Perhaps Hazel’s most lucid and compelling point as a preacher is the assertion that there is no truth, aside from the truth that there is no truth. He promotes empiricism, the belief that one can only know whatever one has direct experience of, and rejects those who claim to find truth through faith. This intellectual argument, though piercing, has little effect on the few listeners who assemble to hear Hazel’s speeches in the street.
On the other hand, the secondary characters in the novel seem capable of seeing a truth about Hazel that Hazel himself prefers to deny – that is, the spiritual calling that is a product either of his background or his inherent nature. Nearly everyone he meets seems aware of this spiritual side of Hazel, assuming he is a preacher, which only frustrates him. Hazel is blind to the ‘empirical’ truth of his life in other ways as well, most obviously in his constant insistence that the broken down old car he buys has nothing at all wrong with it. By showing us the ways that Hazel is not always able to see the truth that is in front of him, O’Connor gives the reader a reason to suspect that his denial of Christianity may not be valid either.
In a novel so concerned with the nature of truth, it is significant that the town of Taulkinham is populated by so many liars, from scheming scam artist Hoover Shoats, who becomes a money-grubbing competitor of Hazel’s church under the alias Onnie Jay Holy, to lying auto mechanics, to the enigmatic Asa Hawks, who only pretends to be blind. There is a dark humor in the fact that Hazel, who so fervently denies the existence of sin, hates deception so deeply, and is disgusted by the easy lies of the Christian people he attempts to convert away from their religion – since they themselves seem quite comfortable with living sinful lives and telling lies.
Hazel refuses to lie or to compromise his integrity at the request of scam artists like Onnie Jay Holy, even when it would make him money or increase his appeal. Truth is a very important principle to him, even as he denies Christianity’s claim to it.
Ultimately it is partly this respect for the truth that seems to drive Hazel’s choice to blind himself, an act that rejects the dishonesty of Asa Hawks’ false promise to do so many years before. Although still conflicted in the way he discusses Jesus with his landlady, Mrs. Flood, Hazel’s actions suggest that he has come around to the idea that there is a deeper, fuller truth to be found in religion – one that can only be found, perhaps, by escaping the shallowness of the world. He says that “if there’s no bottom to your eyes, they hold more,” and seems to have access, after blinding himself, to a truth about what comes after life that Mrs. Flood, for one, is desperate to uncover.
The Nature of Truth ThemeTracker
The Nature of Truth Quotes in Wise Blood
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.
“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.”
“What you seen?” she said, using the same tone of voice all the time. She hit him across the legs with the stick, but he was like part of the tree. “Jesus died to redeem you,” she said.
“I never ast him,” he muttered.
She didn’t hit him again but she stood looking at him, shut-mouthed, and he forgot the guilt of the tent for the nameless unplaced guilt that was in him.
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.
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.
“Who is that that says it’s your conscience?” he cried, looking around with a constricted face as if he could smell the particular person who thought that. “Your conscience is a trick,” he said, “it don’t exist though you may think it does, and if you think it does, you had best get it out in the open and hunt it down and kill it, because it’s no more than your face in the mirror is or your shadow behind you.”
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.
“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!”
“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.
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.