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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 573

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...

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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 heart and with the loss of concern for other human beings; the sight of the Doctor’s Wife, on the other hand, is associated with compassion and the retention of a moral compass.

Yet another woman in the group, a prostitute known as the Girl With Dark Glasses, begins to also demonstrate some of the Doctor’s Wife’s virtues, voluntarily assuming the care of a small boy and an old man, with whom she falls in love. Another important character is the Dog of Tears, who encounters the Doctor’s Wife at a moment of deep despair; when they gaze into each other’s eyes, they connect on a deep personal level, a reminder that in this novel it is the seeing eyes that represent the sacred core of each living being. With the return of her morale, the Doctor’s Wife manages to secure safety for her little group by leading them to her apartment, a site of both literal and spiritual cleansing as they bathe on her terrace in the rain.

The social conditions elsewhere, however, worsen, with increasing scarcity, disorder, and confusion. It is at this point that the Doctor’s Wife wanders into a church, which is filled with people praying for rescue or consolation. The Doctor’s Wife sees that all the eyes of the statues of religious figures in the church have been covered by a priest, who has dramatically blinded the icons upon whose existence the people have come to depend. When the Doctor’s Wife tells the congregation that the holy images are blind, they abandon the church, and soon everyone regains their sight, as if the demystification of these religious symbols is somehow linked to the subsequent miraculous recovery that allows the people in the city to restore social order. The powers associated with the images in the church have been transferred to human beings, who are free to use their own moral and spiritual resources—their own eyes.

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