Who is literally blind and who is figuratively blind? Explain and compare.

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Robert is literally blind, and it is the narrator who is figuratively blind because it is not until he closes his eyes and draws with Robert that he can begin to perceive. 

A man who remains closed, the narrator is uncomfortable with the thought of his wife's old friend Robert's upcoming visit. When he comments on this odd friendship, she rejoins that he has no friends, strange or otherwise. Because his wife has communicated much of her personal life to this man, the narrator feels uneasy about the man's meeting him as it places the narrator in what he feels is a vulnerable position since his life has been bared, but Robert's is unknown to him. His wife once asked if he would like to hear a tape from her friend, as this is the method by which they communicate. When she puts the tape on and plays it, the narrator recalls,

After a few minutes of harmless chitchat, I heard my own name in the mouth of this stranger, this blind man I didn't even know. And then this: "From all you've said about him, I can only conclude--" But we were interrupted...it was just as well. I'd heard all I wanted to.

Besides feeling compromised by a stranger knowing so much about him, the narrator holds a disparaging attitude toward this sightless man that demonstrates his narrow-mindedness. For one thing, he feels that the man's wife was deprived by her husband's inability to see her since he could never compliment her looks, or

receive the smallest compliment from her husband. A woman whose husband could never read the expression on her face...Pathetic.

When Robert arrives, the narrator is at a loss for words as he thinks about mentioning the scenic view to their house, but stops himself. Robert, however, is friendly and, to the narrator's displeasure, tells him he feels as though he knows the husband already. Ill at ease, the narrator makes drinks and has a few himself. As he watches Robert, the narrator is surprised that Robert smokes, and he is amazed at how deft Robert is with his knife and fork at dinner. After dinner, they move to the living room and the wife and Robert converse at length.

More talk of Robert....[he] had done a little of everything....He talked in his loud voice about conversations he'd had in Guam, in the Philippines, in Alaska, and even in Tahiti. He said he'd have a lot of friends there if he ever wanted to go visit...

When the narrator feels that Robert has, perhaps, "run down," he turns on the television, but he notices that his wife glares at him with irritation. Then, she turns to Robert and asks him if he has a TV; Robert replies that he has two of them. "I had absolutely nothing to say to that. No opinion," the narrator comments. Shortly, the wife leaves the room and the narrator is alone with Robert. He asks his wife's guest if he would like another drink and Robert says yes. Then, the narrator asks if he would like "to smoke some dope" with him. Robert replies that he will try it. "That's the stuff," the narrator says.

Having returned, his wife gives the narrator "a savage look" for his behavior. She apologizes for her fatigue, and tells Robert that his room is ready, but he replies that he is not tired. It is not long before she falls asleep. The narrator confides that he rarely goes to bed when his wife does because if he does he has "crazy dreams." Tonight, also, the narrator feels inhibited; however, as Robert listens to the television on which an Englishman speaks of the medieval cathedrals, the narrator asks Robert if he knows what a cathedral is. Never ill at ease, Robert asks him to describe one; however, the narrator regrets that he really cannot. So, Robert asks him to draw it for him and places his hand over that of the narrator. 

So we kept on with it. His fingers rode my fingers as my hand went over the paper. It was like nothing else in my life up to now.

Relaxed from the drink and the cannabis, the narrator feels the warmth of friendship. When Robert asks him how the cathedral looks, the narrator can only express his communion with Robert by remarking, "It's really something." This blind man whose heart is open opens the narrator's heart so that he can see what is truly meaningful in life. Robert "sees" how to get along with others and loses his feelings of alienation as his warm hand follows the lines drawn by the narrator, and the narrator feels "really something" in the warmth which Robert extends to him.