The secret teaching of Wise Blood is mystery.
In the novel the heart figures prominently. Not the literal thing that pumps blood through the body to organs and muscles, but the metaphorical one. It’s at the center of things.
At the heart of Hazel Motes is the “deep black wordless conviction” that Jesus is a liar, that there’s no sin, no redemption and hence no judgment.
At the heart of Enoch Emery is a powerful yet inarticulate feeling that something big is going to happen, soon, maybe today or tomorrow, and he is an instrument of this special providence, beneficent or malign, Enoch doesn’t know yet. But he feels it in his blood.
Like an animal driven by instinct, Enoch prepares for its arrival. He works at the park and performs strange daily rituals. It just so happens the park is in “the heart of the city.” And within the heart of the park, there’s a museum that contains a mystery, “although it was right there in a glass case for everybody to see.”
There’s the heart of Hazel Motes and Enoch Emery. There’s the heart of the city. And there’s the heart of the park where a mystery is contained for everybody to see if they have eyes for it.
Now prepare for a spectatular literary display.
At the heart of the book, chapter seven to be precise, at the midpoint of a novel that consists of 14 chapters, an image recurs three times: (1) “The sky was just a little lighter blue than his suit, clear and even, with only one cloud in it, a large blinding white one with curls and a beard.” (2) “The blinding white cloud was a little ahead of them, moving to the left.” And (3) “The blinding white cloud had turned into a bird with long thin wings and was disappearing in the opposite direction.”
This is just too tantalizing to bear!
In a novel with depth on depth of hearts, a cloud scuds across the pages. A blinding white cloud, no less, in a story with a protagonist who blinds himself. The cloud changes from a man to a bird, right smack dab in the middle (read: heart!) of a novel where the metaphorical heart is already pumping furiously, and whose central theme is the mystery of transformation. Damn that’s fine work, really first rate.
Now it’s difficult to say whether white is right—pure, good, angelic. It may have more in common with the color of Melville’s whale or Twain’s Pap or Saramago’s blindness. For the white bird flies away from the man with the black conviction. But the man with the black conviction has an amazing transformation, like a cloud that turns into a bird. A terrifying sightless bird that feeds on its own torment.
Motes may very well have been brushed by the wings of a malign God.
Postscript. If you’re an O’Connor aficionado or a professor of the grotesque and I’ve discovered nothing but a commonplace in the secondary literature, well, you can shove it.