Sexuality In Wiseblood
That Heinous Beast: Sexuality
In the novel Wiseblood, by Flannery O’Connor, one finds an unpleasant,
almost antagonistic view of sexuality. The author seems to regard sex as
an evil, and harps on this theme throughout the novel. Each sexual
incident which occurs in the novel is tainted with grotesquem. Different
levels of the darker side of sexuality are exposed, from perversion to
flagrant displays of nudity. It serves to give the novel a bit of a
The "Carnival Episode" illustrated Hazel’s first experience with
sexuality. The author depicts an incident surrounded by an aura of
sinfulness. Indeed, the show’s promoter claims that it is "SINsational."
In his anxiousness to view the sideshow, Haze resorted to lying about
his age. He was that eager to see it. When he enters the tent, Haze
observes the body of an obese naked woman squirming in a casket lined
with black cloth. He leaves the scene quickly.
This first bout with sexuality was certainly a grotesque one, and one
which, perhaps, helped fortify his resolve not to experiment with sex
for years to come. Haze reacted to the incident on different levels.
Before watching the "show," he was filled with curiosity. So badly he
wanted to view this "EXclusive" show. After glancing at the body, he
first thought that it was a skinned animal. When he realized what it
was, he at once left the tent, ashamed, and perhaps frightened of the
object before his eyes.
Hazel’s reaction was not unnatural. The sight with which he was
confronted would invoke both fear and embarassment within most
ten-year-olds. Not only was the body nude, but it was inside a casket as
well. The author parallels this vulgar display of sexuality with death
itself. But Hazel reacted to more than just the sight of the object. He
at once realizes that he was not supposed to watch the naked lady, that
it was sinful to do so. He feels ashamed for having gone inside the
tent, and punishes himself. Here, it is evident that the author means to
show that Sexuality is a sinful creature.
This moral tone is reinforced by the behavior of his parents during the
episode. Whilst inside the tent, Hazel hears his father remark
appreciatively about the nude body: "Had one of themther built into
ever’ casket, be a heap ready to go sooner." After returning home,
Hazel’s mother realizes that her son has experienced something that he
should not have, and confronts him about it. Though he does not admit
what he has done, he proceeds to punish himself. It is inferred that
Hazel respects his mother’s attitude toward the matter. O’Connor seems
to propose that Hazel must do penance for what he has done, or, on a
larger scale, for witnessing vulgar displays of sexuality.
Perversion reaches its height when O’Connor introduces the reader to
Enoch Emery. During Enoch’s various dealings with women, one witnesses
vulgarity in all its forms. The events surrounding the first of these
incidents is tinged with a bit of mystery. O’Connor paints the portrait
of a Peeping Tom, an adolescent Enoch Emery watching a topless woman
sunbathe while hidden in between abelia bushes.
Strangely enough, the woman has a "long and cadaverous" face, with a
"bandage-like bathing cap." Ironically, the woman also has pointed
teeth, with "greenish-yellow hair." The woman is portrayed as a
corpse-like figure who is surprisingly similar to Hazel’s one-time
mistress, Leora Watts. Sexuality comes in the form of a corpse, an
allusion not to be missed. The narrator depicts Sexuality as being
analogous to spiritual death.
In this episode, however, one sees more than just the grotesque. Enoch
Emery introduces us to the grimmer side of sexuality, a side in which a
predator spies on an unknowing woman, and gains pleasure from it. The
meaning behind the scene is somewhat masked by the lascivious behavior
of a typical eighteen year old, but its aim is clear. Here is sexuality
at its darker side: one in which women are violated unbeknownst to them.
Enoch’s other dealings with women are also on the perverse side. He
enjoys making "suggestive remarks" towards them. The fact that they do
not respond to him results from two things. Firstly, the women do not
find him appealing in the least bit. At the "Frosty Bottle," the
waitress refers to Enoch as a "pus-marked bastard," and a "son of a
bitch." Secondly, the author points out that sexuality and perversion in
all its forms is evil.
Perhaps one of the most grotesque representations of sexuality in the
novel is found in Mrs. Leora