny Theme Icon
Isolation and the Outsider Theme Icon
Mrs. Flood has the policemen lay Hazel on her bed, and she tells his tranquil, empty face that he can stay rent-free now, or they can go on somewhere else, together. She leans closer, peering into his empty sockets, trying to decipher how she has been cheated. Closing her own eyes, she sees the pinpoint of light, far away. Her eyes still shut, she “stares” into Hazel’s eyes, and watches as he moves farther and farther away, until he becomes the pinpoint of light.
Finally Hazel seems to have found peace, in death. Mrs. Flood has been left behind, alone, and now convinced that there is some secret within Hazel that she cannot attain. She takes the first step to the truth by closing her eyes, cutting herself off from the world like Hazel did, and watches in her mind’s eye as his soul retreats into the afterlife, fulfilling his destiny after a life of isolation and suffering.
Themes
Religious Belief, Redemption, and Sin Theme Icon
Free Will vs. Destiny Theme Icon
The Nature of Truth Theme Icon
Isolation and the Outsider Theme Icon