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Blindness in literature

Different cultures through history have depicted blindness in a variety of ways; among the Greeks, for example, it was a punishment from the gods, for which the afflicted individual was often granted compensation in the form of artistic genius. Judeo-Christian literature positioned blindness as a flaw; only through a cure could God’s love be made manifest, when the scales would fall away from the eyes of an afflicted individual upon contact with a holy man or relic. Almost without exception in early literature, blind people could bring this condition down upon themselves through sin or trespasses against the gods, but were never the sole instruments of its reversal.

It is impossible to make a blanket generalization about how the blind were treated in literature beyond that point - they were marvelous, gifted, evil, malicious, ignorant, wise, helpless, innocent, or burdensome depending upon who wrote the story - except to say that blindness is perceived to be such a loss that it leaves an indelible mark on a person’s character.

Even pioneers in training the blind, such as Dorothy Harrison Eustis, harboured negative stereotypes about them. Blind people had, in her opinion, grown so accustomed to waiting on others as to be passive and 'whiney.'

Father Thomas Carroll, who founded the Carroll Centre for the Blind, wrote Blindness: What It Is, What It Does and How to Live with It in 1961. In it, he characterized blindness in terms of 20 losses, and as the ‘death’ of the sighted individual.

“In The Country of the Blind“, a book by H.G. Wells, is one of the most well-known stories featuring sightless characters. A sighted man finds himself in a country that has been isolated from the rest of the world for centuries, wherein all the inhabitants are blind even as their ancestors had been.

These people are depicted as self-sufficient, having developed their other senses, but they are ultimately closed-minded and insular to the point of xenophobia. As they themselves have no sight, they wish to deprive the traveler of his own eyes in this allegorical tale of stagnation. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blindness_in_literature [Jan 2006]

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