Book reviews

Smoting the King of Kings— Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor.

Back when he was a boy in Tennessee, Hazel Motes spent a lot of time trying to figure out what happened to people when they got shut up in boxes and lowered into holes in the ground.  When his preacher grandfather peered down at him, declaring how “Jesus would die ten million deaths before He would let [Motes] lose his soul,” and that “Jesus would have him in the end!” Motes didn’t want to hear it.  “A deep black wordless conviction in him that the way to avoid Jesus was to avoid sin” took root.

At eighteen, Motes enlisted in the army.  While recuperating from a shrapnel wound he had time to study his soul.  Conclusion: he hasn’t one.  Now he is twenty-two, honorably discharged, and angry enough to start a church. 

Enoch Emery earns his keep guarding caged and listless animals he detests.  When not earning peanuts at the zoo, he ogles the ladies at the public swimming pool.  His other entertainment is reading the stories on the backs of cereal boxes at the grocery store.

Also he venerates.  Whenever possible, he ventures into the “muvseevum,” the columned building with “MVSEVM” chiseled above the portico.  He tiptoes past the sleeping guard to gawk at the mummified man in the glass case.

Motes and Enoch’s paths cross over a card table where a potato peeler salesman is being upstaged by Asa Hawks, a blind street preacher, and his bastard teen age daughter, Sabbath Lily. 

The friendless Enoch decides to secure Motes’s friendship by stealing the mummified man.  He envisions Motes showcasing it as his “new Jesus.”  Enoch disguises himself with brown shoe polish, sunglasses, and detachable beard, breaks open the glass case, seizes the mummified man, and installs him in his boarding house room, in the freshly gilded cabinet where a slop jar once reposed.

Motes, meanwhile, is preaching the gospel of church without Christ and trying to uncover the truth about Hawks and Sabbath Lily.  He hasn’t time for Enoch’s foolishness.  He hasn’t much time, period.  Jesus is stalking him and Jesus is a hard man to outwit.



9 thoughts on “Smoting the King of Kings— Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor.

  1. The aspect of WISE BLOOD that I’ve always found most chilling is how O’Connor evokes a Christianity devoid of spiritual comfort, warmth, and love. Rather it feels like an iron grid imposed on the human world to force us into some semblance of righteous behavior. A potential we otherwise lack. But maybe that’s just because Motes and his ilk come from a Protestant tradition, while O’Connor was a staunch Catholic. Those were the days!


      • Hazel clearly thinks he can do better than redemption. Would you call him a nihilist? His anti-Christian ministry possesses a certain purity in contrast to the mercenary showboat of a con-man like Shoats. Does he blind himself as an act of sheer Will? Or, perversely, to return to Christianity a better man than Asa could be? It’s all more than a little grotesque, but I still think Flannery has an agenda: Without religious faith–or failing that, obedience–our “wise” inclinations lead us to incomprehensible folly.


  2. I don’t think Motes cares about being a better man. I think he’s trying to leave that kind of morality behind. Why does he blind himself? A desperate attempt to willingly “not see” the man running from tree to tree? Is he trying to mock the idea of a miracle? Or is he just afraid.


  3. But does ego take us to the extreme of death? Hmm. I suppose it does.
    Do you find it ironic that in Motes’s efforts to escape Jesus he drives himself to the same sort of despicable death as J? Death in a gutter isn’t exactly like being strung up in a tree and flanked by sinners, but it does have an over-the-top raunchiness to it.


  4. Pingback: Wise Blood | Dewey Decimal's Butler

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