One thing I say frequently – both in my life and on this blog – is the idea that blindness is viewed by the general public as simultaneously fascinating and repellant. Nowhere is this more on display than in mass media – books and movies in particular. Since my exposure to movies is limited by my own choice, I will simply address books in this blog.
I love to read journeys of those who have in some way or another come to terms with their blindness – whether from birth, genetic disorder,or accident – and still embrace life by enjoying family, athletic pursuits, or careers. I have mentioned a couple of them in previous posts, and have more on my to-read list. The one complaint I have about many of these books – written particularly by those who lose or have lost their vision gradually – is the anger and denial process. This might sound hypocritical, because we all have gone through it in some form or other, but I get so frustrated that the denial process includes all the thoughts of what blind people can and can’t do. Of course, there are blind people that can feed into all manner of stereotypes, but as someone who breaks the mold for many of them, it does raise my hackles. Who says losing your vision means you can’t get a job, marry, raise children, volunteer in the community? Unfortunately, because of the early sheltering that can sometimes suffocate a blind person for years, these ideas are hidden not far below the surface when a member of the general public thinks about blindness.
I have discovered several novels that have been published in the past couple of years that have either portrayed blindness realistically or otherwise. I will not name them here, because this list will change and grow. But what I do like about some of them is that they portray blind people with their own foibles – neither overly sheltered nor superhuman. I read one novel recently where one main character just happened to be blind; if she hadn’t been, the novel would’ve had a couple of minor changes to some dialogue, but the plot would have been unchanged. Another novel I read had a blind character whose blindness was integral to the story, but one plot line is being faced by blind people all over – the perception of their capability as a parent.
Conversely, I have read other novels with blind characters who either use their blindness as an excuse for being self-indulgent, arrogant, or reliant on other people. One book I read had a blind character who was in such denial about his blindness that he used echolocation to navigate, without the aid of a cane or a guide dog, and apparently nobody else knew he was blind. Another book involved the transition of a teenager into her family life after having been blinded in an accident; she relied heavily on others, and used her blindness as an excuse to take her pet dog to school with her even though he wasn’t trained as a guide dog. Both ends of the spectrum outlined here can do immeasurable damage to the perceptions of the blind, leaving the impression that we are either more or less independent, socially adept, or opportunistic than we really are.
While this is generally not my reading choice, many of my friends – both blind and sighted – are interested in this genre, and have mentioned their impressions of blind characters in this medium. “Daredevil” is probably the most famous character along this line, and most people don’t take his abilities seriously. However, I have come across people who ask if I can perform feats like Daredevil; only in my dreams!
Others have pointed out books written in a style where you don’t expect the characters to be portrayed with realism. I am not sure of my own opinions regarding this, because I prefer my characters to be real, whether they are sighted or blind; so I can’t offer an honest opinion not coloured by my perceptions of the genres.
I have read several books where a blind character was either blinded for a short period of time, then regained their sight, or had suddenly gained sight after a life of blindness. While it makes for great storytelling, it simplifies the rehabilitation of a newly blinded individual, which can bee intense, frustrating and demoralizing. With sight restoration, I personally believe it perpetuates the idea that blind people need to be “fixed.” While few of us are completely content with our blindness – it can be VERY inconvenient at times – most of us have grown to accept it as simply part of life. But the idea that blindness needs to be fixed or cured can be emotionally damaging to those who have not reached that point, or even to those of us who are having a bad day and are simply tired of feeling so different.
So, what are some of your recommendations for book with excellent portrayals of blind characters? What are some that set your teeth on edge because of their portrayal? I am curious!