Year of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Department or School/College
Department of English
Martin Marko, Christopher Knight
Christianity, Religion, Southern Literature, Alienation, Flannery O'Connor, Consumerism, Grotesque
University of Montana
In the tradition of Jon Lance Bacon and Steve Pinkerton, this work endeavors to show how Flannery O’Connor, along with her secular humanist contemporaries, voices a critique of modern American culture that depicts the conflicting elements of consumerism as detrimental to an individual’s personal and social well-being. This study will focus on Wise Blood, in particular, as it represents a consumerist way of life as antithetical to a religious way of life. By illustrating the emptiness of materialism and the nihilism of consumerism, O’Connor hopes to persuade her readers that Christianity is a preferable alternative. The body of this study has two parts. The first chapter, “Led By Ropes, Scents, and Dog Whistles,” drawing on the language of cultural critics Marshal McLuhan, C. Wright Mills, and Vance Packard, explicates the novel’s conflicting conceptions of wise blood. O’Connor juxtaposes an authentic wise blood defined by its drive for salvation with a parodic version that is simply an introjection of the promises of advertising. Enoch, as a representative of the latter, seeks to improve his life through increased participation in consumerism, which ultimately ends in grotesque frustration. In the second chapter, “‘No One Was Paying Attention to the Sky,’” I expand on the first chapter’s premise by illustrating how O’Connor presents a return to Christianity—the exercise of an authentic wise blood—as the only way to address the issues of modernity. The chapter traces the dialectical structure of Hazel’s spiritual journey from the naïve faith of his youth, through his apostasy during the war and turn towards consumerism, and finally to the humbling of his secular egoism and return to a Christian faith. His return to faith, however, is grotesque and unsettling. Drawing on the work of John Hawkes, Frederick Crews, and John Ruskin, the conclusion will explore some of the questions that O’Connor’s emphasis on the grotesque raises. Particularly, can such an unsympathetic narrative tone positively and accurately depict an elevated spiritual life, or does it simply revel in the moral and spiritual squalor that it claims to reject?
Eilts, Nicholas L., "A Different Kind of Vision: The Critique of Consumerism in Flannery O'Connor's Wise Blood" (2014). Graduate Student Theses, Dissertations, & Professional Papers. 4199.
© Copyright 2014 Nicholas L. Eilts