What would happen if you and the rest of those around you were to go blind? Would you have lost your humanity as well?
Those two questions summarized for me what Jose Saramago’s “Blindness” was all about. Set in an unknown country at a time that is not far from the present, “white blindness” sweeps across this place, and those first few affected were quarantined, only to eventually be released into a society that has pretty much collapsed after acquiring the same affliction. It is an exploration of human reactions and choice and what one would do to fight for survival in the most desperate of situations.
There was only one character that was spared from the “white blindness” and this was the doctor’s wife. I particularly loved this character, because of her character arc as the story progressed. Assuming she was a nurturing wife who was compelled to take care of her blind husband, her first daring move was to pretend to be blind in order to be with him. She then progressed from being a woman in the background to being the leader of the group, by virtue of her sight. In between this progression was a woman’s sacrifice and bravery to stand up to against a group of blind men that provided food to the rest of the quarantined people in exchange for more than a few favors.
And while Saramago presents a hauntingly realistic description of human nature amidst a situation where panic, chaos, confusion, and the unknown abound, he also presents some rather philosophical perspectives on human nature, such as:
Inside us there is something that has no name, that something is what we are.
Perhaps only in a world of the blind will things be what they truly are.
There’s no difference between inside and outside, between here and there, between the many and the few, between what we’re living through and what we shall have to live through… this must be what it means to be a ghost, being certain that life exists, because your four senses say so, and yet unable to see it…
The difficult thing isn’t living with other people, it’s understanding them.
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.
I must admit, I don’t think Saramago is for everyone’s reading pleasure. He doesn’t employ the usual punctuation marks in the dialogue, and his writing style is pretty much made up of run-on sentences and very long paragraphs. That said, it probably takes a certain reading temperament to appreciate “Blindness”. Once you get past the style of how the letters are laid out on the page, it is quite a compelling read.
I’ve been meaning to read Saramago since the news of his passing was announced in 2010. I only had the chance to read one of his more famous works (after searching everywhere for a copy of the book!) when FFP had Blindness for its March Book Discussion. Thanks to Peter, though, I’ll probably be getting a few more Saramago titles in the future.
ETA: I also thought “Blindness” had a strong feminine/feminist voice, in the sense that it had strong women characters. And despite scenes of gang rape, there was one passage in the book that I thought allowed the women to celebrate their bodies. That is such a trademark of feminist literature.