In 19th century England, John Everett Millais established the Pre-Raphaelite movement in painting, which shifted away from the stiff and heroic, neo-classical themes that were the staple of his time. Millais and his fellow Pre-Raphaelite companions explored narratives in their works that brought us into the effeminate world of nurturing care, empathy, and intuition. Millais’ painting The Blind Girl took us into that world with two girls who had opposing abilities. Not revealing any specific meaning in his painting, Millais left it to the viewers to glean from the painting what they will. No doubt though, he captured and highlighted a central part of our shared human experience — that we are wholly dependent upon each other to make it in our lives.
The sweet painting guides us into the scene and the story of the two girls’ relationships with one another through our senses. The warm rays of the sun soak the motionless blind girl, the viewer clued in by the butterfly that safely rests on her shoulder without any trepidation. A sign “Pity the Blind” hangs around her neck as a concertina rests on her lap. She moves blades of grass through the fingers of her right hand and clasps the other girl’s hand tightly with her left.
The two girls are beggars, possibly orphans, which was a common sight throughout England in the mid-19th century. The scene conveys a bit of commonly held wisdom that our hyper-individualized society might do well to reflect on: We live in the same situation as these girls, with every aspect of our lives being dependent upon another.
In the traditional view of the world, the family and the bonds with others were one of the most important facets of a person’s life and served many of the crucial needs a person would have — physically, psychologically, and spiritually — so even an impoverished family could live a contented and purposeful life. The emphasis was put on service toward others and away from self. John Everett Millais beautifully illustrated the two girls complementing and looking out for each other, not reveling in a comfortable life, quite the opposite, but being fulfilled and enriched with a shared bond that goes beyond the value of money or material wealth.
In our modern culture, the shift away from the importance of family and marriage to the commodification of relationships has left many to face the world alone. The careful consideration, valuing in honor, being truthful, and respecting vows of marriage are an afterthought to emotional impulses. The removal of these sacred institutions that lifted humanity into living a noble and reverent life was purposely maligned, however, to steer humanity toward depravity. Marxism and Materialism were the culprits that began to spread in the 19th century across Europe and England during Millas’ time and wreaked havoc on society, ridding people of their sacrosanct ties to each other. In his Theses on Feuerbach, Karl Marx stated: “Therefore after, for example, the earthly family is discovered as the secret of the holy family, the former must itself be theoretically and practically destroyed.”
Vladimir Lenin, the Marxist dictator of Soviet Russia, set to break familial bonds and replace them with the state. From Marxists came the Feminist movement, which pitted the sexes against each other in an endless struggle that broke the sacred bonds that bound each other in servitude to one another. Lenin pushed an agenda to demean and disparage any devotion to family as oppression and force in an irreverence toward life. Lenin compared marriage, familial piety, and child-rearing to slavery. In his treatise Prophetic Words, published in 1918, he stated: “Human childbirth is an act which transforms the woman into an almost lifeless, bloodstained heap of flesh, tortured, tormented, and driven frantic by pain.”
After World War II, Marxist influence spread to the United States via the Frankfurt School under Herbert Marcuse and Theodor W. Adorno. Their beliefs soon spread through universities, the entertainment industry, and the arts. The effects of Marxist influence on our culture were the complete breaking of the once sacred bonds and importance we placed in relationships. Drug abuse, free love, the celebration of abortion, and many more cultural ills, along with modern technology, have taken the warmth of connection and societal bonds out of the picture. These Marxist beliefs, which have gained such a foothold in our culture, now have made it increasingly difficult to bond with others.
Millais’ painting offers a meditation back into that important aspect of the human condition that our traditional wisdom and values have given us, for us as a society to honor the bonds that tie us together by selflessness and servitude to others. A beautiful and richly rewarding life is one where we can unequivocally put our lives safely in other’s hands. With the girls in the painting, they can go through life, even in its many setbacks, and confide in and enrich each other’s spirits.