In Going Blind, Henry Lawson explores the themes of friendship, compassion, helplessness, respect and optimism. This short story was published in Henry Lawson’s collection “While the Billy Boils” in 1896. The story is narrated by an unnamed narrator who speaks about his association with Jack, a bushman he met in Sydney. Bush refers to the underdeveloped natural area or countryside area of Australia that is less arid and remote. Jack is soon going to become completely blind but remains hopeful that somehow, he can manage to live a respectful life.
While the Billy Boils includes stories like The Bush Undertaker and Settling on The Land, the summaries and analyses of which may be found in the link below:
Going Blind | Summary
While lodging at one of the boarding houses in Sydney, the narrator meets a man named Jack. Starting his narration he says “I MET him in the Full-and-Plenty Dining-rooms”. The boarding house is cramped, greasy and overall in pathetic conditions. The narrator describes that it was a place “for respectable single men” with “fifteen shillings per week.” He recalls that during that time he was a respectful man implying that now he isn’t doing well off financially. He describes Jack as “a typical bushman”.
The narrator strikes up a conversation with Jack. He sits on Jack’s bed and they exchange stories about each other. The narrator knows the district Jack is from and they talk about men they have met or heard of or men they have worked with and the jobs they have once had. They talked about “grubbing and fencing and digging and droving and shearing—all about the bush”. Jack tells him he’s deaf in one ear and most of his sight is gone too. He saw some doctors who only ruined his vision further. He admits being careless about it at the initial stage of his vision being affected. He can’t even see the colour of the wall or the ceiling properly. The narrator wishes to comfort him. Jack mentions his brother Joe, whom he hasn’t heard from in years.
Jack seems very optimistic as he thinks he can manage to work even in the worst of a situation like sheep wool sorting, as if with the loss of his sight, his hearing and sense of touch will become better. Jack mentions that he has a girl and requests the narrator to write a letter on his behalf but he gets no reply. Jack’s sight gets worse than before or as the narrator says his vision becomes a “sort of white blur”.
While the narrator goes away for a couple of days he comes back to find that the landlord has shifted Jack to the staircase landing. People brush past him and walk over his things. The narrator is upset over this mistreatment, it annoys the narrator and understandably so. He has built up a friendship in a small period of time with Jack and has Jack’s best interests at heart but Jack ensures him that it’s alright. The narrator finds Jack playing the concertina while staring into nothing. He wishes to help Jack but he can’t since his position is unfortunate as well. His appearance is poor and he hasn’t paid rent for the past week. Nobody with influence will listen to him.
Joe arrives. Joe loves his brother and he’s overprotective of Jack, he tries to help him in every little thing. He is in pain to see Jack’s suffering and he’s concerned. Jack makes jokes to ease the tension but Joe remains worried. Joe takes away Jack back to their hometown. The narrator and Jack share a long departing handshake.
Going Blind | Analysis
This story is narrated in the first person where the narrator is talking about his acquaintance with a man named Jack. Written with detailed descriptions of his surroundings the narrator emphasizes the importance of sight and how without vision we can become quite helpless.
The narrator and Jack enjoy each other’s company, while his health is degrading the compassion the narrator shows comforts Jack. The narrator takes care of Jack and does not treat him like a handicapped person. The narrator can see Jack’s helplessness and wishes to console him. He seems to have developed a friendship with Jack over a small period of time. The story focuses on Jack’s suffering; Jack can’t do things he used to do before as his vision is failing him. He can’t see properly and for the most part “a white blur” is all that appears before him. Jack knows that his life won’t be the same again and there is uncertainty in his future but he still tries to have faith in the future and remains optimistic.
There’s a chance that all his hope to remain productive and respectful may not come true but there’s nothing he can do anymore. He embraces his faith and uses humour to make people around him happy. His life is falling apart, even the girl stops sending him letters; maybe she realized that Jack is in a hopeless condition. Facing disregard and disdain from society he accepts people’s misbehaviour toward him and remains cheerful even in a dreadful situation.
The narrator and his brother Joe are the only people who treat him with care and respect. The story shows a string of connections between Jack, the narrator as well as Joe. The narrator is a good friend and Joe appears to be loving and protective of his brother. However, Jack is doomed to lose all his independence and becomes dependent on others.
Going Blind | Themes
The friendship the narrator and Jack develop in the short time is driven by compassion and understanding. Staying in the boarding house the narrator strikes an unexpected friendship with Jack. Their mutual connection to the bush enables them to have easy conversations. The bush connects them and they become good companions. Despite the fact that the narrator himself appears to be struggling with his own problems, he nonetheless devotes a lot of his time to Jack. The story reflects on human empathy and sensitivity, understanding people’s pain and supporting them through tough times just by being physically present with them, being a shoulder of support during his anguish. The five-minute-long handshake they share at the end reflects how much Jack appreciated the narrator’s companionship and the narrator’s fondness for Jack.
Helplessness and Optimism
Jack’s life is going downhill on a downward spiral with his options in life being limited but he still has hope. He is optimistic that even if the worst comes he can manage to live a respectful life somehow. He suggests he can sheer sheep as a new profession when he goes home. He believes that could help him practice and master his sense of touch that could be useful in his new job. He wants to live a productive and respectful life and doesn’t want to give in to despair. He doesn’t allow his ailment to make him weak, he doesn’t kneel before his problems but rather struggles each and every day to live a normal life. Being deaf and blind doesn’t make him any less determined. Despite his condition, he does not want to give up on life. He plays the concertina even if he can’t hear the sound properly or see anything ahead of him. This symbolizes hope, the hope of living a memorable, purposeful and productive life, a life that he created on his own even after being pushed to darkness by his ailments.
Going Blind | Character Sketch
Character of Jack
He is a courageous person who refuses to give up in life. He suffers from partial blindness and is soon going to become completely blind but he’s resilient about making things work. He rejects giving in to his blindness ensuring to live his life in some ways which turn out to be productive. He is mostly nostalgic about his memories of the bush and talks about his old life full of adventures. He knows people mistreat him because of his ailments but he doesn’t get mad at them. He accepts his terrible condition, looks forward to what life might bring him and tries to create opportunities for the limited options that he has in his life. He’s a fighter, whose optimism helps him survive one day at a time.
Character of the Narrator
The narrator is an empathetic and compassionate person who is sensitive toward other people’s suffering. The narrator is the epitome of kindness. Although he is also in bad condition himself, struggling with his poor financial condition, he goes out of his way to take care of Jack. He respects jack as a person and can understand his struggles. Despite Jack’s helpless condition he does not mistreat him or consider him inferior the case is the opposite when it comes to other people in the boarding house. Jack is mistreated and looked down on by those who walk over him whereas the narrator gives him a helping hand, as well as readers, get to see a beautiful friendship nurtured between him and Jack.
Going Blind | About the Author – Henry Lawson
Henry Lawson (1867 –1922) was an Australian writer and bush poet, often called the nation’s greatest short-story writer. He was a prominent figure in Australian literature and is also the literary father of Australia. Some of his other popular works include “The Drover’s Wife”, “On the Edge of a Plain”, and “The Union Buries Its Dead”. His short stories talk about isolation, hard work, close friendships etc often reflecting the lives of people who lived in the Australian Bush.