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Published in 1949, Flannery O’Connor’s first novel, Wise Blood, satirizes not Christianity itself, but rather man’s twisted practice of the faith that O’Connor held so dear. O’Connor, a devout Roman Catholic living in the Bible Belt, writes to critique the heresy, hypocrisy, and apathy that pervaded the lives of Protestants in the South—a region that O’Connor describes as “hardly Christ-centered” but “most certainly Christ-haunted” (Mystery and Manners 44). O’Connor portrays the characters in Wise Blood as Protestants, non-Christians, or the nihilistic protagonist and hero himself, Hazel Motes, who in his rejection of the gospel, founds the Church of Christ without Christ, acting as its first preacher. My discussion on the distorted gospel messages found in this novel will focus on two preachers: Asa Hawks and Hazel Motes. Hawks practices Christianity as a hypocritical performance. In contrast, for nearly the entire novel Hazel Motes practices nihilism, completely rejecting the gospel, until the last chapter when he reverts to Christianity, adding his own form of extreme penance to his faith. O’Connor portrays these freakish but realistic characters to shock, creating unease in her readers. Writing as a Roman Catholic in the South, O’Connor was attempting, I think, to make specific critiques of Protestantism as opposed to Catholicism. The central issue O’Connor satirizes throughout Wise Blood is the danger of adding man-made doctrine or subtracting Biblical truth from the gospel of Jesus Christ.


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