O’Connor’s novel tells the story of two deeply lonely outsiders - Enoch and Hazel – along with a set of supporting characters who are often equally isolated, from the tormented false preacher Asa Hawks to the lovelorn landlady, Mrs. Flood. These lonely characters are often driven primarily by a desire to connect with one another.
Enoch, for example, follows the unwelcoming Hazel in pursuit of a friend. Enoch has habitual (and thorny, characterized by insults) interactions with many people (and animals) – waitresses, salesmen, his landlady – that reveal a desire to belong, but their contempt for him is obvious in O’Connor’s descriptions. This pursuit of connection is what pushes him to his most vulnerable moment, when, face to face with Gonga the Gorilla, whose warm, furry handshake is the first offered him since arriving in Taulkinham two months earlier, he makes an attempt to connect by telling the gorilla about his life, only to have the actor behind the mask lean in and tell him to go to hell. Thwarted here, his pursuit of connection continues through his final moment in the novel, when, dressed in the stolen gorilla suit, he reaches out to an unnamed couple in the woods for a handshake, just as he has witnessed Gonga do, and is left sitting alone on a rock when they run away.
Hazel, too, is alone in the world. In the first chapter we are told the story of Hazel’s return from the war, and given a window into the deep longing for home that he feels – in many ways this chapter provides the deepest view into Hazel’s hard-to-pierce inner thoughts, revealing just how lonely he is. Death is the ultimate isolator – in the first chapter we learn that Hazel has lost every member of his family, and he vividly remembers the closing of each of their coffins as he begins to panic, triggered by the coffin-like bunk of the train in which the porter has locked him. Still, although he longs for a home, connection to other people often seems to send Hazel into a blank, withdrawn, or angry state – perhaps because their actions are often disappointing, grotesque, or animalistic. Although conflict draws Hazel out of his shell at a few points in the novel, his interactions with the people around him are nearly always forced and awkward. In fact, by the end of the book it seems that what Hazel wishes above all else is to be isolated from the world, living life as a monk. Finally, after having blinded himself, he withdraws completely into his inner world, and the reader retreats into the lonely Mrs. Flood’s perspective as the protagonist becomes silent, his life summed up into a single point of light that she sees retreating into the distance.
Isolation and the Outsider ThemeTracker
Isolation and the Outsider 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.
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.
“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.
Mrs. Watts’ grin was as curved and sharp as the blade of a sickle. It was plain that she was so well-adjusted that she didn’t have to think anymore. Her eyes took everything in whole, like quicksand. “That Jesus-seeing hat!” she said. She sat up and pulled her nightgown from under her and took it off. She reached for his hat and put it on her head and sat with her hands on her hips, walling her eyes in a comical way. Haze stared for a minute, then he made three quick noises that were laughs. He jumped for the electric light cord and took off his clothes in the dark.
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.
Haze stayed in his car about an hour and had a bad experience in it: he dreamed he was not dead but only buried. He was not waiting on the Judgment because there was no Judgment, he was waiting on nothing. Various eyes looked through the back oval window at his situation, some with considerable reverence, like the boy from the zoo, and some only to see what they could see… Then a woman with two little boys on either side of her stopped and looked in, grinning. After a second, she pushed the boys out of view and indicated that she would climb in and keep him company for a while, but she couldn’t get through the glass and finally she went off.
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!”
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.