"Only the blind are free": Sight and Blindness in Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin

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Title: "Only the blind are free": Sight and Blindness in Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin
Author: Lin, Michelle H
Advisors: Barbara Bennett, Committee Member
Leila May, Committee Co-Chair
Deborah Hooker, Committee Co-Chair
Abstract: Sight plays a pivotal role in Margaret Atwood's Booker Prize-winning novel, The Blind Assassin (2001). Sight and blindness are manifested on multiple levels, with multiple implications, within the intertwining narratives of the novel. The novel's treatment of sight, however, is largely negative, mirroring the increasingly ocularphobic discourse (particularly that in France) during the twentieth century. This discourse challenged the reliability and validity of sight and perception, as well as the ideologies based on a visual conception of the world. In the novel, treatment of sight can be separated into three categories: unreliability of sight, fear and mistrust of sight, and blindness as the ultimate solution to the problems posed by sight. Chapter 1 studies the use of photographs and mirrors in the novel in order to expose the deficiencies of sight: sight is not reliable because it is subjective and because the visual does not represent fully the human mind or experience. Another mechanism that undermines sight is discussed in Chapter 2, which examines four scopic structures that are employed in order to establish a fear and mistrust of sight in the novel. These four scopic structures include the gaze of the absent mother/father, God, the Panopticon, and the lover. Sight is not only unreliable, but it is also something to be feared, even when the look emanates from a supposedly benign subject. Like many French ocularphobic theorists, the novel refuses to posit neither the restoration of nor an alternative to sight. Blindness is the novel's ultimate solution to the deficiencies of and imprisonment in a sight-based world. The blind carpet-weavers believe that only the blind are free, a conclusion that Iris ultimately agrees with. Despite the disastrous consequences produced by her blindness, Iris prefers blindness because it is, she says, what ultimately allows us to live. Iris' preference for blindness, however, is based on aconfused definition of sight. However, she is correct in her conclusion that blindness enables us to live, to make mistakes, because it is from these mistakes where the trajectories and stories of our lives take shape.
Date: 2005-03-31
Degree: MA
Discipline: English
URI: http://www.lib.ncsu.edu/resolver/1840.16/2730

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