Mr. Interpolation’s original contribution to scholarship

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.

10 Responses to Mr. Interpolation’s original contribution to scholarship

  1. Steven Riddle says:

    Dear K.

    I think you actually hit on O’Connor’s point in your last sentence. He has indeed been brushed by a malign God–himself–his own image of God–it is that God that brushes Motes and drives him to all that is done. He does the only thing that lies within the power of a human being–rejects God entirely. In so doing what you claim is heresy is actually the logical conclusion–when bound to your own conclusion and own self there is no freedom, everything IS compulsion–the interior psychological compulsion that comes from serving ourselves.

    What you claim to be heresy is, in fact, clearly present in a cursory reading of St. Thomas Aquinas. The human heart, especially the broken one, is the hardest taskmaster.



    • Hi Steven, I like the idea that Hazel is his own malign God, if for no other reason than it shows the intrinsic danger of relating yourself to God, which by the way can only be done via consciousness, our ideas and feelings and intuitions. Be that as it may, Hazel doesn’t reject God entirely. On the contrary, he struggles with Him mightily. If Hazel did reject God in toto, Hazel wouldn’t be troubled by Jesus; he wouldn’t accuse him of being a liar; he wouldn’t be tormented by sin, redemption and judgment; he wouldn’t flagellate himself with barbed wire and broken glass. Hazel is a busted theist in threadbare atheist clothing, just as broken as the rest of us, you and me in particular.


  2. First, that is an outstanding moment you have highlighted.

    Second, what’s with the prof bashing?

    • “First, that is an outstanding moment you have highlighted.”

      It is, and thank you.

      “Second what’s with the prof bashing?”

      Because a prof has the power to tell me that my discovery—i.e., the cloud image is at the physical middle of a novel where the heart of things (people, cities, parks and apparently books, too) is hugely important—is really no discovery at all.

      I want to protect my vanity, you see.


  3. Steven Riddle says:

    Dear Kevin,

    My observation is that in O’Connor’s world, displacement of God by self–demanding your own way as it were, no matter how mightily one struggles is equivalent to the “unforgivable sin” blaspheming the Holy Spirit. In as sense, I am saying that what you note in response to me above is functionally equivalent (to O’Connor) to atheism. In O’Connor’s scholastic world, there is no room for two Gods. l Thus, you may struggle, but you’ll never get anywhere because you have functionally blinded yourself to the truth (hence the actual blinding) and you literally torture yourself because you demand that everything meet your standards. O’Connor’s point, “The Church of God without Christ” is not a church at all–but a self-indulgent pathology.



  4. Steven Riddle says:

    Dear Kevin,

    I had a second thought as I was coming into work this morning. Perhaps I should hearken back to my own statements about Literary Criticism and say rather that you have constructed and interesting and quite foreign (to mean) reading of the book. I think what you have to say here would be mostly foreign to Flannery herself; however, I do not think its intrinsic strangeness detracts from the work. It shows me a bizarre and gothic spectacle worthy of a Truman Capote or a Carson McCullers–or, at least in the same camp, a Walker Percy. And for that fine work, I thank you.

    If I keep in mind my own dictum it becomes less important who is “right” because in a reading–a co-construction of author and reader there can be no “right” merely a new creation. And that is what you’ve provided for me in writing this about “Wise Blood.” Should you be prompted to expand upon it, you would have a willing audience.



  5. I value your second and third thoughts, always. Keep them coming. I like reading O’Connor because I take her “claim” seriously, that our estate is broken and our minds unhinged. I take it so seriously that I apply it to her, too, right in “her” act of creating the story. A broken mind yields fantastically weird productions, which often mean more than what the broken mind intends, etc.

    Only one more post on O’Connor. Then I’ll move on. Hint: the skinny one-eyed bear streaked with lime!

  6. […] Interpolations Mr. Interpolation’s original contribution to scholarship […]

  7. Jeff Plowman says:

    In “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”, before the newspaper comes to life and rises snarling from ‘neath the Grandmother’s feet (thanks to Pitty Sing, cat out of the basket), the children play the “cloud game.” John Wesley picks one that looks like a cow and June Star guesses cow and John Wesley lies and says, “No, a car” prompting a spat between them. Cow—agrarian and “Old” South—to automobile—industrial, the shift being the “story” of the New South, plus the car that represents a false sense of freedom in so many of her stories (esp. Wise Blood), this snippet in a story where the Grandmother’s “vision” of the “old” South is mistaken and false (Tennessee not Toombsboro, plus her nostalgic palavering about how much better the past was, both when she lectures the children and when she talks with Red Sammy Butts). Not only is she mistaken about the Old South past, she falsifies it further (to the family’s “doom”) when she lies about the old plantation and its lost silver treasure, which is the turn off of the highway that leads to the accident etc. Don’t know about other clouds in O’Connor, haven’t tried to find them all. I’m thinking the cloud transformations in Wise Blood may be the Trinity with the bird-shape suggesting the Holy Ghost, the first two God the Father and God the Son —OR—Haze’s eventual change from a this-worldly to a spiritual person, along lines you and others suggest above—OR—both, plus…? O’Connor (I believe) sees the story of Haze as one that ends happily, likewise the story “The River”. Salvation is a happy ending, whatever the bodily cost.

    • Hi Jeff, welcome. Enjoyed your comment. Makes me want to read O’Connor all over again. She really is one of my favorite writers. I distinctly recall enjoying THE RIVER a lot. Cheers.

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