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Flannery O'Conner: Wise Blood
The Acadamy ^ | Jeanette Rylander

Posted on 07/03/2002 9:26:05 PM PDT by JMJ333

Flannery O'Connor was born and raised in Savannah, Georgia. After her father died of lupus erythematosus, a rare and fatal autoimmune disease, she and her mother lived alone. She received a general education at Georgia State College for Women and then continued to study creative writing at the University of Iowa. After receiving an M.F.A. degree in 1947, Flannery spent time in an artists' colony in Saratoga Springs, New York, and then with friends in Connecticut. She finished writing Wise Blood in 1950. Later that year, Flannery developed the same disease that had ended her father's life.

Though crippled by lupus, Flannery was able to enjoy a modest lifestyle on her mother's ancestral farm, raising peacocks and writing. Her short stories are collected in A Good Man is Hard to Find, and Other Stories (1955), Everything That Rises Must Converge (1965), and Flannery O'Connor: The Complete Stories published posthumously in 1971. Her only other novel was The Violent Bear it Away (1960).

Flannery O'Connor was a devout Catholic. She approached her work as a novelist and short story writer with a realistic understanding of her audience. The society around her had separated physical fact from spiritual reality and was left without any ground for belief. As Flannery wrote of spiritual experiences, she was careful not to "approach the divine directly," but rather to "penetrate the natural human world as it is." (O'Connor 68) She had a keen ear for common speech and used her observational powers to portray grotesque characters and bizarre situations reflecting man's broken condition.

She explains in one essay entitled "Novelist and Believer" that the comic element in her writing comes out of her sincerity regarding eternal matters. The more serious one is about eternity, the more comical he can become since he is able to see the amusing side of the universe.

Synopsis of the Work: Wise Blood

Wise Blood illustrates the final days of an intense truth-seeking character named Hazel Motes. Hazel is introduced to the reader as a train passenger on his way to begin a new phase in his life, doing things he has never done before. He came home from the war to find his home desolate and abandoned. All that remained of his family was a collection of haunting memories.

One very clear and influential memory was his circuit-preaching grandfather. The old man preached a Jesus who chased men down like criminals and redeemed sinners against their will. Hazel believed that he could escape Jesus by avoiding sin, until the day he convinced himself sin was nonexistent.

Throughout the body of Wise Blood, Hazel's one desire is to manifest his unbelief in a radically blasphemous lifestyle. He commences his time in the city of Taulkinham by finding a whore, not for enjoyment, but simply to pile up alleged sins while asserting his inward cleanliness to himself and to the world.

Hazel meets some important characters during his wanderings on the street. The first is a pitiful eighteen-year-old named Enoch Emery, in search of love and kindness. Hazel responds to Enoch in spite and indifference, but the boy continues to follow him believing that some good will result. Enoch lives compulsively, controlled by the "wise blood" coursing through his veins.

While evading Enoch, Hazel pursues the town's blind preacher, Asa Hawks. Hazel expects to tear the preacher up with jibes and arguments, but Hawks is no longer the kind of man to care about Hazel's words or his soul. Two bags of guilt weigh down Hawk's previous religious enthusiasm and now he lives by swindling money like a common fraud. His illegitimate daughter, Sabbath, mistakes the intensity in Hazel's face as the capacity to love. She also follows him, hoping for something good.

Hazel begins a short preaching career promoting the Church without Christ on the streets of Taulkinham. He declares that there is no ultimate truth and advocates denial of Jesus and conscience. He fails to realize that he preaches to an apathetic audience. Nobody cares about losing Jesus since no one has Jesus to begin with.

One stranger tries to use Hazel's doctrine as a way to earn money. He even hires a prophet to dress up like Hazel and join him in preaching the "Holy Church of Christ without Christ." Hazel finds this hypocritical prophet and runs him over in disgust. Running from the crime scene, he is stopped by a policeman who is ignorant of the murder. Finding that Hazel has no license, the cop pushes his dilapidated vehicle over the side of an embankment. Hazel walks three hours back into town, buys some lime, and blinds himself.

It is difficult to determine Hazel's belief system at the end of his life. The reader shares the confusion of his landlady as she peers into his blinded eyes to discover something hidden from her. Hazel says very little to her, but walks days on end with gravel and glass lining his shoes, and barbed wire wrapped about his chest. He says that he is paying; he is unclean.

TOPICS: General Discusssion
KEYWORDS: catholicism; catholiclist; literature; religion; southernculture
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Good black comedy.
1 posted on 07/03/2002 9:26:06 PM PDT by JMJ333
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To: EODGUY; LarryLied; PA Lurker; *Catholic_list
2 posted on 07/03/2002 9:26:40 PM PDT by JMJ333
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To: jlogajan
A bizarre and twisted read. Thought you'd enjoy it. Cheers.
3 posted on 07/03/2002 9:35:32 PM PDT by JMJ333
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To: JMJ333; YaYa123
How well known is she? Southern writers have such a following I'm surprised no one has told me about her until this post.
4 posted on 07/03/2002 9:38:18 PM PDT by LarryLied
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To: LarryLied
Flannery is very UN-PC. Some colleges have banned her because of her use of the "n" word, and branding her a racist, but anyone who reads her work can't help but notice that its just the opposite. I think she would have been very surprised at that label. She wrote about what she observed in a morose picture that grabs the brain in early 50s south. Enjoy! =)
5 posted on 07/03/2002 9:44:57 PM PDT by JMJ333
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To: JMJ333
I LOVE O'Connor and own everything she wrote. She used to keep a copy of The Summa on her nightstand and read it every night.
Asked to explain why she wrote as she did, she explained (paraphrasing here) to the hard of seeing you write large and to the hard of hearing you yell. She described the south as Christ haunted. She was fantastic...
6 posted on 07/04/2002 1:09:08 AM PDT by Catholicguy
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To: Catholicguy
The church of Christ without Christ. Well, she was a prophet. John Huston was going to make a movie of WiseBlood. Did he? V's wife.
7 posted on 07/04/2002 5:12:49 AM PDT by ventana
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To: JMJ333
Dear JMJ333,

"'Jesus was the only One that ever raised the dead,' The Misfit continued, 'and He shouldn't have done it. He thown everything off balance. If He did what He said, then it's nothing for you to do but thow away everything and follow Him, and if He didn't, then it's nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can - by killing somebody or burning down his house or doing some other meanness to him. No pleasure but meanness,' he said and his voice had become almost a snarl."


8 posted on 07/04/2002 6:10:21 AM PDT by sitetest
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To: sitetest
Forgot the attribution: A Good Man is Hard to Find
9 posted on 07/04/2002 6:11:09 AM PDT by sitetest
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To: Catholicguy
I agree. She was fantastic. Her quirkiness and brilliance are unbeatable. =)
10 posted on 07/04/2002 8:23:41 AM PDT by JMJ333
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To: sitetest
I read "A good man is hard to find" last night while putting this post together. It's about her only work available online that I could find to read. Thanks for the quote!
11 posted on 07/04/2002 8:25:50 AM PDT by JMJ333
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To: ventana
Sorry to poke in, but...he did indeed make a movie of it, and it is very true to form.

John Huston read the novel in 1978 - he received a copy of it from Michael Fitzgerald, whose father was O'Connor's literary executor. Against all odds, Michael Fitzgerald got the money for the production, some $2,000,000; the screenplay was written by Michael and his brother, Benedict, and everyone worked for a minimum wage. Most of the film was shot in Macon, Georgia. "There were seven outstanding performances in Wise Blood. Only three of those seven actors have any reputation to speak of: Brad Dourif, Ned Beatty and Harry Dean Stanton. The other four are unknowns. They are all great stars, as far as I'm concerned. Nothing would make me happier than to see this picture gain popular acceptance and turn a profit. It would prove something. I'm not sure what... but something." ( John Huston in An Open Book, 1988)

12 posted on 07/04/2002 8:31:54 AM PDT by JMJ333
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"Does one's integrity ever lie in what he is not able to do? I think that usually it does, for free will does not mean one will, but many wills conflicting in one man, Freedom cannot be conceived simply." (from Wise Blood, 1952)
13 posted on 07/04/2002 8:39:13 AM PDT by JMJ333
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To: LarryLied
Mr. Head stood very still and felt the action of mercy touch him again but this time he knew that there were no words in the world that could name it. He understood that it grew out of agony, which is not denied to any man and which is given in strange ways to children. He understood it was all a man could carry into death to give his Maker and he suddenly burned with shame chat he had so little of it to take with him. He stood appalled, judging himself with the thoroughness of God, while the action of mercy covered his pride like a flame and consumed it. He had never thought himself a great sinner before but he saw now that his true depravity had been hidden from him lest it cause him despair. He realized that he was forgiven for sins from the beginning of time, when he had conceived in his own heart the sin of Adam, until the present, when he had denied poor Nelson. He saw that no Sin was too monstrous for him to claim as his own, and since God loved in proportion as He forgave, he felt ready at that instant to enter Paradise.

The Artificial Nigger, by Flannery O'Connor Taken from The Complete Stories of Flannery O'Connor" Published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux; New York, 1971

Her personal favorite.

14 posted on 07/04/2002 8:57:51 AM PDT by Romulus
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To: Anamensis
You'll like this! =)
15 posted on 07/04/2002 8:59:36 AM PDT by JMJ333
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To: LarryLied
The title in 14 and "A good man is hard to find" are the same book. The other was the name it was published under in England. =)
16 posted on 07/04/2002 9:44:50 AM PDT by JMJ333
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To: JMJ333
Hey JM happy 4th:>)
17 posted on 07/04/2002 9:48:12 AM PDT by RnMomof7
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To: RnMomof7
Thank you! To you also! =)
18 posted on 07/04/2002 9:49:18 AM PDT by JMJ333
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To: Romulus
From "The Habit of Being" an insightful bit of analysis about Faith by the incomperable O'Connor;
"I think thatthis experience you are having of losing your faith, or as you think, of having lost it, is an experience that in the long run belongs to faith; or at least can belong to faith if faith is still valuable to you, and it must be or you would not have written me about this.
I don't know how the kind of faith requireed of a Christian living in the 20th century can be at all if it is not grounded on this experience you are having right now of unbelief. This may be the case always and not just in the 20th century. Peter said, "lord, I believe. Help my unbelief." It is the most natural and most human and most agonizing prayer in the gospels, and I think it is the foundation prayer of faith.
AS a freshman in college, you are bombarded with new ideas, or ratheer pieces of ideas, nw frames of reference, an activation of the intellectual life which is only beginningt, but which is already running ahead of your lived experience. After a year of theis, you think you cannot believe. You are just beginning to realize how difficult it is to have faith and the measure of committment to it, bt you are too young to decide you don't have faith just because you feel you can't believe. About the only way we can know whether we believe or not is by what we do, and I think from your letter that you will not take the path of least resistance in this manner nad sinply decide thatyou have lost your faith and that there is nothing you can do about it.
One result of the stimulation of your intellectual life that takes place in college is usually a shrinking of the imaginative life. This sounds like a paradox, but I have often found it to be true. Students get so bound up with difficulties such as reconciling the clashing of so many different faiths such as Buddhism, Mohammedanism, etc, that they cease to look for God in other ways. Bridges once wrote Gerard Manley Hopkins and asked him to tell him how he, Bridges, could believe. He must have expected from Hopkins a long philosophical answer. Hopkins wrote back,"Give alms." He was trying to say to Bridges that God is experienced in Charity (in the sense of love for the divine image in human beings). Don't get so entangled with intellectual difficulties that youfail to look for God in this way."

Timeless advice. O'Connor is amasing
19 posted on 07/04/2002 10:09:36 AM PDT by Catholicguy
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To: Catholicguy
Re Mr. Head and the action of Grace;
"About the novel of religious conversion. You can't have a stable character being converted, you are right, but I think you are wrong that heroes have to be stable. If they were stable there wouldn't be any story. It seems to me that all good stories are about conversion, about a character's changing. If it is the Church he's converted to, the Church remains sstable and he has to change as you say - but why do you say the charcter has to remain stable? The action of Grace changes a character. Grace can't be experienced in itself. An example: when you go to Communion, you receive grace but you experience nothing; or if you do experience something, what you experience is not the grace but the emotion caused by it. Therefore in a story all you can do wwithgrace is to show that it is changing the character. Mr. head (in the Artificial Nigger) is changed by his experience even though he remains Mr. Head. He is stable but not the same man at the end of the story. Staable in the sense that he bears the same physical contours and pecularities but they are all ordered toa new vision. Part of the difficulty of all this is that you write for an audience who deons't know what grace is and don't recognize when they see it. All my stories are about the action of grace on a character who is not very willing to support it, but most people think of these stories as hard, hopeless, brutal etc."

That last sentence is the KEY to "getting" this magnificent artist.
20 posted on 07/04/2002 10:24:10 AM PDT by Catholicguy
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