Although Hazel tries to assert his free will by escaping religion, his destiny seems to be tied irreversibly to belief and the life of a preacher, which finds him wherever he goes. Enoch, too, is driven by a sense of destiny that he thinks of as the calling of his ‘wise blood,’ although he too tries to fight against it in certain moments, also without success. Both characters seem driven by the accumulation of events outside of their control into the murders they commit, which raises the question of responsibility. Are we in control of our actions? Can we be evil – or good – without free will?
Hazel’s quest for freedom is symbolized most fully by his car, which represents mobility, control, and independence. But of course, it is perpetually broken down, comically denying Hazel the free will he craves.
After he finally gives in to Sabbath’s romantic advances, his desperate urge to escape from her the next morning is driven by the hope that his car provides him – but this hope proves futile when his sickness prevents him from leaving. The fact that his car then becomes the murder weapon suggests that Hazel is, in fact, responsible for the murder of Solace Layfield, the sickly impostor hired by ‘Onnie Jay Holy’ to impersonate him, since his car represents his will. Later, the moment when Hazel’s car is pushed to its destruction by the smiling police officer triggers his final collapse into his religious ‘destiny,’ as he becomes a silent ascetic, punishing himself physically in secret for the sins he has committed. The police baton that finally ends his life, almost accidentally, is in some ways another emblem of fate – he had tried, one last time, to exercise his free will in escaping the marriage proposal of his landlady, Mrs. Flood, and this senseless death serves as a final punishment for that search for freedom.
Enoch has been assailed, since childhood, with the voice of his ‘wise blood,’ which drives his actions even when he attempts to disobey, often leading him into situations he would rather avoid, like Jonah in the whale, brought to Ninevah against his will. There is a suggestion here that Enoch suffers from some sort of mental illness, which again raises questions about his level of responsibility for the impulsive (and destructive) choices that he makes. The reader witnesses his struggle to avoid the calling of his ‘wise blood,’ to exercise his free will, and also sees his will collapse in small and then larger ways, as his ‘destiny’ draws him to movies he would rather not see, and then, escalating in intensity, on to the murder of Gonga the Gorilla.
Ultimately, O’Connor’s novel presents two characters whose struggle to preserve their free will in the face of the force of destiny fails, with disastrous results. What value there is to be found in Hazel’s final, saint-like state suggests that the goal of man should be a stoic resignation to the forces of fate.
Free Will vs. Destiny ThemeTracker
Free Will vs. Destiny Quotes in Wise Blood
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.
The boy didn’t need to hear it. There was already a black wordless conviction in him that the way to avoid Jesus was to avoid sin. He knew by the time he was twelve years old that he was going to be a preacher. Later he saw Jesus move from tree to tree in the back of his mind, a wild ragged figure motioning him to turn around and come off into the dark where he was not sure of his footing, where he might be walking on the water and not know it and then suddenly know it and drown.
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.
They stared at each other for almost a minute and neither moved. Then he said in a voice that was higher than his usual voice, “What I mean to have you know is I’m no goddamn preacher.”
Mrs. Watts eyed him steadily and with only a slight smirk. Then she put her other hand under his face and tickled it in a motherly way. “That’s okay, son,” she said. “Momma don’t mind if you ain’t a preacher.”
“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.
“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.”
He put his fingers to his forehead and then held them in front of his eyes. They were streaked with red. He turned his head and saw a drop of blood on the ground and as he looked at it, he thought it widened like a little spring. He sat straight up, frozen-skinned, and put his finger in it, and very faintly he could hear his blood beating, his secret blood, in the center of the city. Then he knew that whatever was expected of him was only just beginning.
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.
Enoch Emery knew now that his life would never be the same again, because the thing that was going to happen to him had started to happen. He had always known that something was going to happen but he hadn’t known what. If he had been much given to thought, he might have thought that now was the time for him to justify his daddy’s blood, but he didn’t think in broad sweeps like that, he thought what he would do next. Sometimes he didn’t think, he only wondered; then before long he would find himself doing this or that, like a bird finds itself building a nest when it hasn’t actually been planning to.
I ain’t going in, he said.
Two doors flew open and he found himself moving down a long red foyer and then up a darker tunnel and then a higher, still darker tunnel. In a few minutes he was up in a high part of the maw, feeling around, like Jonah, for a seat. I ain’t going to look at it, he said furiously. He didn’t like any picture shows but colored musical ones.
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.
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.
“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!”
No gorilla in existence, whether in the jungles of Africa or California, or in New York City in the finest apartment in the world, was happier at that moment than this one, whose god had finally rewarded it.
“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.
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.
“People have quit doing it,” she repeated. “What do you do it for?”
“I’m not clean,” he said.
She stood staring at him, unmindful of the broken dishes at her feet. “I know it,” she said after a minute, “you got blood on that night shirt and on the bed. You ought to get you a washwoman…”
“That’s not the kind of clean,” he said.
“There’s only one kind of clean, Mr. Motes,” she muttered.
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.