What are some metaphors of seeing and blindness in Tartuffe?

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Metaphors are figures of speech that make comparisons of two unrelated things. The comparisons are not literally true, but help to explain the ideas an author is attempting to relate to readers or audiences. In Tartuffe, Molière must show his audience that the title character is a fraud and...

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Metaphors are figures of speech that make comparisons of two unrelated things. The comparisons are not literally true, but help to explain the ideas an author is attempting to relate to readers or audiences. In Tartuffe, Molière must show his audience that the title character is a fraud and a charlatan, even though the protagonist, Orgon, is too blind to see it. Through the action in the drama, the author must also communicate the same message to Orgon, who is too gullible to see it. Molière accomplishes this task in part by the use of metaphors.

As early as Act 1, Orgon’s family, with the exception of his mother, sees Tartuffe as a hypocrite. Even the household maid, Dorine, tries to open Orgon’s eyes to the truth. In spite of all these warnings he remains blind. Dorine speaks to Orgon about his mother Madame Pernelle’s condition, but Orgon obsesses about Tartuffe:

ORGON
And how about Tartuffe?

DORINE
Tartuffe? He's well;
He's mighty well; stout, fat, fair, rosy-lipped.

ORGON
Poor man!

The maid sarcastically and metaphorically describes Tartuffe, but Orgon’s reply demonstrates that he cannot see reality. Again, Dorine tries to discuss Madame Pernelle, but Orgon continues:

DORINE
At evening she had nausea
And couldn't touch a single thing for supper,
Her headache still was so severe.

ORGON
And how
About Tartuffe?

DORINE
He supped alone, before her,
And unctuously ate up two partridges,
As well as half a leg o' mutton, deviled.

ORGON
Poor man!

Molière cleverly compares Tartuffe’s gluttony at Madame Pernelle’s expense to a man in need of a decent meal. The pattern continues. Each time the maid attempts to address his mother’s condition, Orgon concerns himself only with Tartuffe and compares her illness with the good life the hypocrite is experiencing. He always concludes that Tartuffe is a “poor man.”

From beginning to end, Orgon remains blind to the truth. Molière riddles the play with implied metaphors demonstrating that Orgon simply cannot see Tartuffe’s hypocrisy:

How can a man of wealth, like you, go choose
A wretched vagabond for son-in-law?

The answer is standard for this drama: he is blind.

Toward the end of the drama, Orgon is shocked to discover what everyone else already knows. Tartuffe is not the “holy man” he purports to be when he attempts to take advantage of Elmire. Orgon finally sees the light:

ORGON (crawling out from under the table)
That is, I own, a man … abominable!
I can't get over it; the whole thing floors me.

ELMIRE
What? You come out so soon? You cannot mean it!
Get back under the table; 'tis not time yet;
Wait till the end, to see, and make quite certain,
And don't believe a thing on mere conjecture.

ORGON
Nothing more wicked e'er came out of Hell.

ELMIRE
Dear me! Don't go and credit things too lightly.
No, let yourself be thoroughly convinced;
Don't yield too soon, for fear you'll be mistaken.

Despite Orgon’s outrage at Tartuffe who is exposed as a fraud, he announces that he doubted Tartuffe’s sincerity for a long time. However, the audience knows that is not true. He has been blind from the outset:

My holy man! You want to put it on me!
How is your soul abandoned to temptation!
Marry my daughter, eh?—and want my wife, too?
I doubted long enough if this was earnest,
Expecting all the time the tone would change;
But now the proof's been carried far enough;
I'm satisfied, and ask no more, for my part.

Orgon eventually sees the error of his ways and admits his own blindness by saying, “From his words I see my great mistake.” In describing Tartuffe, Orgon finally sees what he missed from the start: “Man is a wicked animal.”

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In order to consider the metaphors of blindness and seeing in a meaningful context, it is important to first establish that the main storyline revolves around these very concepts. Orgon “blindly” believes everything that the supposedly “holy man” Tartuffe tells him, disbelieving the proof and evidence to the contrary his family tries to alert him to. In this sense, Orgon is “blind,” as Elmire tells him:

I can’t find words to cope with such a case;
Your blindness makes me quite astounded at you.
You are bewitched with him, to disbelieve
The things we tell you happened here to-day.

When Orgon finally discovers Tartuff’s deceit and fraud, he finally sees the truth. Early on in the play, truth is associated with seeing:

That is the usual strain of all your kind;
They must have every one as blind as they.
They call you atheist if you have good eyes;
And if you don’t adore their vain grimaces,
You’ve neither faith nor care for sacred things.

To not see the truth is to be blind; on the other hand, if one has good eyes—in other words, simply observes plainly what is in front of them (in this case, the fakery and deceit of Tartuffe)—then they are falsely branded an “atheist” by those who do not see the truth in front of them.

In the last act, Orgon finally sees Tartuffe's deceit with his own eyes, both literally and metaphorically, finally coming to see the truth. This metaphor is extended to the prince as well, who is also astute enough to see the truth behind Tartuffe's charade. The prince's ability to see past Tartuffe's tricks is once again described in terms of sight:

His eyes can read men’s inmost hearts, and all
The art of hypocrites cannot deceive him.
His sharp discernment sees things clear and true.

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