Allegory in Jose Saramago’s Blindness
The Nobel winning novelist Jose Saramago’s stories often take the shape of allegory, and in his novel Blindness he utilizes this technique on a universally grand scale. Most of the story takes place within a building where a group of two-hundred and forty blind people are being held captive. While trapped and struggling to survive, this group of people butts up against the primal drives for food, sex, pride, and power that sends their narrative into motion in ways that give this unique horror story a universal relation to the reader.
About halfway through the novel, Saramago is blatant in his structure of the allegory of the blind in the ward. The contamination ward is described much like a cave- it’s dark, the inhabitants are confined to their beds, and the presence of so many humans in one place drives each of them into despair while seeking a basic foundation to sustain their own lives. One resident is able to use her sight, however, and she eventually leads a small group of survivors through the exit of the ward. This structure is exactly the same as Plato’s allegory of the cave, in which the inhabitants are kept in darkness, chained to a wall, their gazes fixated on false shapes made by shadows. In the same way, Saramago’s group of blind are fixated by their immediate fear of survival- they are blind to the possibility of escape.
Saramago points out there are exactly two-hundred and forty residents in this ward. He then continues to segment this group into more definite fractions- a group of law-breakers, a group of fearful, a group of fearless- and he also characterizes them by profession and not by name- a doctor, the doctor’s wife, a whore, a boy recently separated from his mother, and another married couple with no distinct traits that act as a sort of control for the study of this group.
The story progresses so that the doctor’s wife, who keeps the secret that she is able to see, is the one that liberates the captives. This becomes a burden for her, but it also gives her a purpose. She is the only one that can give an advantage that leads to victory over the law-breaking group that steals the entire group’s food. She is the only person who can see there are no guards at the entrance of the ward. She is also the only person that can lead the surviving group to their homes upon escaping. Upon escaping, she is the only one that can see how the world has changed now that all of its residents are blind, and she strips naked in the rain during her realization of this new world as if being baptized. Each of her struggles are taken upon by her own will, and yet it is the curse of her eyesight that leads her to see these opportunities- she is only grateful for her eyesight for the fact that it allows her to lead others to safety. With this narrative, Saramago connects the story of Jesus Christ with that of the captive that breaks free and leads others to freedom from Plato’s Cave.
By segmenting the two-hundred and forty blind into obvious segments and characterizations, Saramago sets a stage for an experiment of universal meaning. He drives the blind captives to their lowest animal states and from there builds them up with the most basic tenants of human hope and tenacity. Along the way, he critiques the modern mindset to show that we haven’t changed as human beings since