Blindness Summary & Study Guide
SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 65-page guide for “Blindness” by Jose Saramago includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 17 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Physical Versus Metaphorical Blindness and The Fragility of Society.
Blindness, the 1995 book by Portuguese author José Saramago, tells the story of a society that’s been struck by a virulent epidemic of blindness. This postmodern, apocalyptic novel was originally written in Portuguese, and was translated into English by Giovanni Pontiero with additional help from Margaret Jull Costa. When Saramago won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998, Blindness was listed as one of his qualifying works.
The plot of Blindness follows the onset—and the fallout—of a highly contagious epidemic that causes people to go completely blind. The first chapter opens on a traffic jam caused by a man who’s gone suddenly blind. A Good Samaritan drives him home—the blind man is now totally dependent on others. When the first blind man’s wife gets home and sees her husband’s predicament, she schedules an appointment with an ophthalmologist. The two take a taxi to the appointment because the Good Samaritan was actually a car thief who stole their car. After an examination, the doctor tells the first blind man, whose vision has gone completely white, that his eyes are biologically fine.
The next portion of the plot follows the contagion of the disease. The blindness—known as the “white sickness”—spreads to many of those who the first blind man had contact with, including the car thief, a girl wearing dark glasses in the ophthalmologist’s waiting room, and the doctor himself. The doctor soon realizes he is at the center of an epidemic. He tries to report it to the government, which does not initially believe him. When patients start showing up at local hospitals exhibiting the same “dazzling white” blindness, people start to take him more seriously. The government works swiftly to transport all the “infected,” who are now completely blind, to a quarantine facility in an old, rundown insane asylum. They also decide to move anyone who has had contact with the infected, now known as the “contaminated,” into the same facility.
Those in quarantine experience worsening conditions, and the doctor’s wife, who is immune to the disease, pretends to be blind so she can join the doctor in quarantine. People sleep in the hallways among excrement, and dead bodies go unburied for days. The delivery of rations becomes more erratic until everyone is unsure of when the next one will be. Armed guards begin shooting those who try to escape, and a gang of hoodlums forms that prevents resources from getting to those inside. At first, the hoodlums demand trades of valuables for food, but people soon run out of items to trade. The hoodlums begin to use force and demand that women have sex with them to receive medicine and food. Initially, the internees resist, but when the hoodlums start starving everyone, the women volunteer to sacrifice themselves for the greater good, and a series a gang rapes becomes the norm.
The doctor’s wife, who has found a pair of scissors in her belongings, decides to take matters into her own hands. She silently joins the next group of women, and as the men start raping them, she sneaks up behind the leader and slits his throat. Unfortunately, the hoodlums do not dissolve—instead, a “naturally” blind man seizes power and doubles down on their tyrannical rule. When an internee uprising against the hoodlums fails, all seems lost until one blind woman takes the initiative. She returns to the hoodlum’s ward, which they have barricaded off with mattresses. She pulls out her cigarette lighter and sets the mattresses on fire, which not only kills the hoodlums but manages to burn the asylum down in the process. Some of the blind escape, including most of the first ward. When they make it out of the building, they realize that there are no soldiers guarding the perimeter, and they make their escape.
The doctor’s wife leads her group into town to try and find supplies and shelter. All institutions are in ruins. Families have been separated and cannot find each other. The breakdown of society is almost complete. The group eventually settles into the doctor’s apartment, which seems to be one of the last clean spaces in the city. Unfortunately, the group’s supplies start to run out. The doctor’s wife, who has become the de facto leader of the group, decides to return to a supermarket she looted when the group first entered town. When she arrives at the supermarket with the doctor, there is no food left: In fact, all that the doctor’s wife finds are piles of dead bodies. The horror makes her ill, and her husband helps her to a church to recover, which is also filled with blind people. While there, she remarks that all the statues have their eyes covered with cloth, which causes a panic; people to flee the building. She and her husband scavenge leftover supplies, but they realize they will soon have to leave the city for the country if they hope to survive.
When they return to the flat that night, the doctor’s wife starts reading a story to everyone. The first blind man, who is lying down with his eyes shut, suddenly has his vision go from stark white to complete blackness. He cries out, “I am blind” (322), only to open his eyes and find his vision returned. The doctor hypothesizes that the disease has run its course, which is supported as other members of the group recover their vision. The doctor’s wife breaks down in relief, especially as the streets become filled with others who have recovered. The novel concludes with the doctor’s wife standing on her balcony, overlooking the city as the epidemic lifts.