Hazel wakes up and carefully extracts himself from Mrs. Watts’ bed, having decided to buy a car. He has no license, and only fifty dollars, but the thought is fixed in his mind. He scouts through used car lots before they open, ignoring any salesmen, his face fragile and intense beneath his black hat. There are no cars to be found for fifty dollars, until Hazel reaches a near-junkyard called Slade’s. A boy smoking a cigarette tries to stop him from entering, but Hazel ignores him, having seen a beat-up, rat-colored car that he immediately feels is the one he will buy.
Mrs. Watts has served Hazel so far as an escape and a place to assert his free will, but now he needs a car to fill that same purpose. At the same time that this is a quest for a vehicle of his free will, though, Hazel also seems driven by a force beyond himself – he makes his choice based on a feeling that this car is “the one” Haze; pays no attention to the smoking boy, isolated beneath his dark hat and totally single-minded, immune to distraction.
Cursing, the boy follows Hazel. When Hazel asks to see the owner, the boy claims that he is Slade. Hazel examines the car: its backseat has been replaced by a wooden board, and there are dark green window shades on the windows. The boy sits nearby, still cursing. When Hazel asks him how much the car costs, he says “Jesus on the cross.” Hazel asks again, and they begin to barter, but are interrupted by the arrival of the boy’s father, Slade. Slade roars at the boy, sending him scampering and snarling.
The car Hazel has chosen is beaten-down and odd-looking, an unconventional choice that somehow suits this unconventional character. The cursing boy resembles a small animal scampering between the scrap metal, territorial but also somewhat pitiful and helpless. With his cursing, he also serves as a constant reminder of Jesus and the cross, who can never be far away from Hazel.
The elder Slade offers an initial price of seventy-five dollars, which Haze accepts, but the man initiates a negotiation all the same, cutting his offer down to sixty-five. Hazel tries to act calm and roll himself a cigarette, but he drops all of the materials. The man starts discussing race in Detroit, using a common slur for African-Americans, as Hazel offers thirty dollars for the car. Hazel kicks the tire, and they settle on fifty. Before they leave the lot, Slade takes Hazel for a test drive with the boy huddled in the backseat. At one point the boy is thrown off the wooden board, and his father “roars” at him. The boy sits silently in his black raincoat, with his cap pulled down almost to his eyes.
This bartering is comic because it illustrates just how uncomfortable Hazel is with the ways of the commercial world – and how proud and stubborn he is. There is an attempt, on the part of Slade, at some kind of masculine connection, but Hazel’s dropped cigarette and inept examination of the car make this a silly exercise. The boy huddled in the backseat, frustrated and clothed in black, suffering the abuse of his father with his hat pulled down, is almost a picture of what a sullen young Hazel might have looked like.
Hazel buys the car for forty dollars, and buys some gasoline as well, which the boy pours from a gas can, muttering “sweet Jesus” over and over. Hazel asks Slade why the boy won’t shut up, to which the father replies that he “never know[s] what ails him.” It has been years since Hazel was in a car, and he has trouble getting it started. He tells them he is buying it mostly as a house, and then he releases the brake and drives off crookedly. Slade and the boy watch him.
The way that the boy curses – in a stream of blasphemies – is similar to the way Hazel curses when he feels particularly enraged at the world, and there is a sense that Hazel, too, “never knows what ails” himself. He has a home now, he thinks, in this car – a place to call his own, and one that makes him free. His terrible driving seemingly sabotages this, but he remains confident.
Hazel drives without thinking, unable to stop or even slow down without having to restart the car. It has begun to rain. Hazel passes long blocks of uniform houses with “ugly dog” faces, and the windshield wipers make a sound “like two idiots clapping in church.” He reaches the highway and accelerates, passing filling stations and red gulleys while the rain begins to leak into his car. At one point he screeches to a halt to let a line of pigs cross the road. Everything seems foreign and familiar, like something he has forgotten.
The car gives Hazel a new way to experience the world, a new freedom of motion, and a new perspective, even if it is clearly in a very bad state. He is disgusted by the “dog faces” of the readymade houses that house the animal-like people of Taulkinham. O’Connor’s simile describing the windshield wipers shows that Hazel’s frame of reference is still firmly planted in religion, antagonistic though it might be.
Hazel is forced to slow down for a black pick-up truck carrying a mass of wet chickens. He tries to honk his horn, but it doesn’t work. The truck slows down further, as if to read a hand-painted white message on a jutting rock that they pass. The message condemns “whoremongers” and blasphemers. Hazel pounds on his horn but with no effect, and when the truck finally passes the sign, he reads “Jesus Saves” at its base.
Hazel’s powerlessness as he pounds the faulty horn of his new car, staring up at the dripping chickens, is both comic and a dark sign that his destiny – contained in the religious message on the roadside, which speaks of sin and redemption – cannot be escaped by means of a simple car. Hazel is infuriated.
The car is stopped now, and the driver of a long oil truck behind Hazel emerges to get him off the road. Hazel sits silently, staring, until the driver puts his hand on his shoulder, which he rejects, although the driver doesn’t seem to hear him. Hazel tells the driver that a whoremonger was already “fallen” from the start, that the sin came before them, and that “Jesus is a trick on n*****s.” The driver asks him to move, and Hazel responds that he doesn’t have to run from anything because he doesn’t believe in anything. He asks the driver where the zoo is, and the driver asks if he escaped from there. Hazel tells him he needs to see someone who works there, and then he starts the car, heading back to town.
Hazel is so moved by the sight of the sign condemning “whoremongers”—a category to which he may belong now, technically, after sleeping with Mrs. Watts—that he becomes blind to the world around him, muttering about the lies at the core of religion, particularly the lie that men are unclean and need Jesus to be redeemed. The driver thinks he is insane, like an animal escaped from the zoo. The zoo is at the center of Hazel’s plan to find Enoch, so that Enoch can lead him to Asa Hawks, and Hazel can confront the destiny that seems to be following him everywhere.