Monday, April 02, 2007

Reader's Diary #250- Jose Saramago: Blindness (up to

(One last post before my flight!)

One of the blurbs on the back of the book, from The Washington Post, says it is "one that is unafraid to face all of the horrors of the century." For a while I was thinking that I wasn't the only one given to hyperbole when it comes to Blindness. But now I think perhaps they weren't far off the mark.

I've mentioned that parallels to concentration camps could be made, and while that still holds, I think Saramago had more in mind. Instead of focusing heavily on the outside/inside or seeing/blind divisions, he instead focused almost entirely on the dynamics of the blind inmate population. Separated by the wings of the mental hospital, each wing seems to become its own little community, but with no real difference than the others. Except that one wing has a gun.

The threat of that single weapon, wielded by a group of blind men, is enough to create a brand new dynamic. The men with the gun soon use it to their advantage and pleasure. First they take over the food and demand that everyone else sacrifice their valuables if they want food. Needless to say, the valuables are few and soon run out. But then they think of a resource that can be exploited indefinitely: women. It gets pretty graphic and ugly from here on in.

Despite the interesting aspect of the blindness, that its victims see all white instead of black, I don't think Saramago was painting a black and white picture of evil. I do think he was making a great point about how easily evil acts are committed when the victims cannot be seen. While he has the two groups (those with the weapon and those without it) living in close proximity, it's not a far stretch to see how it can be applied to the Earth at large. We know kids are making our shoes, we know migrant workers are losing limbs to make our hamburgers, we know coffee growers are being exploited to the point of poverty, etc. Still, we hold the power and cannot see them, so we continue. I was shocked by the behaviour of the men in this book and initially wanted to write them off as monsters, monsters who are in the minority in the real world. But I'm starting to fear that all Saramago did was give us a condensed version of the real world. Bleak yes, but I think there are aspects of hope. I'll get into that later.

Saramago is however, careful not to preach. Still, the questions about humanity that can arise from this book, make it invaluable. If I could afford it, I'd buy you all a copy.


Allison said...

As we were discussing in your previous post about this book, it sounds very much like this novel is destined to become a classic, and parallels to Lord of the Flies spring to mind especially.

I think with books of this nature are so shocking because (for the most part) they are right about the world. Perhaps a bleak outlook, as you mention but people would not be writing (or reading one could argue) if hope was underlying somewhere.

So, basically I'm in Oh, and I should mention I purchased this book on the weekend, as I was so enthralled from the last post. Hoping to dive into it soon. Enjoy your trip, and safe travels!!

John Mutford said...

Allison, Glad I influenced your reading! Except that now I'm nervous I've built it up too much. Ooops. If so, you can hunt me down.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Wow, John. I have never heard you express such sentiments about a book before. It obviously had a powerful impact upon you, and from reading your reviews, I would have to agree that the book seems destined to become a classic.

I plan to read this next, I think.

John Mutford said...

Barbara, If you hate it, you'll still visit my blog, right?