by Flannery O'Connor
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 grotesqueness.
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 moralistic overtone.
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. While inside the tent, Hazel
hears his father remark appreciatively about the nude body:
"Had one of them ther 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 unbeknown 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 Watts. The
circumstances surrounding Haze and Leora's first encounter
are rather distasteful. Hazel discovers her address while
inside a public bathroom, an incidence not to be taken
lightly. The author blatantly states her attitude toward
prostitution: that it originates within the most disgusting
and disgraceful locales of society.
The creature, Mrs. Leora Watts, is quite hideous, and
grotesque in most every manner. She is a large woman, with
"yellow hair and white skin that glistened with a greasy
preparation." Her teeth were "small and pointed and
speckled with green and there was a wide space between each
one." When Hazel first meets her, she is cutting her toe
nails, a task not the most pleasing to witness. The room in
which Leora Watts lives is quite dirty. The atmosphere is
not unlike that of a public bathroom.
Haze's first sexual experience is an unpleasant one. It is
almost as if he has been captured and used by this
monstrosity, when it was he who initiated it. It is all the
more ironic that it is a female prostitute who is
manhandling the male. The ceremony begins as Haze reaches
for Leora's big leg. It is a rather strange action in that
he does not make any overt sexual advances towards her. He
does not find her appealing, he merely wants to have sex.
Through the course of the episode, Hazel behaves as if he
were pained by his own actions. When Leora grips his hand,
he almost reacts violently. In fact, "he might have leaped
out the window, if she had not had him so firmly by the
arm." As she makes advances towards him, he moves rigidly
toward her. Hazel's behavior is similar to that of a person
doing penance for sins committed. This is reminiscent of
Hazel's actions as a child. O'Connor manages to convert an
often joyous and pleasurable experience into a painstaking
one. Here, once again, we witness her moralistic attitude
toward sexuality: sex for pleasure ought to be painful, for
it is wrong.
Through the depiction of Mrs. Leora Watts and Hazel's first
sexual encounter, it is more than evident that the novel
treats the subject of sexuality in a distasteful manner.
Leora Watts is the physical manifestation of the author's
disdain for sexuality and prostitution. She is both
repulsive and grotesque. Sexuality is treated as an ugly
thing, and sex for pleasure is seen as immoral.
In the novel "Wiseblood", the reader is confronted with an
antagonistic and adverse view of sexuality. The novel
represents sex as an evil, one which encourages the basest
forms of human behavior. Through individuals like Leora
Watts and Enoch Emery, the author depicts people who have
reached the depths of perversion and the grotesque.
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