wherein i grapple with caskets, bears and chicken hawks

Although I finished Wise Blood many days ago, I’m haunted by an image. At all times of the day it sticks its ugly snout at me. It’s not the cloud, of which I’m really quite fond, congenial as it is to the Catholic, the Jew, the Muslim, the pantheist and the Thoreauvian nature lover. Don’t let any sectarian tell you otherwise. Anyhow, it’s not the cloud. It’s the bear in the cage at the gas station. “There was a black bear about four feet long and very thin, resting on the floor of the cage; his back was spotted with bird lime that had been shot down on him by a small chicken hawk that was sitting on a perch in the upper part of the same apartment. Most of the hawk’s tail was gone; the bear had only one eye.” This isn’t the first bear to appear in Wise Blood. There are others, but they’re where you’d expect them to be: at the circus or the zoo. Not at a gas station, languishing in the company of a rather rude bird. Nor is this the first cage, either. There are many cages to be rattled in Wise Blood: a wobbly train car, a tight sleeping berth, claustrophobic rooms, a cramped automobile and caskets. If I suddenly found myself in a world like the one portrayed in Revelation, I’m certain I’d see a skinny one-eyed bear streaked with bird shit. It’s not an everyday occurrence. But in Wise Blood, it’s par for the course. Now this isn’t a knock against it. In fact, for all its creepiness, the image does a fine job, indeed, of reinforcing the mood of the novel and its themes and symbolic structure, right down to the bird. Except this puffy white cloud is a tailless, guano-spitting raptor. Parallels, anyone?

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