LITERATURE: Blindness – Opening Thoughts on Conflict and Style

Saramago starts off the story in a familiar place, in traffic stopped at a red light. We begin to feel the restlessness of the drivers, the pedestrians, the anxiety that comes naturally with watching movement that at intervals, comes to a halt, bidden by a change of colored lights.

He then eases us into a conflict, that of one driver not moving at the change to green light. He gives us a list of possible reasons as he brings us closer to the car, the driver waving frantically. And then the moment:

(…) he is clearly shouting something, to judge by the movements of his mouth he appears to be repeating some words, not one word but three, as turns out to be the case when someone finally manages to open the door, I am blind. (p. 2)

Ah, so by page 2 we already understand the title of the novel. The anxiety we felt at the sudden inexplicable stop in flow of traffic that mimics the halt in what we've come to expect in reality, is released by being given the information.

But the story is just beginning, and we understand that, despite this one buildup of tension that is resolved; we know why, we know the answer. We move on to the next situation as it dawns on us.; the man cannot see to drive himself home and must depend upon a passerby to assist him. In the background looms the real tension: why did he suddenly go blind–and not just normal blind–but a whiteness instead of the blank slate of black we've understood blindness to be.

Okay, Saramago then leads us through the man's accustoming himself to his home environment while he waits for his wife to come home. There is a knocked-over vase of flowers that splinters and cuts him even as the hardwood floor is being damaged from the water. They call and make an emergency appointment with an opthamologist and discover that the Good Samaritan has in fact stolen the man's car. Plenty of action, plenty of tension and conflict, and plenty of emotional reaction as the man wonders what has happened and his relationship with his wife (loving) is seen through their movements.

Somehow we know that this story will not be a simple one for that one detail bothers us more than the horror of McCarthy's dark judge: why is his blindness white?

Saramago has also chosen to not only disregard quoted dialogue, but runs on his sentences into each other in a unique manner:

The doctor asked him, Has anything like this ever happened to you before, or something similar, No, doctor, I don't even use glasses. And you say it came on all of a sudden, Yes, doctor, Like a light going out, More like a light going on, During the last few days have you felt any difference in your eyesight, No, doctor, Is there…(p. 13)

While it is relatively easy to follow the dialogue and understand who is speaking, I wonder at the purpose other than to quicken the pace of the reading to follow a more realistic conversational pattern. Though Saramago handles it well, I dread thinking about what the copycat, less experienced writers will do with this style

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One Response to LITERATURE: Blindness – Opening Thoughts on Conflict and Style

  1. Creechman says:

    I too feel the restlessnes, the pedestrians, the anxiety, every morning, with three serious left turns on the way to work, in the dark.

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