Blindness Blindness
by José Saramago

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(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

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A man sitting in a car at a traffic light suddenly loses his sight and sees nothing but whiteness. A kindly passerby drives the blind man home and then steals the blind man’s car. The blind man’s wife takes the unfortunate fellow to an eye doctor, but the doctor is mystified. Later, the car thief, the doctor, and the patients who were in the doctor’s waiting room at the time of the blind man’s arrival all lose their vision. The government attempts to contain the epidemic by isolating the blind in a vacant mental hospital guarded by soldiers who have orders to shoot anyone who tries to leave. The doctor’s wife, who has claimed to be blind in order to accompany her husband, is the only witness as more and more sightless people arrive at the hospital.

Life in the hospital grows steadily worse. The only blind internees who are able to organize themselves effectively are members of a gang headed by one man who has managed to smuggle a gun into the hospital. After a rebellion against the tyranny of the gang members, a fire breaks out and the internees flee the hospital. The soldiers do not open fire because the soldiers are gone. Everyone has gone blind. The doctor’s wife leads a small group, made up of the patients from the waiting room, back to a city in which civilization has collapsed.

Jose Saramago’s novel BLINDNESS is a parable, in which blindness symbolizes the inability to see things as they are. This inability leads to an uncleanliness that is both moral and physical. The book’s pessimism about the human condition is tempered with humor and sympathy for its characters’ struggles to survive and maintain dignity in the face of hardship.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. XCIV, August, 1998, p. 1969.

Library Journal. CXXIII, August, 1998, p. 134.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. September 6, 1998, p. 2.

The New Republic. CCXVIII, November 30, 1998, p. 48.

New Statesman. CXXVII, October 16, 1998, p. 58.

The New York Times Book Review. CIII, October 4, 1998, p. 8.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLV, July 13, 1998, p. 62.

The Times Literary Supplement. December 19, 1997, p. 20.

The Village Voice. September 22, 1998, p. 150.

The Washington Post. October 9, 1998, p. D1.