Blindness Themes

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

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Blindness is a serious book written by a serious novelist who has always taken his job seriously. The novel's rich texture lends itself to study the work thematically from several perspectives.

Blindness can be considered a critique of social norms in our modern world. In this respect, it also points out the shortcomings of technology as well as the inadequacy of human knowledge when it comes to the simple question of addressing mankind's basic needs. As already discussed in the previous section, this novel discusses fundamental problems in life such as hunger and disease—this is ironic because Saramago examines a civilization with complicated networks developed over centuries, yet one that is incapable of meeting the most basic needs when disaster strikes. In fact, the horrifying mental asylum in which the blind have to live is a replica of our present-day prisons. The horror mainly arises, however, from the fact that eventually, when blindness—figuratively, ignorance—becomes widespread, there is no distinction between the blind, gloomy world of the inmates and that of ordinary people outside.

The novel can also be seen as a political commentary on the futility of the goals of different political parties and regimes throughout ages, and their practical indifference towards the fate of the people whose lives they claim to be concerned about. The quarantine of the blind is no doubt reminiscent of the death camps the writer is so familiar with. Saramago's memories of fascist brutality can, indeed, be clearly traced in the struggles of the blind inmates within the mental asylum.

From a philosophical standpoint, the novelist deals with the concept of ignorance and its dangerously contagious nature among human beings. In order to impart to his readers the seriousness of the epidemic, the author reveals how an ophthalmologist—whose job is to cure visual impairments— himself falls victim to the contagious disease. What Saramago is also metaphorically suggesting is that, in the long run, even the few enlightened people who are capable of diagnosing social diseases are capable of ignoring others' needs. What is worse, they may also, reluctantly and fully aware of the dire consequences, act just as reprehensibly as the unenlightened. Saramago constantly reexamines issues of ignorance and wisdom throughout the narration. The disease is, in this way, an allegory for "not being able to see." Saramago himself states that he wrote Blindness "to remind everyone who reads it that, when we debase life, we pervert our reason, that the dignity of human beings is abused everyday by those in power, that the universal lie has replaced multiple truths, that man loses his self-respect when he loses respect for his fellow man."

Man's primary problem then, based on Saramago's own words, is that he cannot see the "truth."—"This Blindness isn't real blindness, it's a blindness of rationality. We're rational beings but we don't behave rationally. If we did, there'd be no starvation in the world." It is the amplification of this philosophy that we read in the concluding pages of the novel: "Do you want me to tell you what I think, Yes, do, I don't think we did go blind, I think we are blind, Blind but seeing, Blind people who can see, but do not see." It is also interesting to note that the blindness that spreads through this community is referred to in the story as "white evil," mainly to distinguish it from the usual kind of blindness. Those who are physically and literally blind know that they cannot see, and report that the dominant color of their world is black. "White blindness" is hence adopted to describe the malady, to distinguish those who are unaware of the fact that they cannot see from those who are blind and acknowledge it.

The sad, tragic conviction that our novelist seems to have reached is that partial truth, knowledge, and wisdom can be ours only at the high price of suffering. Metaphorically speaking, it is only by going through all the...

(The entire section is 1,084 words.)