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While some authors start writing their novels with a full outline in mind, Flannery O’Connor’s first novel, Wise Blood, began with a short story written for the Writers’ Workshop at Iowa State in December 1946. This short story, titled “The Train,” was inspired when O’Connor was on a train going home for Christmas. She recalls, “‘There was a Tennessee boy on it in uniform who was much taken up worrying the porter about how the berths were made up” (qtd in Gooch 134). Then, O’Connor wrote Wise Blood’s larger story as a part of her masters’ thesis, but upon hearing about a cash award for a novel written by a Writers’ Workshop student, O’Connor began working on the novel that would eventually come from this story. The resulting product, Wise Blood, left my Senior Seminar class moved, but confused. Wise Blood’s main plotline revolves around Hazel Motes, a man so jaded by religion that he decides to form the Church Without Christ, preaching that everyone is clean if Jesus doesn’t exist. However, a significant portion of the novel is dedicated to the antics of Enoch Emery, a teenage zoo employee who becomes quickly attached to Hazel. He steals a mummy to serve as the “new jesus” Hazel preaches and later becomes completely fascinated by a man in a gorilla suit. While Hazel’s story ends with his death after coming to terms with his faith, Enoch’s story ends with him in a gorilla suit, trying to shake the hands of whoever he encounters. We weren’t sure how Enoch’s subplot related to Hazel’s, or what was really going on in Enoch’s story at all. Since Wise Blood began as a story written for a school requirement, I would like to explore how this unique beginning might have affected O’Connor’s blurred vision for the novel and how it might account for the novel’s seemingly disjointed nature.


This paper was presented as part of the English capstone course, Senior Literature Seminar (ENGL 4903), taught by Dr. Amy Sonheim.