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 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. 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 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 making 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 whom have reached the depths of perversion and the grotesque.