Blindness – Jose Saramago

If there’s one good thing to be said about movies it is that they can turn you onto some really good books.  By this statement I mean that I’ve had this book in my possession for at least a year and read it just this last week because I saw an advertisement for the movie adaptation.

 

Blindness is the story of a city, and eventually a country, in the throws of a sudden onset of blindness.  We start with one man who succumbs to a sudden blinding whiteness as he is driving.  Thereafter the loss of sight spreads to nearly everyone.  Everyone, that is, but one woman.

 

Upon learning of this contagion, the government decides they are going to quarantine those who are suffering from the ‘white sickness’ and do so in an old, disused mental asylum.  What starts out to be two, and shortly a dozen people, eventually becomes over three hundred.  The conditions in the facility, already atrocious, slowly deteriorate and the army guards who are left to watch over the asylum slowly become negligible with the food delivery.

 

Things get worse when a group of thugs takes over the delivery of the food and demands payment for it.  When the little money and possessions are all handed over, the demand comes for the women to go to the men.  This is eventually agreed on and the women go and are raped by many men.  It is shortly after this occurs that one woman sets the asylum ablaze and it is how they come to learn that everyone has gone blind, and the soldiers have abandoned their posts.

 

Thus begins a journey from the mental asylum to the homes of each of seven people.  On this journey the six blind people and the one person alone left with sight, come to learn of the appalling conditions people have been living in.  Not able to see, people have been forced into a nomadic lifestyle.  Their inability to see where they are going means any separation from their homes or families is likely to be permanent.  The greatest effort is put forth in finding clean water and food to eat.

 

Only as conditions become increasingly desperate is sight restored.

 

 

My thoughts on this book . . .

 

Blindness won the Nobel Prize for Literature.  Though I do not have a lot of experience reading Nobel Prize winning stories, I can’t say I’m surprised.  Its an intriguing question to think what would happen to our society if we were to lose one of our most important senses.  I, for one, would not be able to type this review, nor do the job I do – I could not even fathom what it would be like to lose electricity and plumbing and the like.

 

Being one of the worst writers I know at recognizing symbolism, I am quite certain there were a great many references that did go over my head.  It took a very long time for me to understand what the allegories were to our own society – in fact, it was reading a review of the movie that finally convinced me I was onto something.

 

As with all great literature this is not just a story – it does contain a moral message – society today is blind.  Yes, we have visual sense – but are we really seeing?  How many of us turn away the beggar in the street thinking “I’m not paying for him to get high or by booze”?  Are we really watching what our politicians are doing?  (watch Wag The Dog and you’ll know what I mean).  We pretend to be civilized, but are we really?  How can we call it civilized when there are far too many people in the world that derive enjoyment out of killing people?  Or watching others do it?  When the ‘greatest country in the world’ seems perfectly content to let people die because they can’t afford health care – yet the very companies to blame are electing the politicians!

 

I read the English version of the novel (the original was written in Portuguese, I believe) so I do not know if this was the way the novel was written originally or not, but I both loved and detested the unconventional dialogue formatting in the book.  Usually it is quoted and given its own paragraph each time a new character begins speaking.  In this novel that was not done.  There were no real identifiers as to who was speaking.  It wasn’t that hard to follow . . . but I’ve never read a whole book written like that before.  This, combined with the lack of given names for characters was odd.  I suppose the idea here – deciding not to give out real names, only titles, was very interesting to me.  Its rather hard to think this could potentially happen to any city when we’re given a fixed point to dwell on.  We still know a lot about the characters even though we don’t get a name.

 

Blindness is a disturbing portrayal of just how fragile our way of life is and how people deal with anarchy.  On an aside here: There are groups protesting the movie because of their assault on the women.  These people believe that the movie portrays blind people in a bad way.  My comment to those people?  Suck it up!.  This book isn’t trying to derogate people with disabilities.  Instead it is trying to bring awareness of our symbolic lack of sight to what is happening around us.  I bet that the people who are protesting because they:

  1. Haven’t read the novel
  2. Don’t understand what Allegory is
  3. Are just looking for their fifteen minutes of fame.
  4. Are too sensitive about their condition.

 

In the end if you don’t see even the glimmer of allegory or parable in this story, you should probably put it down, but don’t because its well worth the read.

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