I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.

Proverbs And False Comfort In Blindness

Jose Saramago’s novel Blindness is about… Saramago challenges the inherent morality of human nature by creating characters that ignore or abuse the advice given by sayings. Saramago illustrates how sayings can be used as a form of comfort in times that are confusing. When one does not follow the advice of others, he criticizes their use. He suggests that people should trust their own reasoning and not cling to a false morality. After the blindness epidemic hits, the characters find themselves in a new setting where the old proverbs and morals don’t apply anymore. The comfort of their fake ethics and logic is then lost. They learn to think critically, reconstruct reason using their original sayings, which gives them order, rationality and finally their sight. Saramago plunges the world into blindness, and he exposes the absurdity in characters’ reliance upon old proverbs. He demonstrates that people rely on the advice they hear to feel better, rather than using logic to determine their moral conclusions. Saramago differentiates between words and guidance to provide comfort, but not morality.

Saramago presents characters who use proverbs for moral comfort, but act imprudently. The car thief offers the help of a blind man to take his car home. He says: “Now, don’t think twice, it’s your turn today, tomorrow it’ll be mine, we never really know what lies in store 3). The car thief initially stated that he was trying to help the blind person at this moment, but he later took his car. This suggests that he felt a sense of righteousness and not necessarily having morality. “Today is your turn, tomorrow will become mine” often implies that one will do whatever it takes to benefit others in the future. Saramago shows the car thief that he does not follow this standard. Instead, he ignores its true meaning and steals the car. Saramago illustrates that the car thief does not have to be blind in order to steal the car. It doesn’t matter what circumstances you have, something that was once considered a disadvantage may turn out to be a benefit. A blind man would normally be considered disabled. But in a blind world, it is all he can do. Their point would not be relevant because everyone is blind. The speaker isn’t thinking rationally about their situation. He simply reflects on the past and adds a proverbial comment. People are struggling to live in blindness. They rely on their past experiences to guide them. This proverb is contradicted when someone says “If the one who gives the best part fails to get it, he or she’s either fool or dullard” (99). Everyone is now looking for information to help them, even if that information is not really helpful. The speaker replies directly to the speaker in the quote, intending comfort by placing the other down. Although the speaker of the quote is not the one actually sharing the food, he believes that everyone should share equally. Therefore, the insult of “a fool or dullard” is directed at him. This accusation is not a positive one. Yet, the attacker feels the need insult his temporary judgments and rationality by calling him “fool” as well as “dullard,” implying a boring personality and low intelligence. In this situation, the selfish desire to take advantage of others highlights the lacklustre logic and moral compass. The contradiction between these two sayings shows that proverbs are ineffective. Saramago demonstrates the importance of ethical and logical thinking by pointing out the ineffective insults that are used and the contradictory proverbs.

As the blind society develops, the main characters adjust to their new environment and work together to form their own morals through “proverbs”. This allows them to rebuild an organized society and eventually gain their sight back. Saramago is a great example of how logic can overcome human immorality. After some time in the ward, the mantra of the group is “If we can’t live completely like humans, let us do all that we can not live entirely as animals” (116). The doctor’s wife originally stated this to prevent society from falling apart. Although it may seem obvious, the main characters set a principle to live a better life and have some comfort. The group had a guideline to follow in almost all situations. This “proverb” would not have been possible before. Saramago shows that when we create rules for ourselves based on the situation, we use our rationality rather than relying on outdated or inapplicable advice. The doctor stated that fighting has been, more or lesser, a form blindness, when discussing the horrors the wife of the doctor witnessed in the ward. This isn’t an official proverb. However, it is a brief statement that has an undercurrent moral and qualifies for a saying. He maintains an ethics, and not only does he keep a standard of living. The doctor links “fighting” and “blindness to suggest that the individuals involved are too consumed with their own views to think rationally or see other points of view. Recognizing and accepting the consequences can reduce violence and help to build a stronger society. The doctor recognizes that whiteblindness isn’t a new phenomenon. It has been around for ages. This knowledge can lift the blindness in end. Saramago also shows how logically creating a moral code can help us become more perceptive. The use of proverbs to set standards fosters rational thinking, which in turn leads to more intelligent living and a better society.

Saramago shows that rationality is more important than ignorance. Proverbs are created by others to help them live their lives. Therefore, blindly repeating proverbs in different situations can make it seem more virtuous. Saramago exposes how merely repeating proverbs can lead to ineffective ethical organization. This facade is what ultimately falls apart when there is even the slightest shift. Humans must use their rationality and creativity to create organization once proverbs become redundant. Saramago demonstrates that logic and ethics can counter the natural dependence on outdated, unapplicable and misunderstood moral standards.


  • emmetthouse

    Emmett House is a 29 yo school teacher and blogger who is passionate about education. He has a vast amount of experience in the field and is always eager to share his insights with others. Emmett is a dedicated teacher who truly cares about his students' success. He is also an expert on using technology in the classroom, and is always looking for new ways to engage his students.

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