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.