Blindness Study Guide

In this 1998 book by Nobel Prize winner José Saramago, an unnamed city is beset by an epidemic of the "white sickness," a disease that instantly turns everyone blind. Everyone, that is, except for one woman. The novel follows the story of seven people who are quarantined along with 300 other people in an abandoned madhouse. These seven are forced to band together in order to survive not only the horrors of living in a blind world, but also the most base elements of humanity that take hold in the quarantine. Once out of the quarantine the band must now try to make their way in a completely blind city, where humanity has all but descended into animal chaos. Only through the help of the one woman who has miraculously been saved her sight is the band able to hold on to some shred of humanity and recognize what it is to be human.

Blindness was first published as Ensaio sobre a cegueira in Portugal in 1995. The English translation was released in 1998. This book has been Saramago's most widely read book, partly because of the 2008 release of the movie, directed by Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles, based on novel. Blindness comprises the first half of a two part series of "essays" (the original Portuguese title translates as Essay on Blindness). The second one has not seen a theatrical release, but has published in translation as Seeing.

Blindness has a number of stylistic elements that are characteristic of Saramago's work. Firstly, the premise of his book is somewhat fantastic. In the novel, the entirety of society is stricken by an epidemic of blindness that turns everyone's field of vision into a milky white as opposed to the usual black. No amount of quarantining, disinfecting or vaccines can stop the spread of the disease–many citizens think that it is spread by eye contact. Secondly, Saramago avoids the use of personal pronouns of any kind. This gives the novel a sense of floating without any concrete reference to reality. Finally, Saramago refuses to use quotation marks or dialogue attribution, meaning that it is difficult to determine who is speaking at times. This helps sustain the disoriented tone of the novel.