Author: Jose Saramago
Publisher: Mariner Books
Genre: Allegory, Philosophical Fiction
First Publication: 1995 (English translation: 1997)
Original Language: Portuguese
Major Characters: The doctor (Blindness), The doctor’s wife, The girl with the dark glasses, The first blind man, The first blind man’s wife, The boy with the squint, The old man with the black eye patch, The car thief
Setting Place: An unnamed city, primarily in an abandoned mental hospital
Theme: Existence, Uncertainty, and Autonomy; Good, Evil, and Moral Conscience; Biological Needs and Human Society
Narration: Third Person
Book Summary: Blindness by Jose Saramago
A city is hit by an epidemic of “white blindness” that spares no one. Authorities confine the blind to an empty mental hospital, but there the criminal element holds everyone captive, stealing food rations, and assaulting women.
There is one eyewitness to this nightmare who guides her charges—among them a boy with no mother, a girl with dark glasses, a dog of tears—through the barren streets, and their procession becomes as uncanny as the surroundings are harrowing.
As Blindness reclaims the age-old story of a plague, it evokes the vivid and trembling horrors of the twentieth century, leaving readers with a powerful vision of the human spirit that’s bound both by weakness and exhilarating strength.
Book Review: Blindness by Jose Saramago
Blindness is a great novel by Portuguese writer José Saramago that deals with human’s individual and collective reactions when in the face of adversarial forces. With gorgeous prose, this thought-provoking book shows us how our world, ever so concerned and consumed by appearances, would deal with the loss of our most relied upon sense: vision. When it’s every man by himself, when every man is free to do whatever he wants without the impending fear of recognition and judgement, we start to feel – I was going to say see – what the man’s true nature is and the crumbling down of a civilization diseased with selfishness, intolerance and ambition, to name just few symptoms.
“Inside us there is something that has no name, that something is what we are.”
In Blindness by Jose Saramago, authortells us the story of a mysterious mass plague of blindness that affects nearly everyone living in an unnamed place in a never specified time and the implications this epidemic has on people’s lives. It all starts inexplicably when a man in his car suddenly starts seeing – or rather stops seeing anything but – a clear white brightness. He’s blind. Depending upon a stranger’s kindness to be able to go home in safety, we witness what appears to be the first sign of corruption and the first crack in society’s impending breakdown when the infamous volunteer steals the blind man’s car. Unfortunately for him, the white pest follows him and turns him into one of its victims as well.
“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.”
Spreading fast, this collective blindness is now frightening the authorities and must be dealt with: a large group of blind people and possibly infected ones – those who had any contact with the first group – have now been put in quarantine until second order. Living conditions start to degrade as the isolated population grows bigger, there is no organization, basic medicine is a luxury not allowed in and hygiene is nowhere to be found. To complicate things further, an armed clique acquires control and power, forcing the subjugated to pay for food in any way they can. The scenes that follow are extremely unpleasant to read, but at the same time they’re so realistic that you can’t be mad at Saramago for writing such severe events packed with violence that include rapes and murders.
“The difficult thing isn’t living with other people, it’s understanding them.”
Contrasting with this dystopian desolation, there is some solidarity and compassion in the form of one character: the doctor’s wife. The only one in the asylum who miraculously is still able to see, she takes care of her husband and of those who became her new family: the girl with the dark glasses, the boy with the squint, the old man with the black eye patch, the first blind man and the first blind man’s wife – the characters’ names are never mentioned, which is an interesting choice the author made.
When we think of someone, when we hear their name, we always conjure an image in our head; a picture is formed before our eyes. Here we are with a bunch of people who no longer can rely on their sight so, in not giving them names, Saramago also puts us in the dark, forcing us to rely instead on personal characteristics and descriptions given to conjure these characters ourselves.
“Perhaps only in a world of the blind will things be what they truly are.”
After an uprising, folks find out the asylum has been abandoned by the army who was until then responsible for it and they’re able to leave. Realizing that what they went through in quarantine was only a detail in the huge landscape, now we follow our protagonists as they wander through the city in search of better conditions: water, food, clothes, a way to find their homes and their relatives.
Talking about writing style of Blindness by Jose Saramago, I should say that it may be a bit confusing at first due to the lack of punctuation; there are many long sentences and no quotation marks around dialogues. But in no time you’ll get used to his simplistic style – not in any way devoid of meaning or deepness – and you’ll realize that it actually adds to this reading experience as you’ll be going faster through the words; with fewer pauses and breaks, you’ll find yourself feeling suffocated and almost breathless, which will only add to the book’s atmosphere of urgency, anxiety and despair.
Film adaptation: There is a good film by Fernando Meirelles also called Blindness starring Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo and Gael García Bernal, released in 2008. While this adaptation isn’t as graphic and visceral as Saramago’s novel, it’s still worth seeing.