The world can be perceived in many different ways. The blind, the deaf, children, adults, teenagers, parents, all “see” the world in a different way. It is an author’s job to convey how he “sees” the world to his readers. Oliver Sacks does this quite well. Through his use of analogies and other rhetorical strategies, Oliver Sacks greatly enhances the reader’s view of a newly sighted man’s life and in turn, the reader’s view of the world. In the beginning of “To See and Not See,” by Oliver Sacks, the reader is introduced to the subject of the essay, a fifty-year-old man named Virgil, who has been blind from early childhood.
Virgil, at the urging of his fiancee, submits himself to a surgery that will help him regain his sight. When Sacks hears about Virgil’s case, he is immediately interested and wants to fly to Oklahoma to meet Virgil as soon as possible.
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Sacks had read of a few other cases, such as Valvo’s patient H. S. and Gregory’s patient S. B. , in which the subjects had a great deal of difficulty adjusting from the world of the blind to the world of sighted. It is Sacks’ intent to visit Virgil and “not just test Virgil, but to see how he managed in real life.
It was only later that Virgil explained that this feat was his “showpiece. They might have seen something totally different. In this essay, Sacks’ goal is to show the reader Virgil’s life and how he is adapting to the visual world. Reading the case studies of other doctors may have affected Sacks’ view of Virgil. Sacks recounts how Virgil interacts with the world while at the zoo, at a restaurant, and in his own home. Everything is “seen” in a different way by different people.
By reading about these other patients’ problems adapting to the seeing world, Sacks may have flown to Oklahoma to meet Virgil with several preconceptions about what he would find. Robert Coles states, “Events are filtered through a person’s awareness, itself not uninfluenced by a history of private experience” (177). Sacks compares Virgil to an infant, “moving his hand to and fro before his eyes, waggling his head, turning it this way and that,” as he explores the rooms of his house (127). He does this by leaving the clinical settings of hospitals and offices. So in a way, there is no “true” story.
When Sacks first steps off the plane, he begins observing Virgil, describing him as being “of medium height, but exceedingly fat” (116). This analogy is further enhanced by the image of Virgil concentrating on the “child’s wooden formboard, with large, simple blocks–square, triangle, circle, and rectangle” (Sacks 126). Oliver Sacks wrote a collection of narratives titled, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, we see the suffering of those with neurological diseases, their attempts to cope with these diseases and the conclusions that Sacks makes on their conditions.
Sacks is the physician in these narrative stories that tell about his studies of the person behind neurological deficits. Sacks’ interests are not only in the disease itself but also in the person. He writes these stories to teach the reader about the identity of the victims of neurological diseases. He describes the experience of the victim as he or she struggles to survive their disease. Oliver Sacks presents numerous stories where neurological disorders have completely impaired a person’s physical ability; the ability to remember, the ability to comprehend, the ability to speak and hear.
These patients, despite their losses, never lost their spiritual ability. The ability to rejoice, to appear spiritually fulfilled, was never lost, just hidden. An example of this was seen in “The Lost Mariner”. Jimmie had suffered from amnesia and could not remember anything for more than two minutes, except things that were 30 years old. Jimmie had no continuity, no reality. He lived in the eighties, but his mind was in the thirties. Jimmie would erupt in panic attacks of confusion and disbelief, only to forget them a few minutes later.
After frequent visits with Dr. Sacks, however, Jimmie began to find some continuity, some reality, in what Dr. Sacks referred to as “absoluteness of spiritual attention and act” , Jimmie’s spirit, regardless of the brain disorders, was never completely lost. The narrative “The Lost Mariner” proved to me that there really is a person beneath these neurological diseases. I had always believed that the disease almost became whom the person was and took over their life.