“There was already a deep black wordless conviction in him that the way to avoid Jesus was to avoid sin.”
If this quote arrests your imagination--even if you can't understand why, even if it offends you--then you are the target audience of Flannery O'Connor, Gothic Southern writer extraordinaire. She is, in her own peculiar way, a preacher of subterranean faith--the kind of faith that is so much bigger than our own understandings and neuroses that we cower from it, terrified.
She does this in at least two intertwined ways. Through her main character, she investigates an intense, desperate belief in nothing. “There are all kinds of truth,” Hazel tells his audience, preaching from a statue's base, “but behind all of them there is only one truth and that is that there's no truth.”
A secondary character believes he has found “the new jesus,” embodied in an embalmed body from a local museum. But in fact, most of the characters have some sort of “new jesus,” whether that is Hazel's self-mutilating penance, the landlady and the other preachers bent on making money, or the preaching of the truth of no truth. After a whole novel of this, the Jesus of traditional Christianity begins to look quite inviting as an alternate perspective on life.
Speaking of things like self-mutilation, whenever I've gone for a while without reading O'Connor's fiction, I remember what a great writer she is and how real all of her characters feel. The thing I always forget is that,Gothic writer that she is, her stories tend to stray all way into the grotesque. Wise Blood practically lives there.Don't let that put you off reading it; after all, many things in our real world qualify as “grotesque.”
If I were going to write an essay about this book, I think I'd explore the theme of blindness, real and feigned, imposed and chosen. As Hazel says, “When you're blind,everything goes deeper in,” and when you read a Flannery O'Connor novel, it's the ideas and images you try hard not to recognize that will haunt you the most after you close the cover.