"From the darkness to the light": Memoirs of Blind Canadian veterans of the First and Second World Wars

  • Corinne Doria Professor of Disability Studies and European History, Sciences-Po Paris and Sciences-Po Lille


This article is a study of the memoirs of three Canadian ex-servicemen who were blinded during the First and Second World Wars. It inquires autobiographical accounts as a source to understand disability both at an individual and a social level. I argue that autobiographies, as they reflect the individual experience of disability, also reveal concepts and prejudices concerning disability that are inherent to a society at a specific time. The authors hence can either challenge or confirm persistent ideas about disability. This paper is organized in three parts. In the first I present the autobiographies this study is based on, and summarize their main features. In the second I focus on the way blindness impacts individual’s identity. I shall argue that the loss of sight is experienced as life-changing event, a death-rebirth process that deeply affects the veterans as well as their entourage. Blindness enhance hence a process of re-definition of the self which encompasses, on the one hand, blind individuals’ perception of their own ‘exceptionality’ and, on the other, their desire for normality and social integration. In the last section I analyze how the three writers address Canadian society in order to challenge the existing ideas and prejudices about the blind. I argue that they deliberately choose to use autobiographical narratives as a device to point out and challenge common preconceptions about blindness.