Intercultural studies 

ANG 160 Fall 2005

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Short story-Country of the blind

(by Melinda Pepin)

Culture is defined as «the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively…» and «the customs, civilization and achievements of a particular time or people...» by the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. But isn’t it more complex than that? What about the language, the habits, the religion, isn’t all part of culture as well? Culture is a complex idea and a concept hard to define on its own, but it is even harder to define ones own culture. It becomes easier to define or explain it when in contact with another culture, because it is then possible to contrast and compare. “The Country of the Blind”, the short story written in 1911 by H.G. Wells, approaches this subject in a very interesting and real way. Even though it was written in 1911, it can still be called a contemporary story and can still apply to today’s relationships between cultures. Which brings me to question myself about this supposed growth and change of mind that we have come to in the last century. After the resume of this short story, the themes of this story will be looked at and a parallel with today will be discussed.

 

This story is about a man, Nunez, who comes to live in a secluded community that is called the Country of the Blind, after getting lost in the mountains, and having no place to go but there. This country, he will realize soon enough, has had a strange disease come over it ages ago that gave everybody blindness, and therefore all children born after this virus, were also blind. Being so isolated in the mountains, they never questioned it and always thought it had come over them because of sins (their belief system) and not because of infections, so no one looked for a remedy or an antidote. From that day on, they adapted their living to their blindness and never questioned it. So when Nunez arrives in their community, he is startled by the fact that these people are not seeking the help of doctors to cure their «condition». But as he tries to tell them, they can’t understand what he means, having never experienced sight, and having no words relating to this sense. They even think of him as a mad man, with all his talk about colors and texture for examples. So he decides to take it upon himself to teach them about colors and sight, but soon finds that it is no use. He stays there long enough to make friends and even falls in love with the chief’s daughter. But to marry this woman he was obliged to have the operation that would make him blind like everyone else. He said yes after thinking about his new love but when the time came for the operation, he started to think about things that he could see, such as the sunset, the sky, the sun, and decided he could never do it even if it meant losing his love, so he escaped from the Country of the Blind. He went through the mountains again, but being an extremely hard path, he died thinking about his decision and reflecting on his life and its meaning.

 

Curiously, this short story still touches subjects that are relevant today. It talks about racism, the fear of the unknown, the «Other», and ethnocentrisms. Racism comes from both parties, when the people from country of the blind think he is a mad man with all his seeing talk. On the other side, Nunez despises everything that they build therefore, he can’t help but notice the structures of the houses and the way they’re built; with no windows and patches of cement without any color uniformity. It can also be seen as ethnocentrism because both sides think that the other is crazy and that their way of living is much better than the other’s. Both sides don’t make any effort to understand the other one and instead of explaining to the other and trying to help each other, they try to make the other into something that they’re not: themselves. They both try to change the other’s way of life instead of embracing the differences and understanding that both sides has something good to offer. The blind people have the simplicity of life, the joy to live, love of life, and oral culture while the seeing man can offer them help by simplifying tasks through sight and reading abilities, to name just a few. Why do we feel the need to control and be the best in everything? Why do we feel the need to be superior even if we know deep down that we are not? These are questions that have been studied and still are today.

 

The choice of this text is a pretext to talk about today’s ethnocentrism and racism. As said earlier, it is really easy to make a parallel between this 1911 story and today. We are still very self-centered and ready to claim that our way of life is much better than other’s. We are still ready to criticize the Other, compare them to us and say that we are superior, more intelligent, more civilized, better people. Who are we to say such things? What gives someone the authority to say that his religion is much better, less fanatic or that we are civilized and the Other is barbarian? Because that is what we do in our every day life and that is what we have been doing for a long time. Look at the colonization of Canada and Quebec, the breach between French and English in Canada, the wars going on in the world today, aren’t those proofs that these issues of ethnocentricity, racism and superiority are still a part of our lives and concerns. The question remains though: why still think that way when we specifically know that nothing in this is scientific or that nothing has any real foundation apart from fear of the unknown and old misconceptions. Isn’t it time for a change?

 

After all, a story written in the early 1900’s is still very pertinent approaching issues such as racism, ethnocentricity and fear of the Other. The sad thing is that it is still pertinent and perhaps not questioned enough, but I guess it is comforting to think as ourselves as the better person and biggest person……

 

 

Work cited

 

http://www.litrix.com/cblind/cblin001.htm