In the middle of rush hour, in a nameless city, a man goes blind at an intersection. Suddenly struck blind, he flails and screams until someone takes pity on his situation and offers to drive him home. Once the good samaritan gets the blind man to his apartment, he offers to stay with him until the first blind man's wife arrives. The first blind man hurries him off and says that he will be fine.
Navigating blind in his own house, the first blind man knocks over a vase full of flowers and cuts himself. Despairingly, he bandages himself the best he can and falls asleep. When his wife arrives, she is first upset about the broken vase until she sees the blood and realizes that something is very wrong. Talking to her husband about his condition, she realizes that this blindness is even stranger, in that, instead of seeing nothing, he sees a milky whiteness everywhere he looks. She resolves to take him to the eye clinic as quickly as possible. Descending from their apartment, the first blind man's wife cannot find the car. They quickly realize that the good samaritan has stolen the car. Infuriated and discouraged, they take a taxi to the clinic.
Arriving at the clinic, they are hurried straight to the attending doctor, in front of an old man with cataracts, a boy with a squint and a young girl with conjunctivitis. After performing a series of tests, the doctor is completely baffled since the man's eyes show no sign of lesion or of damage, but he promises the man that he will contact his colleagues and do some research.
In the beginning of the novel, the main issues are put forth. The epidemic has no identifiable cause, nor known mode of transmission. Many themes that are present in the novel are anticipated in this first section. The epigraph of the novel also suggest an allegorical reading that is developed here.
Firstly, in the blindness of the first man we see a foreshadowing of the infrastructure breakdown that will grip the city after the spread of the white sickness. It is important that the first man struck blind is affected while in his car, an effect which will be repeated millions of times as the disease spreads. In this first moment of blindness, we also see the ambivalence of the people surrounding the blind man. This will be amplified later into the open antagonism of the quarantine and the shootings of the infected. The exploitation of the blind man's situation by the car thief is also indicative of the predatory nature of humanity that is stressed throughout the book.
Secondly, we see the importance of belonging and of the home when the blind man returns to his apartment not only to not recognize it, but to actually injure himself. This shows that even the home can become a place of danger very easily. It also reinforces the idea that will come later that "home" is not just a function of a physical place, but a function of belonging in general.
Thirdly, in this section we begin to see the impotence of medicine. In Blindness, medicine functions as a metonymy for the whole of modern life. Medicine is the discipline where all of the benefits of modernity are brought to bear on the most fundamental problems of human life. All of the other aspects of modern life, modern government, culture and economy, for example, are useless without life and without health. The fact that medicine fails, even in this small sense, shows the eminent failure of the entirety of the modern world.
The epigraph at the beginning of the novel is taken from the Book of Exhortations; "If you can see, look. If you can look, observe." This calls to mind a dominant theme in Western thought–the metaphorical connection between sight and understanding. In Plato's "Allegory of the Cave," captives are held in a cave unable to see anything but reflections of light from the outside world on the stone in front of them. This is meant to allegorize man's relationship to the world of the Platonic Forms and truth, of which we know only reflections and shadows. The blindness of the novel operates in this same allegorical vein, using blindness as a metaphor for ignorance. The blindness in the platonic allegory serves as a barrier to understanding just as the blindness in the novel is itself something incomprehensible – the doctors are baffled as to its cause, how it spreads and what can stop it. Blindness, in short, cannot contemplate itself – just as the ignorant in Plato's cave do not know that they live in a cave, ignorant even of their own ignorance.