The novel has a simple and realistic storyline. A man sitting in his car suddenly goes blind at a busy traffic inter-section. All who come in contact with the unfortunate man - the man who escorts him to his home, the eye doctor, and the patients who were with him at the clinic - lose their sights one by one. When the matter is reported to the authorities, all these blind people are huddled together and quarantined in a wretched building that was once a lunatic asylum. The eye doctor's wife, who is inexplicably spared her sight, also sneaks into the building pretending blindness. A life of untold misery is in store for them. Once the internees succeed in finding their way back to the outside world, they confront the same pandemonium and horror, as, by then, the whole nation had gone blind.
Despite its apparently simple and eventful exterior, the novel stirs up strong feelings and leaves a powerful impact in the reader's psyche. The reader can never escape from an ever-present sense of foreboding. As the story progresses, his worst fears come true, and he declares resignedly, 'these are the workings of destiny, arcane mysteries' (p 117). The brutality of the armed soldiers guarding the inmates is more disturbing than the Orwellian images. The horror that surrounds the lives of the hapless inmates and the inhabitants of the doomed city, churns up the reader's innermost feelings violently. The vividness and the scale of squalor and waste inside the building and on the streets, conjure up visions of hell. The violent scenes inside the wards, created by the blind hoodlums, confound the reader's mind. This is murkier than the heart of darkness, despite one character's likening of his condition to 'living inside a luminous halo' (p 90).
Can man's fall from grace be reversed? Saramago provides the answer in the character of the doctor's wife, the only person with her sight in tact. She is the beacon light in the middle of this melee, like a guardian angel she guides her charges through thick and thin. She epitomises human spirit, which emerges triumphant at the end. 'Here we are all guilty and innocent' (p 96) she declares and goes on to show that blindness is not just living 'in a world where all hope is gone' (p 209).
The novel proves that appearances can be deceptive in the matters of human relationships, values, morality, and our social and political systems. Behind the veneer of civilisation lurks the animal instinct of man, always ready to pounce. In the struggle for survival, all the man-made systems go down like ninepins, leaving the individuals to fend for themselves.
BLINDNESS is a brilliant piece of work, born out of Saramago's profound compassion for fellow human-beings, his intimate knowledge of the social systems and a clear understanding of human values: all bye-products of a sagacity, which very few possess. The book will definitely endure.
BLINDNESS begins when a man in his car is waiting for a light to change. Before it does, however, he suddenly loses his sight completely. The blindness that has afflicted this poor driver is no "ordinary" blindness, however. Besides the speed with which it overtook him, it's a luminous whiteness rather than darkness.
The person who helps the man home is soon afflicted with the same blindness, himself, as is his wife and the doctor the first man consults. In fact, impossible as it sounds, this "white blindness" seems to be contagious and soon an entire group of people have been afflicted.
The blindness soon comes to be known as the "white sickness." Fearing an epidemic, officials round up those who have been affected and quarantine them in an empty mental hospital. This group consists of the first blind man, his wife, the doctor, the doctor's wife and three of the doctor's patients. The doctor's wife, however, for some unknown reason, hasn't lost her sight. She only pretends to do so so she can remain with her husband. As the book progresses, she not only becomes the "eyes" for the people in her group, she becomes the "eyes" for the reader as well.
As the hospital fills, it soon becomes clear that the quarantined victims weren't quarantined soon enough. The blindness is spreading like wildfire.
Inside the hospital, those afflicted have formed "groups" and each group is intent on protecting its own territory. As conditions deteriorate, so does the "humanity" of those quarantined. People steal food, others demand women be brought to them, arguments ensue and pools of urine and excrement accummulate. It's obvious that the blind have descended into more than a nightmare; they've descended into hell.
Trapped inside their luminous, white nightmare, most of the blind sink to the depths of despair and inhumanity. There are, however, a few acts of genuine kindness along the way to depravity and these few acts show the afflicted just how important "being human" really is.
BLINDNESS is a dark and chilling tale about a world that refuses to see. A world that "turns a blind eye" to the suffering and inhumanity of man. It's also a meditation (revelation, maybe) about the most primal instincts of mankind.
BLINDNESS is written in the trademark prose Saramago has made his own: The lack of punctuation (except for commas and periods), the sentences and paragraphs that go on for pages and pages. This prose seems to "fit" BLINDNESS better (at least to me) than any of Saramago's other books. The torrent of words seems to fit the rapidly deteriorating environment.
It doesn't give away anything of the plot to tell you that at the end of the book, Saramago does offer a world in chaos a ray of hope...in the form of a man who is truly blind.
BLINDNESS is a horrific book, but it is a book that is also filled with tremendous beauty. I think this is not only recommended reading for any serious reader, but reading that is required.
BLINDNESS is a masterpiece. A moving work of unbelievable power. THE WASHINGTON POST called it "an important book, one that is unafraid to face all the horrors of the (20th) century." But, let me call it "Saramago's personal gift to humanity," and let me explain why.
Reading it is like being guided, by something, familiar but distant, unknown. Our childhood perhaps? Our inner demon? Or maybe just Saramago deliberately guiding the reader? I laughed whilst reading the "rape scene", I honestly found it hillarious. The incorporation of all the bits-and-pieces didnt break my heart, I just found it too clinical, if not comical (The technique reminded me of that now-classic and misunderstood book AMERICAN PSYCHO, and Banville's THE BOOK OF EVIDENCE, though, for obvious reason, BLINDNESS is far more important than the two mentioned works).
I found myself laughing whilst reading the "rape scene". And after that, a moment of silence. I felt disgust. Of myself. I saw myself as a bystander of an unimaginable cruelty... and I just laughed.
The 'prisoners' fighting for their food I found quite comical as well, and many more. And I wonder whether the light-hearted treatment of these scenes are deliberate. Saramago saying, "Hey, the world is full of hatred, but what are you doing about it?" You're just laughing.
This is beautiful book. We should all give our politicians this book (or such book) for Christmas.