How would you characterize Mr. Parsons and the beggar in "A Man Who Had No Eyes?"  

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

MacKinlay Kantor's short story A Man Who Had No Eyes describes a chance meeting between two men: Mr. Parsons and a beggar. The men could not be more different and are essentially a study in contrasts. Where Mr. Parsons is optimistic, the beggar is bitter. Mr. Parsons is neat and attractive, while the beggar is sloppy and slovenly. Mr. Parsons is self-reliant and productive, while the beggar depends on peddling and gaining the sympathy of strangers in order to obtain money.

Mr. Parsons’ optimism partially reflects his good fortune in life. The author notes:

And, thought Mr. Parsons, he was very glad to be alive. A few years ago he had been little more than a skilled laborer; how he was successful, respected, admired ... Insurance ... And he had done it alone, unaided, struggling beneath handicaps ... and he was still young. The blue air of spring, fresh from its memories of windy cools and lush shrubbery, could thrill him with eagerness.

The beggar, on the other hand, is bitter and bemoans his handicap. When he tells Mr. Parsons the story of how he lost his vision, he says, “You want to know how I lost my eyes," cried the man. "Well, here it is!" His words fell with the bitter and studied drama of a story often told, and told for money.”

The beggar is described as "shabby" and "shaggy," and “his coat was greasy about the lapels and pockets.” Conversely, Mr. Parsons is described as “a handsome figure with his immaculate gray suit and gray hat and malacca stick.” Interestingly, neither description reflects the man's physical features. Rather, their appearances are the result of how they comport and maintain themselves, with Mr. Parsons “immaculate” and the beggar “shabby.” The indication is that even a poor beggar can make an effort to keep clean and neat.

Mr. Parsons is also self-reliant and productive. As noted, when he contemplates his good fortune in life, he thinks “[a]nd he had done it alone, unaided, struggling beneath handicaps ... and he was still young.” However, the beggar bitterly relates to Mr. Parsons the event that caused his blindness. He blames the people there and the event, and he makes no effort to pull himself up and overcome his handicap.

The climax of the short story is a plot twist, as the two men realize that they are both blind. Moreover, their blindness is the result of the same accident, and the beggar lies about his role in the event and makes no effort to overcome his blindness. On the other hand, Mr. Parsons has overcome his handicap to live a positive life.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

I would characterize Mr. Parsons as someone who works hard and believes that he can do great things, despite setbacks and challenges. He is kind to his fellow human beings and has a heart full of sympathy and even a "foolish sort of pity for all blind creatures." He is "very glad to be alive," and he is responsible for his own success in the world, as he was "alone, unaided." When the spring breezes blow, carrying scents of pools and shrubs with it, it "thrill[s] him with eagerness."

The beggar, Markwardt, on the other hand, is characterized as manipulative and cruel, and he tries to win sympathy so that he will benefit financially from others' handouts. The narrator tells us that the beggar tells his story "with the bitter and studied drama of a story often told and told for money." When Markwardt cries, he is a "studied sob," as he has clearly done this routine countless times to countless people. Rather than work hard and make something of himself as Mr. Parsons has done, Markwardt has turned to deception and manipulation in order to scam others out of their money. Worse than that, he might've killed Mr. Parsons all those years ago and clearly feels no regret for his actions; in fact, he's irritated because he is blind and he doesn't realize that Mr. Parsons is, too.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Mr. Parsons and the beggar, Mr. Markwardt, are completely different people in the story “A Man Who Had No Eyes.” Their contrasting character traits make them perfect foils to one another.

Mr. Parsons appears to be a compassionate and empathetic person. “The clack-clack approach of the sightless man” arouses in him a sense of “pity for all blind creatures.”

The beggar offers to sell Mr. Parsons a cigarette lighter. Even though he does not smoke, he takes it and gives the beggar two fifty-cent coins. He does so only because he doesn’t want to disappoint the beggar. Mr Parsons thinks he may give it to the elevator boy. This shows the magnanimity of his heart and his loving and kind nature.

Markwardt, on the other hand, is an utterly wicked and selfish person. He had no scruples about hauling one of his coworkers over and trampling him in order to run out of the building and save himself following the chemical explosion at their workplace. This shameful act is a testimony to his evil and malignant nature.

Markwardt is an unscrupulous and unethical liar. In order to gain sympathy from others, he will tell a concocted version of the real incident and present himself as the victim. Shamelessly, he will then say that he has tried to forgive the man for his unkind act.

Moreover, Markwardt is unrepentant, remorseless and incorrigible. When he confronts Mr. Parsons, he has a chance to apologize and repent. But he shows no sign of repentance over his disgraceful act. Instead, he is disappointed to find Mr. Parsons alive.

A few years have gone by since the chemical explosion rendered both of them blind. Their current situations speak volumes about their contrasting attitudes toward life.

Mr. Parsons is a brave person and has faced the challenges of life quite gallantly. He is undeterred by the serious setback and is able to revive himself with dignity:

And he had done it alone, unaided, struggling beneath handicaps...

On the other hand, Markwardt has ended up on the streets. He begs for his survival. He is still malicious and wicked.

While Mr. Parsons is “glad to be alive,” Markwardt merely laments his blindness–


Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

I suppose that the most obvious answer is that Mr. Parsons is a man who has worked hard to get ahead.  On the other hand, the beggar, Markwardt, is someone who has presumably chosen not to try hard and get ahead himself.

We can see this because both of them started out from the same place.  They worked in the same factory and were both blinded in the accident.  But Parsons did not pout -- he worked hard to get where he is now.  Markwardt, on the other hand, not only decided to pout but he also made up a story about how the other man had caused him to become blind (when Markwardt was really the "bad guy).

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team