The blindness that suddenly and quickly takes hold of an entire population in Jose Saramago's novel, Blindness, is atypical in many ways. Most notably, those afflicted are not plunged into darkness; rather, all agree that they are floating in a sea of milky whiteness, unable to make out shapes or shadows but saved from the total black that typically defines medical blindness. It is clear that Saramago has carefully chosen to plague his characters with a strange and inexplicable white blindness. The vast bright white seen by the blind serves many purposes in the novel; it is an emblem, a metaphor, for the situation the blind have found themselves in, and their outlook towards the future. The all-encompassing whiteness is a shield that both protects the blind, and alienates them from one another. By choosing to cover his powerless characters in a veil of white, Saramago has hugely affected his narrative. This strange blindness shapes and expands upon the plight of the blind, and their relationship to one another.
[...] The reader follows the blind as they are thrown together, strangers, and loosely assemble themselves into a functioning society as the official government outside their quarantine collapses. The white blindness exposes and illuminates certain inalienable truths, about the characters we meet and the system they live under. This idea is first introduced by Saramago, through his narration. you say it came on all of a sudden, Yes, doctor, Like a light going out, More like a light going (Saramago 13). [...]
[...] The reaction to fear, then, is a truly instinctive and natural one; in response to fear, we fight to survive, and get past potentially hazardous situations. This is exactly the behavior we see in Blindness; if the quarantines were not afraid, if they accepted their situation passively, they would not have survived. It was a response to fear that transcended their despair and confusion and allowed them to find food and shelter, to continue searching for relief. While the 9/11 Commission Report portrays fear as something to overcome, it assumes that it is because of our fear that we must expand our imagination. [...]
[...] It is interesting that Saramago chose to make this plague contagious; while this further defies medical convention, it also draws a curious parallel between blindness and consequence. The newly blind seem fixated on the consequences of their actions; whether they obsess over them, or ignore them in favor of self-preservation, consequence is a major theme of the novel. “[B]efore every action, we begin by weighing up the consequences, thinking about them in earnest, first the immediate consequences, then the probable, then the possible, then the imaginable ones the good and evil resulting from our words and deeds go on apportioning themselves throughout all the days to follow” (Saramago 78). [...]
[...] A wide scope of vision is necessary to protect ourselves, and without this vision, we are vulnerable. “Hindsight can sometimes see the past clearly with 20/20 vision. But the path of what happened is so brightly lit that it places everything else more deeply into shadow” (9/11 339). Our view of the past directly affects how we perceive current and future events; the Commission Report makes it clear that our ability to carefully view things is the most valuable to ensure effective self-protection that we must work to obtain objective and clear vision. [...]
[...] accepted definitions of both temporary and permanent blindness, choosing instead to create a more mysterious, indefinable plague. Since this white blindness is unknown, it is incurable by medical science, perhaps not even fully physical. Saramago has carefully chosen the perplexed ophthalmologist we meet in the novel; he is able to lend credence to the idea that the white blindness is more than just a random, minor affliction. “What can this be, he had recovered his scientific outlook, the fact that agnosia and amaurosis are identified and defined with great precision in books and in practice, did not preclude the appearance of variations, mutations, if the word is appropriate, and that day seemed to have arrived” (Saramago 20). [...]
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