Blindness in contemporary fiction: a critical study and two stories

Horscroft, Jessica (1999) Blindness in contemporary fiction: a critical study and two stories. (MPhil thesis), Kingston University, .


This thesis is in two parts. The first part is a critical review of some contemporary writing, on the question of the representation of blindness. The second part consists of two original stories, written by the present author, and both with important characters who are blind. Little attention has been paid in this country to the question of the representation of blindness. No substantial critical work has been produced since 1955. Images of disablement, especially of blindness, have been popular in the history of literature. However, in the case of blindness, such depictions have tended to falsify the actual experience of being blind. Common stereotypes of blindness are involved, or blindness is employed as a metaphor, and stereotypical interpretations of blindness are assumed. In other words, blindness has most often been a source, and not a target of metaphor. Most often, the stereotypical connotations of blindness are negative. Part I contains seven chapters. The first reviews earlier critical work, by the blind American novelist and critic Jacob Twersky. The second reviews briefly some novels, both literary and popular, written over the last forty years, with a view to assessing whether or not there has been any change in the depiction of blind characters in fiction. Chapters 3, 4, 5 and 7 present extended analyses of novels in which blindness does function as a source of metaphor, but in innovative ways. Chapter six focuses upon non-fictional discussions of disablement, both theoretical and autobiographical. A contrast is drawn between the real experience of blindness and its usual fictional treatment. The conclusion is that only in a few novels can we find blindness used as a metaphor in an interestingly innovative way, and in even fewer works is the experience of blindness itself the subject, and taken as the target of metaphor rather than as a source. Part II consists of two original stories. They suggest how blindness, and the concerns of blind people, can be treated in fiction in a way that avoids using blindness as a metaphor for an unrelated subject, and avoids stereotypes of blindness.

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