A Man Who Had No Eyes Summary

MacKinlay Kantor

A Man Who Had No Eyes

  • Plot overview and analysis written by an experienced literary critic.
  • Full study guide for this title currently under development.
  • To be notified when we launch a full study guide, please contact us.

A Man Who Had No Eyes Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics. This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of A Man Who Had No Eyes by MacKinlay Kantor.

“A Man Who Had No Eyes” is a short story by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Benjamin MacKinlay Kantor. It was first published in The Monitor and follows two men who deal with their handicaps in very different ways, and what it means to let disability define you. Kantor was best known for his prolific novel writing, many of which are set during the American Civil War. He worked as war correspondent for a Los Angeles newspaper during World War II, and so he brought his own unique understanding of warfare and its consequences to his work.

The story opens with a blind beggar walking down the street. He’s got a walking cane which he uses very carefully to help him along the sidewalk. He’s carrying a bag and it looks like he’s trying to sell his wares. No one, however, pays much attention to him.

At the same time as he’s coming down the road, Mr. Parsons, a rich man, is leaving his hotel to get on with his day. It’s a beautiful spring morning and he’s feeling happy to be alive. When he sees the beggar walking towards him, he notices he’s blind and feels sorry for him. He’s sorry that the man can’t appreciate what a beautiful day it is because he can’t see the color of the sun on the pavement.

Mr. Parsons started out as a poorly-paid laborer but now he’s a successful businessman in the insurance sector. He’s proud of how he changed his life, at a young age, on his own without help from anyone else, but he doesn’t look for praise or sympathy. Although he feels sorry for the blind man, he’s busy and doesn’t want to attract his attention.

However, the man senses Mr. Parsons and turns around to talk to him. Mr. Parsons tries to excuse himself by saying he’s got an appointment. He offers the blind man money so that he’ll continue on his way. The man, however, tells Mr. Parsons that he’s not a beggar, which surprises him.

Instead, the man is selling a cigarette lighter for one dollar. Selling these lighters is how he makes any sort of money—as such, he’s proud not to call himself a beggar. Mr. Parsons, however, doesn’t want to be seen talking to him. They look so different—Mr. Parsons in his clean suit and the beggar in dirty clothes—and he’s unhappy when the beggar touches his hand. He tells the man he doesn’t smoke in the hope he can hand back the lighter and get on his way.

The man asks if he knows anyone who smokes who’d appreciate the lighter. He asks if Mr. Parsons wouldn’t mind helping him out because he’s trying to make his own way. Mr. Parsons suspects he won’t get away without buying the lighter and, in any case, he can easily afford it. He gives the man the dollar and can’t help but ask how blind the man is. He doesn’t want to be too curious, but he can’t help himself.

The man tells him he lost his sight 14 years ago in the Westbury disaster—a chemical explosion which no one talks about anymore, but which had profound consequences for the workers. This man doesn’t seem to have received any treatment or compensation for his injuries, although he’s more upset that everyone has forgotten about it.

However, as he tells his story, he gets angrier about the lack of care he received. He’s angry that, because he didn’t get injured in the war, he doesn’t qualify for special treatment. He tells Mr. Parsons that at least 50 workers lost their eyes like him, and 108 people died. He’s particularly angry that the business owners didn’t lose out because of their insurance.

When Mr. Parsons tries to interrupt, he goes on to explain how he lost his sight. He says that someone trampled him down to escape the C shop, where the explosion happened, and he ended up left behind. He assumes that the man got away and is living a good life now, while he’ll always be blind and left with nothing but this anger. Mr. Parsons, however, corrects the man at this point.

The beggar wonders how Mr. Parsons knows what he’s talking about. Mr. Parsons explains he was in fact also in the C shop, and the beggar trampled him to get out. When the beggar, who Mr. Parsons now calls Markwardt, argues, Mr. Parsons stands there and lets him shout. Markwardt admits he did stand on him, and it’s his fault Mr. Parsons didn’t get out of the shop, but he doesn’t care because he’s the one who’s blind.

Mr. Parsons interrupts at this point, however, to say he’s also blind, he just doesn’t make such a fuss about it. “A Man Who Had No Eyes” is a comment on how it’s our character, not our abilities, which define us, and how we choose to handle what happens in life.