Hawthorne’s “Country of the Blind” as Commentary on Scientific Progress

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I wrote the following essay for the MOOC Course “Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World.” This is a 10 week course in which we read (at least) one novel a week and submit a 270-320 word essay about that week’s readings.

This has been an interesting course for me in many ways.  I enrolled in it because I was intrigued with the logistics of teaching a MOOC course and wanted to see what it was like from the viewpoint of a student in the course.  I love reading science fiction and fantasy, so the content of the course was interesting to me. Even though I had previously read ~50% of the assigned readings for the course there were quite a few books on the reading list I had not been exposed to yet. However, I think the most educational component of the course so far has been learning how to analyze a book as a scholar from the humanities (literature, philosophy, rhetoric). Having been trained in both the hard sciences and the social sciences, it is an interesting approach to fiction for me though I do find that I still tend to write my essays from a hard/social sciences perspective.

The biggest challenge for me? Saying what I want to say in 270 – 320 words.  That isn’t even a page of text.  I have always had difficulty being concise and for every scholarly work  I have ever written, I have had to edit, edit, edit to fit within the specified page/word limits no matter what the length of the limit. This essay limit in the MOOC is testing my capacity to say what needs to be said and to back up what I say. I hope I am getting better about getting to the point. My essays consistently receive average marks though the peer reviewers also express enjoyment at reading what I have to say and commenting on the unique perspective I have taken.  Is that progress?  Probably not in terms of the final submitted product.  However, the time it takes me to write and then edit my product is shortening (though it still takes at least two hours).

See?  Here I go on and on again.  This is also why I don’t post as much as I should on my blogs. I have a lot to say which takes time to say it but time is something I don’t have a lot of.

Anyway, here is my essay on the H.G. Well’s story “The Country of the Blind.”

There are several correlates between events in the story “The Country of the Blind” and Galileo‘s battle against religious dogma that allows the interpretation of the story as one of a man of science trying to draw the common man out of the dark ages. For example, the blind countrymen believed that “there is a roof above the world,” which corresponds to the medieval belief that the solar system was contained within a sphere. The blind men are offended by Nunez’s suggestion that the rocky mountainside surrounding the valley is just a small part of a greater world. The same outrage met Galileo’s suggestions that the sun is the center of the solar system which is just a tiny part of a much greater galaxy.

Galileo refined the telescope to better see things that couldn’t be seen with the senses man was born with. These observations allowed a more accurate understanding of the workings of the universe. Similarly, Nunez’s eyes allowed him to see more than the blind men and, therefore, better understand the true nature of the world. However, the blind men didn’t have the perceptual tools allowing them to understand Nunez’s insights and their hostile reaction forced Nunez to recant his claims to stay alive just as Galileo was forced to recant his claims about the solar system to avoid execution. After recanting, Nunez was whipped and punished with serfdom for his beliefs about the heavens and sight just as Galileo was sentenced to lifelong house arrest.

Ultimately, the love Nunez has for the beauty of the world he sees around him, causes him to sacrifice love and life to experience the world as it really is. Though Galileo never reaffirmed his initial claims about the nature of our solar system, many scientists have sacrificed everything for the love of scientific inquiry.

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