Study Guide

Blindness

by José Saramago

Blindness Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

A man sitting in his car at a traffic signal suddenly goes blind. He is helped by another man, who drives him home but then steals his car. Soon, more citizens of the city go blind. The blindness, characterized by victims seeing only a creamy whiteness, spreads through the city and quickly becomes endemic. As panic sweeps the general populace, the government takes action to isolate the blind in an asylum.

The quarantined persons are guarded by military troops who facilitate the delivery of food and other necessities. More and more people become infected, and the social order, both inside and outside the asylum, starts to break down. As the numbers of quarantined people grow to unmanageable proportions, conditions become horrific. The asylum develops into a filthy place of horrible acts. The newly formed society of the blind becomes a place where criminals control the supply of food, demanding jewels and other valuables at first, then exchanging the meager food supply for sex.

The degenerating conditions within the asylum mirror the overall breakdown of society in the city. The soldiers guarding the internees become increasingly hostile. As one soldier after another becomes infected by the blindness as well, discipline in the ranks dissolves. The soldiers fire upon a group of blind internees who are waiting for food.

Seven internees band together as a way to survive the chaos within the asylum. The group is led by the wife of an...

(The entire section is 450 words.)

Blindness Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Blindness depicts an epidemic of blindness that turns everything to an inchoate whiteness, bringing chaos and criminality in its wake. In an effort to cope with the epidemic, the authorities imprison the blind in a former mental institution, where the scarce and putrid food, the crowding and the uncleanness is made worse by the increasingly bad behavior of its blind inmates. The breakdown of morality reaches its nadir with the rise of a band of blind men who victimize and humiliate the other prisoners through such criminal activities as theft, rape, and terror. It becomes clear that the literal blindness of the city’s inhabitants is a metaphor for a pathology of consciousness that locks an individual within himself or herself, depriving that person of the ability to perceive his or her own humanity and the humanity of others. A base spiritual condition, this psychological blindness leads to a degraded world of predators and prey, criminals and victims, with no hope of change or progress.

Within this collapsing society, however, a little group of seven people begin to work together to retain their humanity. The leader of this group is the Doctor’s Wife, who has loyally accompanied her ophthalmologist husband to the asylum even though she herself is not blind. She is not only helpful in organizing the group and keeping it safe and fed, she also possesses the greatest spiritual lucidity. Blindness in this regard is associated with the death of...

(The entire section is 573 words.)