In Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex (429 BC), Oedipus suffers from a tragic lack of self-awareness and foresight, leading him to accidentally fulfill a prophecy that he will kill his father and marry his mother. Throughout the play, Sophocles invokes imagery related to light and sight, but on discovering that he has unknowingly fulfilled the prophecy, he blinds himself in despair. As this narrative shows, when an author includes a blind character, this blindness is never simply a fact—it always has symbolic significance. Oedipus Rex is a perfect example of the meaning(s) that blindness can have, and it can demonstrate how “to look for the right questions” when reading literature.
The symbolic trope of blindness plays on the same subversion of expectations as the journey to an exotic place that leads to self-discovery. In each case, characters look to the wrong place for knowledge (or do not look at all). Only an extreme change of circumstances—arrival in a foreign land, or the sudden onset of blindness—allows them to “see” and understand the landscape of their own consciousness.
Foster claims that although only some narratives contain literal blindness, all texts feature metaphoric representations of sight and blindness. We know that a characteristic such as blindness is important when it is introduced early. While there are exceptions to this rule (in Waiting for Godot, the blind character does not appear until Act 2), in general authors will draw particular attention to blind characters if they wish blindness to have major symbolic importance within the text.
Once again, Foster determines whether a component in a text is important by viewing the text structurally. Given the fact that almost all literature features issues of sight, self-knowledge, and the lack thereof, a structural interpretation is necessary in order to distinguish the relative weight that these themes are given within a text.