Laura Jean's Reviews > Blindness

Blindness by José Saramago
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's review
Mar 09, 08

Recommended to Laura Jean by: Amy

Science fiction literature. Yes, it is possible.

Here's a response I wrote to the book:

Blindness by José Saramago, published in English in 1997, is a pre 9-11 parable that aptly depicts the debasement of which humans are capable in extraordinary circumstances, and is therefore relevant to contemporary audiences struggling with government incompetence and the consequences of apathetic cruelty. While his characters and nearly all those living in the book’s fabulist scenario struggle with their own blindness, the creation of order from chaos, and the power of primary drives (hunger, lust, violence, etc.), these characters simultaneously exhibit traits that are examples of their human reasoning. When hungry, the woman with the dark glasses gives the boy with the squint her food. The blind accountant sides with violence and tyranny in exchange for larger rations and authority. In the horror of their circumstances, these unnamed characters are equalized, each becoming an animal with only tenuous threads of identity, held together by small demonstrations of intellect. Saramago creates a desperate world so complete, so fantastic, that the reader is left trying to see the shape of things through the all illuminating description, dialogue, and action, just as the characters grope their way through the white blindness with which they are stricken.
But what does it mean? What is Saramago saying about human nature when depicting the authoritarian criminality of some humans and the meekness of others in desperate situations? While Saramago’s depiction of abuse and submissiveness are accurate to the real life actions of humans in such instances as the Stanford Prison Experiment and more recently, the treatment of internees at Abu Ghraib, there seems to be a larger commentary at work on how humans conduct themselves in society. At the end of the book, when the characters are beginning to regain their sight and the symptoms of white blindness are subsiding, the doctor’s wife tells her husband: “Do you want me to tell you what I think..I don’t think we did go blind, I think we are blind, Blind but seeing, Blind people who can see, but do not see.” As the only character to never lose her sight, these words seem ironic, but she is touching on a parallel between the animalistic foundation they have been reduced to, and the blindness that precipitated this change.
In the same way that humans are forever capable of acting on their most base instincts, losing all boundaries of human decency, the doctor’s wife recognizes that the blindness is always there, behind the seeing, where the shadows and boundaries fall away, flooded by light. In this milky state, she has seen humans lose their sense of self, propriety, and hope, and understands that the threat is always imminent. As the only seeing person in the book, she has lived with this threat throughout the epidemic, and upon everyone else regaining their sight, she, not her ophthalmologist husband, diagnoses them. It is the seeing that is the condition, and blindness their natural state. It is seeing that gives each the foundation to construct identities and governments. But as humans, they each remain blind to their own blindness. They are unable, in their seeing state, to see the constant threat; they are unable to see the reversion back to the base, the animal, the blindness within.
If Saramago’s work is a parable, as I have proposed, it is a cautionary tale about the decisions of which we are capable when faced with harrowing choices and the haunting of ignorance. For it is sight that gives us knowledge, and when reasoned, knowledge that gives us insight. In the extraordinary circumstance of their blindness and the preservation of sight in the face of extreme misery (in the case of the doctor’s wife), Saramago’s characters are forced to make moral decisions on basic criteria – to eat or not to eat? To be naked or to be clothed? While these decisions may be insignificant to the seeing, provided for, or fortunate, to the afflicted and desperate, and as Saramago demonstrates, to all – they are the foundation of what makes us human.

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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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Rosana I just wanted to tell you how much I liked this review. Thank you for saying it all so well.

Veronica Great Review! wow.

message 3: by Emily (new)

Emily  O This is a great review! It's one of the most thoughtful reviews I've read of this book so far.

"Science fiction literature. Yes, it is possible."

I would suggest looking at Phillip K. Dick, Neil Stevenson, Ursula K. Le Guin, Octavia E. Butler, or Ray Bradbury. You'd be surprised!

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