The Country of the Blind

by H. G. Wells

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Last Updated November 3, 2023.

“The Country of the Blind” begins many years in the past. The narrator begins by describing the history of a verdant land hidden in a valley in the Andes and isolated from the rest of civilization by a slew of natural disasters. The narrator explains that he knows the story because a man who hailed from the valley was trapped after the disaster, forced to abandon his wife, children, and everything he had ever held dear to build a new life alone. When questioned about his reasoning for leaving the valley, the man explained that the people who lived there were stricken with a mysterious illness that slowly blinded them and left all children born without sight. The myth of a divinely beautiful village filled only with the blind, all of whom lived in peace and harmony, spread from his story and survived for generations. 

Time passes, as time is wont to do, and the narrator resumes the story fifteen generations after the great schism that sealed the rumored country of the blind off from the world. The narrator then introduces Nuñez, an Ecuadorian mountaineer who joined a party of Englishmen attempting to summit Parascotopetl, the Matterhorn of the Andes. Nuñez becomes lost along the way after falling from a terrible height, and the Englishmen in his party assume he is dead. Miraculously, he survived, landing with few injuries. However, Nuñez finds himself in uncharted territory. The world behind him is unreachable; the world ahead is unknown. He forges on and soon spies a village in the distance, which inspires him to continue his struggle forward. 

As Nuñez reaches the village, he begins to notice strange things. His surroundings are unfamiliar, and something about them seems off, though he cannot tell why. The homes are plastered oddly, with multi-colored streaks and patchy blotches that make Nuñez think a blind man must have been responsible for the work. This initial instinct proves correct, as Nuñez soon encounters a group of men whose demeanor and actions reveal their blindness. The mountaineer rejoices, for he realizes he has found himself in the country of the blind, where he believes “the One-Eyed Man is King.”

The proverb proves incorrect, however, as, after generations of blindness, the inhabitants of the secluded valley have lost their concept of sight. They think Nuñez’s claims are ridiculous products of his absurd imagination. In their view, the world is confined to their valley, a landscape enclosed by rocks and covered by a stone ceiling. Nuñez, who has arrived from seemingly nowhere, is a mystery, and the blind villagers assume he is a newly formed being born of stone. Rather than veneration for his vision, Nuñez seems to face only disdain; his reliance on sight and lack of knowledge of their customs and habits leads the villagers to view him with little more than condescension. After a while, Nuñez, who grates at the villager’s dismissive treatment, attempts to escape the valley, wounding several villagers and nearly starving in the process. 

Nuñez’s halfhearted attempt to escape fails, and he returns to the village, apologetic and bashful. He explains that his rash actions and violent ways were a symptom of the madness of the newly formed and asks for forgiveness. After a severe whipping, the villagers accept Nuñez into their community and employ him as little more than a serf; among the village hierarchy, he is the lowest, used only for simple tasks and laborious manual work. Dreams of glory and power fade away, and Nuñez tries to grow accustomed to his new life, accepting the condescension of his neighbors and masters. 

(This entire section contains 1035 words.)

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Nuñez’s halfhearted attempt to escape fails, and he returns to the village, apologetic and bashful. He explains that his rash actions and violent ways were a symptom of the madness of the newly formed and asks for forgiveness. After a severe whipping, the villagers accept Nuñez into their community and employ him as little more than a serf; among the village hierarchy, he is the lowest, used only for simple tasks and laborious manual work. Dreams of glory and power fade away, and Nuñez tries to grow accustomed to his new life, accepting the condescension of his neighbors and masters. 

Shortly after, Nuñez encounters a blind girl named Medina, who, by the standards of the blind men in the valley, is unattractive and lacks conventional beauty standards. However, Nuñez is immediately taken with her and vows to pursue her, as he feels that to have Medina would make spending the rest of his life in the country of the blind bearable. He courts her, and the pair fall in love; however, Medina’s father, Yacob, dislikes the prospect of marrying his youngest daughter to the village fool, and he opposes their union on the grounds of Nuñez’s fanciful pretensions at sight. 

Yacob is troubled and speaks to the village elders about their plight. He explains that he likes Nuñez, and the man grows saner the longer he remains in the village, but he still struggles with Nuñez’s strange worldview. One of the elders, a wise physician, suggests that perhaps Nuñez’s madness is physiologically induced and recommends the removal of his eyes, as he believes these foreign organs are responsible for his strange speech and half-mad beliefs. Indeed, the elder explains, Nuñez’s constant obsession with a nonexistent sense is causing his irrational behavior. Relieved, Yacob agrees to the marriage so long as Nuñez agrees to surgically remove his eyes. The latter is unimpressed with the arrangement but agrees out of love for Medina. 

As the sun sets on the evening before his surgery, Nuñez preemptively mourns all that he will lose: he gazes at Medina’s face, observes the golden rays of ebbing light, and looks at the mountainous splendor surrounding him. The natural views strike a deep inner chord, and he changes his mind. Still staring at the mountains ahead, Nuñez begins to walk. His journey leads him away from the village, away from Medina, and away from his notions of grandeur. Humbled and grateful, Nuñez begins to climb, and the arduous process leaves him bloody but invigorated. His clothing lies in tatters, and his hands are torn from climbing; however, as the sun sets over the valley, Nuñez is happier than he has been since his arrival. He is cold, hungry, and in pain, but the stars above are bright and comforting. The story ends as the mountaineer begins his journey home. Whether he summits the mountain and returns home is unclear; readers are left with the vision of Nuñez peacefully resting on the mountainside, finally content with what he has. 

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