The symbol of Blindness and Joll’s Sunglasses in Waiting for the Barbarians from LitCharts | The creators of SparkNotes

Waiting for the Barbarians

Blindness and Joll’s Sunglasses Symbol Analysis

Blindness and Joll’s Sunglasses Symbol Icon

The idea of blindness is expressed both by Colonel Joll’s sunglasses and the barbarian girl’s damaged eyes. In the case of Colonel Joll, his sunglasses ironically suggest his willingness to put blinders up to the truth—the reality of the Empire’s corruption and the harmlessness of the nomadic people. Though he claims to seek the truth and to have special abilities in obtaining it, his use of torture largely manufactures the responses of his interrogation victims such that they ultimately agree with his own hypotheses and preconceptions. Joll is, therefore, fundamentally blind to the truth, and willfully so.

In the case of the barbarian girl, whose (partial) blindness was caused by Joll’s torture tactics, her lack of sight actually illuminates the truth of the magistrate’s somewhat perverted way of relating to her. The opacity of her eyes—eyes which cannot fully take the magistrate in—reflect back to the magistrate his own desire, the truth of his own sexuality. Unable to recognize and register it, the girl’s blindness makes the magistrate aware of part of his sexuality which heretofore has gone undiscovered: the fact that it stems wholly from within him, but is itself an eerily foreign, monstrous force that controls him. The girl’s blindness therefore reveals the magistrate’s own blindness.

Blindness and Joll’s Sunglasses Quotes in Waiting for the Barbarians

The Waiting for the Barbarians quotes below all refer to the symbol of Blindness and Joll’s Sunglasses. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Empire and Fear of the Other Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin Books edition of Waiting for the Barbarians published in 2010.
Chapter 2 Quotes

“I have hitherto liked to think that she cannot fail to see me as a man in the grip of a passion, however perverted and obscure that passion may be, that in the bated silences which make up so much of our intercourse she cannot but feel my gaze pressing in upon her with the weight of a body. I prefer not to dwell on the possibility that what a barbarian upbringing teaches a girl may be not to accommodate a man’s every whim, including the whim of neglect, but to see sexual passion, whether in horse or goat or man or woman, as a simple fact of life with the clearest of means and the clearest of ends; so that the confused actions of an aging foreigner who picks her up off the streets and installs her in his apartment so that he can now kiss her feet, now browbeat her, now anoint her with exotic oils, now ignore her, now sleep in her arms all night, now moodily sleep apart, may seem nothing but evidences of impotence, indecisiveness, alienation from his own desires.”

Related Characters: The Magistrate (speaker), The Barbarian Girl
Page Number: 63-4
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 3 Quotes

“ . . . it has not escaped me that in bed in the dark the marks her torturers have left upon her, the twisted feet, the half-blind eyes, are easily forgotten. Is it then the case that it is the woman I want, that my pleasure in her is spoiled until these marks on her are erased and she is restored to herself; or is it the case (I am not stupid, let me say these things) that it is the marks on her which drew me to her but which, to my disappointment, I find, do not go deep enough? Too much or too little: is it she I want or the traces of a history her body bears?”

Related Characters: The Magistrate (speaker), The Barbarian Girl
Page Number: 73
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 4 Quotes

“Nevertheless, I should never have allowed the gates of the town to be opened to people who assert that there are higher considerations than those of decency. They exposed her father to her naked and made him quiver with pain; they hurt her and he could not stop them (on a day I spent occupied with the ledgers in my office). Thereafter she was no longer fully human, sister to all of us. Certain sympathies died, certain movements of the heart became no longer possible to her. I, too, if I live long enough in this cell with its ghosts not only of the father and the daughter but of the man who even by lamplight did not remove the black discs from his eyes and the subordinate whose work it was to keep the brazier fed, will be touched with the contagion and turned into a creature that believes in nothing.”

Page Number: 94
Explanation and Analysis:
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Blindness and Joll’s Sunglasses Symbol Timeline in Waiting for the Barbarians

The timeline below shows where the symbol Blindness and Joll’s Sunglasses appears in Waiting for the Barbarians. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
The Empire and Fear of the Other Theme Icon
History and Time Theme Icon
...magistrate and Colonel Joll; the magistrate narrates, beginning the novel with a comment on Joll’s sunglasses—he’s never seen anything like them, and wonders if Joll is blind. The two, meeting at... (full context)
The Empire and Fear of the Other Theme Icon
Torture, Inhumanity, and Civility Theme Icon
Independence, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
...why the boy is staring, the magistrate tells Joll that the boy has probably never seen sunglasses before, and must think Joll is a blind man. He smiles, but notes that... (full context)
Torture, Inhumanity, and Civility Theme Icon
Truth, Power, and Recorded Reputation Theme Icon
Independence, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
...meeting he has with Joll in his office back at the barracks. Wearing his “ dark eyeshades ” indoors, Joll tells the magistrate that he’s leaving, that he’s completed his “inquiries” for... (full context)
The Empire and Fear of the Other Theme Icon
Torture, Inhumanity, and Civility Theme Icon
Truth, Power, and Recorded Reputation Theme Icon
History and Time Theme Icon
Independence, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
...guards to start cleaning. He mentions that, as the prisoners emerge into the daylight, they shield their eyes , and one woman in particular has to be helped—though she is young, she constantly... (full context)
Chapter 2
The Empire and Fear of the Other Theme Icon
Torture, Inhumanity, and Civility Theme Icon
Truth, Power, and Recorded Reputation Theme Icon
History and Time Theme Icon
...Joll brought in, but she was left behind the others. Further, he says that she’s blind. Several days later, after seeing the woman walking across the town square with two sticks... (full context)
Torture, Inhumanity, and Civility Theme Icon
Truth, Power, and Recorded Reputation Theme Icon
...presumably the next day; he watches the barbarian girl eat, still unconvinced that she can see. The girl explains that, while she can’t see out of the center of her eyes,... (full context)
The Empire and Fear of the Other Theme Icon
Torture, Inhumanity, and Civility Theme Icon
Sexuality, Anxiety, and Old Age Theme Icon
History and Time Theme Icon
...week since any words have passed between them. He says that, because of the girl’s poor vision , he can undress before her without embarrassment, baring the body of which he’s not... (full context)
Torture, Inhumanity, and Civility Theme Icon
Truth, Power, and Recorded Reputation Theme Icon
Independence, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
...admits that he knew the girl’s feet were broken, but didn’t find out about her blindness until a while afterwards. The other guard doesn’t add anything, and the magistrate tells the... (full context)
Torture, Inhumanity, and Civility Theme Icon
Sexuality, Anxiety, and Old Age Theme Icon
Truth, Power, and Recorded Reputation Theme Icon
...the girl decides to finally inform the magistrate about how Joll and his torture assistants blinded her. She says that the men held her eyelids open and threatened to prick her... (full context)
The Empire and Fear of the Other Theme Icon
Torture, Inhumanity, and Civility Theme Icon
Sexuality, Anxiety, and Old Age Theme Icon
Truth, Power, and Recorded Reputation Theme Icon
...displayed in her features. He says to himself: “So this is what it is to see!” and the girl “smiles kindly on my [the magistrate’s] mumbling.” (full context)
Chapter 5
The Empire and Fear of the Other Theme Icon
Torture, Inhumanity, and Civility Theme Icon
Sexuality, Anxiety, and Old Age Theme Icon
...wanted to learn how to torture her, he should simply ask his “friend with the black eyes ,” Joll—and if he “had been in a position to understand her,” he “might have... (full context)
Chapter 6
History and Time Theme Icon
...town knows that their main irrigation pipe—the water-current of which is currently turned by a blind horse—could be cut at any time, and so they’ve already begun digging new wells. Also,... (full context)
Torture, Inhumanity, and Civility Theme Icon
Truth, Power, and Recorded Reputation Theme Icon
Independence, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
...the carriage seat and stares at him through the glass. The magistrate observes that Joll’s glasses are gone. (full context)