The Blind Side

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Themes and Colors
Generosity Theme Icon
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LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Blind Side, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Generosity Theme Icon

At the heart of Michael Lewis’s book The Blind Side is a question: why would two rich parents, Sean Tuohy and Leigh Anne Tuohy, with two biological children of their own, adopt an impoverished inner-city teenager, Michael Oher, and lavish love and attention on him? Throughout the book, characters propose various cynical answers to this question: they suggest that the Tuohys are exploiting Michael for his football talents, or that they’re motivated by white guilt or pure condescension. Nevertheless, Lewis argues that sometimes things just are how they appear to be: the Tuohys treat Michael Oher generously because they’re extraordinarily generous people.

By examining the Tuohys’ relationship with their adopted child, Michael Oher, The Blind Side makes a series of interesting points about generosity, in effect, asking, “What is generosity?” From the beginning, the book suggests that people are generous to others because they recognize their common background. Sean Tuohy, a wealthy businessman and the basketball coach at Briarcrest Christian Academy, notices Michael Oher shortly after he enrolls, on scholarship, at the school; shortly afterwards, he arranges to pay for Michael’s lunches. Sean feels a need to help Michael out and give him encouragement and support, not just because he’s a nice guy but because Sean also came from an impoverished household and worked hard for his success, and had help from other people: he sees it as his duty to help out others in the position he was once in. The Blind Side further suggests that people are generous because they feel a more abstract, universal duty to help people in need—a duty that’s often rooted in religious conviction. Leigh Anne Tuohy—the woman who, probably more than anyone else, gives Michael Oher the love and support he needs to succeed—is a pious Christian; indeed, she says more than once that God has given her family money “to see how [we’re] going to handle it.” But even if extraordinary generosity is sometimes the product of a Christian background or of certain life experiences, it may also be an innate gift, which some people have and some people don’t. The well-to-do Memphis community in which The Blind Side is set is full of wealthy, Christian families, surely some of them headed by self-made millionaires, but only the Tuohys choose to help Michael Oher. Furthermore, the Tuohys choose to help Michael, rather than any number of other impoverished, lonely teenagers. In all, then, The Blind Side suggests that generosity is a mysterious, ineffable quality. Certain people feel a deep need to help certain other people, and sometimes they can’t explain why, exactly, they feel this need.

The Tuohys not only adopt Michael Oher; they also help him gain a first-rate football scholarship at their alma mater, University of Mississippi, give him endless love and support, and generally treat him like one of their own children. However, many people have criticized and questioned the Tuohys’ near-miraculous generosity. Some would argue that the Tuohys’ generosity is really just self-interest. In the final third of the book, for instance, the NCAA mounts a full-scale investigation of the Tuohys’ relationship with Michael, questioning whether they only adopted Michael to ensure that he would play football for their beloved alma mater, and whether they accepted bribes to pressure Michael to choose Mississippi. Furthermore, some readers of The Blind Side have interpreted the Tuohys’ treatment of Michael as condescending. They’ve argued that Sean and Leigh Anne chose to adopt a black, inner-city kid to assuage their sense of guilt with their own wealth and privilege, or that they treated Michael like a docile pet rather than respecting him as a mature, independent human being. Critics of the film version of The Blind Side took this argument even further, seeing the film as symptomatic of a “white savior complex” in Hollywood.

There is no explicit evidence in Michael Lewis’s book, however, to suggest that the Tuohys are motivated by anything other than benign generosity and a strong sense of duty to the unfortunate. Furthermore, the book shows how the Tuohys give Michael the tools he needs to become emotionally and financially independent, and live a mature adult life. As the book ends, the Tuohys are in the process of donating money to a foundation for inner-city teenagers, suggesting that they’re interested in helping others, not boosting their college. Ultimately, the Tuohys exhibit extraordinary generosity toward Michael, helping him become a talented NFL athlete and a confident young man.

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Generosity ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Generosity appears in each Chapter of The Blind Side. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Generosity Quotes in The Blind Side

Below you will find the important quotes in The Blind Side related to the theme of Generosity.
Chapter 3 Quotes

His name was Michael Oher, but everyone just called him “Big Mike.” Tony liked Big Mike, but he also could see that Big Mike was heading at warp speed toward a bad end. He’d just finished the ninth grade at a public school, but Tony very much doubted he’d be returning for the tenth. He seldom attended classes, and showed no talent or interest in school. “Big Mike was going to drop out,” said Big Tony. “And if he dropped out, he’d be like all his friends who dropped out: dead, in jail, or on the street selling drugs, just waiting to be dead or in jail.”

Related Characters: Tony Henderson / Big Tony (speaker), Michael Oher
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:

In Chapter Three, we’re introduced to Michael Oher, the protagonist of the book. Michael is a young teenager, living in the impoverished inner-city of Memphis, Tennessee. Although Michael doesn’t spend much time with his biological parents (and, in fact, has never met his biological father), a man named Big Tony takes care of him sometimes, largely out of concern that, without the right influences, Michael will end up involved in selling drugs or other criminal activities to which many people turn as a way of surviving.

The passage is important not only because it paints a bleak picture of life in American inner-cities (where crime and drug selling are often the only realistic way for young people to make a good living for themselves), but because it’s one of the only passages about Big Tony, the man who arranges for Michael Oher to attend Briarcrest Christian Academy, setting in motion the events of the book. The Blind Side—both the book and the Hollywood film adaptation—has been criticized for perpetuating the “white savior complex,” the trope in which heroic white characters (in this case, the Tuohy family) reach out to help a struggling non-white character (here, Michael Oher), when, so the argument goes, there should be more books and films about non-white people taking care of themselves, helping one another, and solving their own problems. The fact that Big Tony, in spite of his importance to Michael Oher’s success in life, plays a minimal role in the book could be interpreted as evidence for the white savior complex in The Blind Side—the book marginalizes the help that inner-city people give each other, and instead focuses on the help that wealthy white people give to black inner-city youths.

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But Mr. Simpson was new to the school, and this great football coach, Hugh Freeze, had phoned Simpson’s boss, the school president, a football fan, and made his pitch: This wasn’t a thing you did for the Briarcrest football team, Freeze had said, this was a thing you did because it was right! Briarcrest was this kid’s last chance! The president in turn had phoned Simpson and told him that if he felt right with it, he could admit the boy.

Related Characters: Michael Oher, Steve Simpson, Hugh Freeze
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:

In Chapter Three, we start to get a sense for the enormous importance of football in America, particularly in a Southern state like Tennessee. Millions of Americans watch football every week, and consider football an important part of their lives. Football is more than just entertainment on television: it represents a way for communities to celebrate themselves. For example, one could argue that when two high schools play a game of football with one another, they’re each fighting for their school’s honor and reputation.

Because football is so important in Memphis, Tennessee, it influences seemingly unrelated aspects of life, such as the educational system. Ordinarily, Michael Oher would have little to no chance of attending a school like Briarcrest, partly because he’s black and Briarcrest is a de facto white school, and partly because his grades and IQ scores are poor. However, Briarcrest admits Michael in large part because the school president loves football and wants Michael to play for the Briarcrest team.

By the time [Sean] met Big Mike, he had a new unofficial title: Life Guidance counselor to whatever black athlete stumbled into the Briarcrest Christian School. The black kids reminded him, in a funny way, of himself.

Sean knew what it meant to be the poor kid in a private school, because he’d been one himself.

Related Characters: Michael Oher, Sean Tuohy
Page Number: 62
Explanation and Analysis:

Sean Tuohy is the first person in the Tuohy family to take notice of Michael Oher, and in this passage, we begin to get a sense for why. Tuohy notices that Michael Oher is lonely, and has little in common with his Briarcrest peers—most of the students at Briarcrest, an elite private school, are white and come from wealthy families. Tuohy sympathizes with the feeling of being an outsider in a rich community, because he grew up very poor, and was almost always the poorest kid in his school. Even at the University of Mississippi, where Tuohy played basketball, Tuohy felt like an outsider because he could only afford to attend school on a sports scholarship, meaning that playing basketball was essentially a job for him, not a fun activity. In all, Tuohy is sympathetic to young people who are poorer than their peers, and who feel like outsiders. In the city of Memphis, where there is an enormous (and morally disgraceful) gap between the average wealth of white and black people, and where black people are often treated like second-class citizens, this in effect means that Tuohy is especially sympathetic to black people. Sean’s sense of a personal connection with Michael Oher thus leads him to befriend Michael, pay for his lunches, and, eventually, adopt Michael as his own son.

By the time Michael Oher arrived at Briarcrest, Leigh Anne Tuohy didn’t see anything odd or even awkward in taking him in hand. This boy was new; he had no clothes; he had no warm place to stay over Thanksgiving Break. For Lord’s sake, he was walking to school in the snow in shorts, when school was out of session, on the off-chance he could get into the gym and keep warm. Of course she took him out and bought him some clothes. It struck others as perhaps a bit aggressively philanthropic; for Leigh Anne, clothing a child was just what you did if you had the resources. She had done this sort of thing before, and would do it again. “God gives people money to see how you’re going to handle it,” she said. And she intended to prove she knew how to handle it.

Related Characters: Leigh Anne Tuohy (speaker), Michael Oher
Page Number: 68
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Leigh Anne helps Michael Oher to a degree that many other people would find strange. After seeing that he’s an impoverished, lonely student, Leigh Anne buys Michael clothes and food, and gives him far more love and attention than he’s used to receiving.

A natural question would be, why does Leigh Anne treat Michael so kindly? But in a way, the passage suggests that this is the wrong question—in the sense that it would be wrong to second-guess Leigh Anne’s generosity. Leigh Anne’s peers think that she’s too “aggressively philanthropic,” and later on in the book, the NCAA accuses Leigh Anne of being nice to Michael to ensure that he’d play football for her alma mater. Furthermore, readers of The Blind Side have accused the Tuohys of being condescending toward Michael. While there might be some truth in such an accusation, perhaps it’s not right to immediately assume the worst of Leigh Anne Tuohy. Leigh Anne seems to be a sincere, pious woman, who thinks that, as a prosperous person, it’s her duty to spend her time and money helping others. The better question, indeed, might be why more wealthy people don’t use their money to help those who are less fortunate, particularly as both wealth and poverty are often a matter of luck rather than merit.

Chapter 6 Quotes

She’d been taking care of his material needs for a good year and a half, and his emotional ones, to the extent he wanted them taken care of, for almost as long. “I love him as if I birthed him,” she said. About the hundredth time someone asked her how she handled his sexual urges, Leigh Anne snapped. “You just need to mind your own business. You worry about your life and I’ll worry about mine,” she’d said. Word must have gotten around because after that no one asked.

Related Characters: Leigh Anne Tuohy (speaker), Michael Oher
Page Number: 146
Explanation and Analysis:

Leigh Anne plays an increasingly important role in Michael Oher’s life: where before she bought him food and clothing, she now provides him with a home and round-the-clock love and support. However, instead of praising Leigh Anne for her extraordinary generosity, some of Leigh Anne’s friends question the new living situation. They wonder how Leigh Anne can trust Michael Oher around her beautiful teenaged daughter, Collins.

It’s easy to detect a racist side to Leigh Anne’s friends’ question: their confusion seems to reflect the racist trope of the aggressive, hyper-sexual black male. Leigh Anne’s response to her friends’ queries is simply that they should mind their own business instead of meddling in her own. Leigh Anne’s response shows that she respects and trusts Michael, and never believes him to be anything other than a kind, gentle young man.

Chapter 7 Quotes

With that, Sean Junior took off on a surprisingly insistent rap. He explained how important it was for him to be near Michael, and how concerned he was that once Michael committed himself to some big-time college football program, he’d become totally inaccessible. Then came the question: if Michael Oher agreed to play football for Ole Miss, what level of access would be granted to his little brother?

“How about we get you an all-access pass?” said the Ole Miss recruiter.

“That'd be good.”

Related Characters: Sean Tuohy Junior (speaker), Michael Oher
Page Number: 174
Explanation and Analysis:

In Chapter Seven, Michael begins the lengthy process of being wooed by various Division I colleges. Michael is one of the best football players in Tennessee, if not the country, and Division I schools want him to play football for their teams, bringing honor (and money!) to the program.

In order to stand the best chance of recruiting Michael, savvy football coaches and college recruiters go out of their ways to flatter him. The University of Mississippi recruiter further tries to impress Michael by currying favor with Michael’s beloved little brother, Sean Junior, promising him that he’ll be given a luxurious all-access pass to the University of Mississippi facilities. The lengths to which different coaches and recruiters will go for Michael’s sake illustrate not only Michael’s talents as an athlete, but the central importance of football for many colleges. Football is an important part of campus life at many schools and, quite frankly, a huge source of revenue.

Leigh Anne Tuohy was trying to do for one boy what economists had been trying to do, with little success, for less developed countries for the last fifty years. Kick him out of one growth path and onto another. Jump-start him. She had already satisfied his most basic needs: food, clothing, shelter, transportation, and health care. He had pouted for three days after she had taken him to get the vaccines he should have had as a child. It was amazing he hadn’t already died some nineteenth-century death from, say, the mumps. (When she tried to get him a flu shot the second year in a row, he said, “You white people are obsessed with that flu shot. You don’t need one every year.”) Now she was moving on to what she interpreted as his cultural deficiencies.

Related Characters: Michael Oher (speaker), Leigh Anne Tuohy
Page Number: 176
Explanation and Analysis:

In this ambiguous passage, we learn about how Leigh Anne tries to educate Michael Oher and help him become a mature adult. Leigh Anne believes that it’s her responsibility to help Michael transcend his impoverished background, both by providing for all his material needs, and by helping him learn how to appreciate the finer things in life. As we learn in the rest of the chapter, Leigh Anne takes Michael to nice restaurants and teaches him how to order food and read a wine list. She also takes him to fancy stores and buys him beautiful suits. Michael Lewis compares Leigh Anne’s actions to those of an economist who tries to help a third world country develop into a thriving industrialized nation: both by giving the nation basic material help (providing food and other necessities) and by giving the nation a strong culture.

The passage is exemplary of much that is admirable about Leigh Anne’s approach: her goal is nothing less than to help Michael Oher grow into a mature, respectable adult. However, when it comes to Michael’s “cultural deficiencies,” it could be argued that Leigh Anne is drawing Michael even further away from the realities of the average American’s life than Michael was when he lived an impoverished life in the inner-city. Similarly, one could argue that Leigh Anne isn’t really helping Michael become an independent adult at all—she’s just spoiling him and perpetuating his dependence on her.

Leigh Anne listened to the doctors discuss how bizarrely lucky Sean Junior had been in his collision with the airbag. Then she went back home and relayed the conversation to Michael, who held out his arm. An ugly burn mark ran right down the fearsome length of it. “I stopped it,” he said.

Related Characters: Michael Oher (speaker), Leigh Anne Tuohy, Sean Tuohy Junior
Page Number: 180
Explanation and Analysis:

In this touching passage, Michael Oher has been in a car accident with Sean Junior, and Sean Junior is covered in blood. It ultimately becomes clear that Sean Junior is fine—although he’s bleeding, he didn’t break any bones or even lose teeth. Indeed, the doctors are surprised that Sean Junior is basically unharmed. Only afterwards does Leigh Anne discover what happened: the reason that Sean Junior wasn’t hurt more seriously is that Michael reached out his hand to protect Sean Junior from the force of the air bag.

Michael Oher is an extraordinarily kind, gentle person, and he feels an instinctive need to protect the people he cares about, even if doing so means hurting himself. Michael’s protective instincts also come in handy during football games: the same instinct that leads him to reach out his hand to protect Sean Junior also helps him to excel at protecting the quarterback during football plays.

Chapter 12 Quotes

Then and there Leigh Anne made a decision: she wasn't finished. “I want a building,” she said. “We're going to open a foundation that’s only going to help out kids with athletic ability who don't have the academics to go to college. Screw the NCAA. I don't care what people say. I don't care if they say we're only interested in them because they're good at sports. Sports is all we know about. And there are hundreds of kids in Memphis alone with this story.”

Related Characters: Leigh Anne Tuohy (speaker)
Page Number: 323-324
Explanation and Analysis:

After Michael Oher goes to school at the University of Mississippi, Leigh Anne Tuohy and her husband come under criticism for allegedly manipulating Michael into attending their alma mater; there are even some who say that Leigh Anne and Sean adopted Michael entirely because they wanted to recruit a good athlete for their college. But at least as Lewis portrays the story, such an accusation appears entirely false. Leigh Anne is seemingly motivated by genuine love and compassion for Michael, and for other impoverished Memphis youths as well. And in this passage, we see the full extent of Leigh Anne’s generosity: she wants to open a center to help talented inner-city athletes bring up their grades, so that they can go to college too.

Leigh Anne is single-minded in her quest to help the unfortunate. She acknowledges that some people might say there are better ways for her to spend her money than on a sports foundation—however, she insists, “sports is all we know,” perhaps suggesting that sports, regardless of whether it’s truly important or not, represent a subject that Leigh Anne and her husband know a lot about, and therefore are an excellent way for them to give to charity. In all, the passage is exemplary of what makes Leigh Anne such a compelling character: while some aspects of her character might be distasteful or annoying to people (her Republican beliefs, her Christianity, her love for sports), it’s hard to argue that she’s an exceptionally moral woman who feels a genuine sense of duty to help others, and actually puts her beliefs into action.