Jan 25, 2018 in Analysis

An Analysis of Wise Blood

I am an enthusiastic believer of O’Conner’s beautiful, unique, harrowing, surreal and poetic Southern Gothic book Wise blood

It is a novel that is small in length but large in content, ideas, eccentricities and character. Despite the huge focus on evangelism, spirituality and in spite of shedding a huge spotlight on eccentrics, outcasts, the abnormal and grotesque, it somehow introduces and depicts characters that have the same desires as everyone else; the need to receive love, affection, acceptance and recognition for who they are and their achievements. 

A great gothic tale is one that is about psychology and is riddled with deep suspense, grand places and remarkable characters that develop the frisson of darkness and danger. O’Conner delivers the book with a very powerful undercurrent of deep desire of acceptance and understanding. The Southern Gothic style has always had the unusual effect of making the hair on the back of the readers’ neck stand up, and O’Conner manages to strike all he right cords through her literary ingenuity to ensure that the nature and character of the 20th century South is appropriately captured.

However, several elements of the book are lacking such as the use of her prose style in terms of discussing sensitive topics such as gender. The period the book was written in was a time characterized by women being viewed as highly conservative and considered their status in society in high regard. O’Conner‘s depiction of the characters in Wise blood is profoundly unfeminine, unemotional, highly unladylike but deadly clinical, more so after considering the heavy gender stereotyping and perceptions of the time. In the middle of the twentieth century, the “masculine” prose style followed the laconic models of such renowned writers as Hemingway and the tough-boiled discipline of pulp fiction. The “feminine” style was however correspondingly much softer.


A brutal irony is introduced through her writing with a slam-bag humor that is both entertaining but somehow distasteful and balefully direct. The use of the N word in referring to the black American race was particularly popular in the gothic literary materials written in that period; however, this shows how the some would consider her a racist in the modern era. Although her technique of telling of the story is morally absolute, she manages to capture the character of the grotesque gothic era through the use of the direct sentences that manages to raise outrage and indignation in the readers until they is able to immerse themselves completely in the ignorable disasters that was the South.

The principal character and reluctant saint, Hazel Motes, is one of the most improbable dullards ever to grace the covers of a Gothic genre of American novels. He is undoubtedly the king of the anti-social characters in the book, leading the way in explaining the prevalent and deep rooted nature of the 1950s south. Hazel Motes is so repulsive that it is hard to even like his character, but the intrigue that surrounds his journey is so deep that one cannot help to keep reading in order to find out the final destination of his endeavors and crusade against God. There is no doubt that some of his behaviors are completely insane and utterly moronic, one more so than the next; he decides to blind himself with lime in his quest to completely absolve of the ills of society. He retorts to what some would consider completely overreacting to a situation: finding that blinding himself the only logical and available solution to the fact that a mean-spirited police officer has pushed his unlicensed vehicle off a cliff. Clearly, this reaction does not make any sense in terms of the severalty of the action and is a clear misunderstanding of what the author was trying to relay about Motes. Perhaps some of the bewilderment about the main character’s exploits arises from the mystified and sometimes dark nature of the Southerners. A reader who might approach the book as though it is a part of naturalistic fiction is bound to have their expectations greatly confounded. Wise blood is much closer to the allegory of religion than it is to the naturalistic fictional genre.

It is impossible to analyze the work of O’Conner without at least viewing her book in comparison with other literary heavy weights of her era. The southern gothic style, a subgenre of the Gothic literary technique, was a popular and unique style in American literature. This style utilizes the tools of dark tales, supernatural events and irony to guide the plot. This style is utilized in the plot not for the purpose of suspense, but for the exploration of the social issues as well as the cultural and religious character of the American South. The fact that the author was a Southerner, and the nature and grotesqueness of her characters adds fuel to the perception that she was writing in a southern gothic style. O’Conner is no doubt one of the most startling women to come out of those parts, with her mode of fiction writing seldom challenged by critics. She proved to be an important and lasting contributor to the grotesque literary influences of southern decadences.


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