Analytical Essay on "Cathedral"by Raymond Carver

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Cathedral: Analysing Themes of Identity

Cathedral is one of the most famous stories that Raymond Carver wrote during the early 1980s. The story was published in 1981 for the very first time, though later went through series of editions under the same name. Cathedral revolves around an insecure man, whose wife's relationship with Robert, a blind man, teaches him a different angle of seeing. Behind the story are about three characters who need each other in one way or the other and later in the story find a way to connect (Carver, "Cathedral Stories" 3). The author, readers, and other critics see the turning point of the story in its hopeful and happy ending. In the story, Carver expresses identity through various themes including isolation, insecurity, connection and detachment. The paper will analyze the theme of identity with a bias to connection and detachment, which is apparently the central alignment off the plot as the character apprehend their personalities.

Identity and Detachment

In Cathedral, the readers can tell that the identity of the unnamed narrator, who is captured in the first person, is detached from many things around him. The protagonist is not only happy with the fact that the blind man is visiting their home but to some extent is getting jealous because the two, that is, Robert and his wife are getting along. The narrator's discomfort with hosting the blind man is evident in the first part of the story when he says, "A blind man in my house was not something I looked forward to" (Carver, "Cathedral" 17). In his view, this is an inconvenience to him since he is never happy together with his wife the way Robert is. Apparently, the narrator's negative perception about the blind people is associated with the fact that the blind man is his wife's best friend, something that is becoming hard for him to accept. However, contrary to the narrator's statement, towards the end of the story, things turn ironical, when the protagonist seeks for Robert's assistance to draw the Cathedral. At this point, it is clear that the author is communicating two fundamental things to the readers. That is the key difference between looking and seeing. From the short experience, the readers of Cathedral realize that unlike, looking, which the narrator was good at, seeing requires a deeper engagement level. Ostensibly, from the way things turned out in the story it is true that having an eyesight does not merely mean that one can see. In the same way, it is possible for the blind to have a deeper understanding of what goes on around them than those would their eyesight would (Carver, "Collected Stories" 6). It is only at the end of the story that the narrator comes back to his senses and realizes that he has always been looking but not seeing.

Identity and Jealousy

It is true that identity in the novel is expressed through jealousy ad it constitutes a social phenomenon and it is always within the people who are in love (Gale 13). Therefore, there is a high chance that the connection that the narrator's wife had with her first husband could be a strong reason for detachment between the couples. The fact that he is always jealous of other men and feeling insecure could be the reason why the lovebirds do not have a strong connection with each other. From the scrutiny of the story, indeed it is clear that the narrator had the chance to share with his readers the name of his wife's first love, but he does not. Probably, this could mean that whatever he feels with Robert is the same thing he would feel with his wife's ex-husband. In as much as it is a normal feeling to be jealous in relationships, the extent to which the narrator demonstrates it in the story is more serious. It is evident that the narrator wants his wife to keep a distance with Robert when he reiterates to her that, "I don't have any blind friends,"I said. "You don't have any friends, she said."Period"(Carver, "Cathedral" 41).

Identity and Connection

Throughout the story, the identity of familial bond is based on the fact that the readers are introduced to the strong connection that is existing between the narrator's wife and Robert. However, it is ironical that the protagonist has never had a strong connection with his wife since they married each other. In several occasions, the narrator's wife seems to confide in Robert so much that she feels that her secrets are safe with Robert. She tells the blind man everything that is going down her life. "On another tape, she told him about her divorce." Occasionally, she conveys her thoughts and feelings through poems and sends them to Robert to read by the aid of audiotapes. The narrator's wife goes ahead to compose a poem of how the blind man touched her face. "On her last day in the office, the blind man asked if he could touch her face" (Carver, "Cathedral" 53). Ideally, just the same way Robert received it, such a message sends a strong signal, and having an idea about how the woman felt when he touched her face, the blind man felt valued. As mentioned earlier that Carver's intention in the story looks into the difference between seeing and looking, it is clear to the readers that through the connection that the two characters developed, Robert could see through the woman's heart and have the idea of what she was feeling.

Identity and Detachment

Conversely, the narrator in Cathedral finds himself detached from various things in the society. He loses the connection between him and his wife when he realizes that his wife is so much into the blind man and is not paying him adequate attention. The couple is never close to each other, and surprisingly, the wife keeps on mentioning the name of the blind man when they are together, yet she has never mentioned the name of the husband even for a moment. Other than his wife, the narrator is also apparently detached from his faith. The assertion is evident when the blind man enquires about the religion to which the narrator belongs, but the answer he gets is, "I guess I don't believe in it. In anything" (Carver, "Cathedral" 59). Besides, this tells the readers how much the narrator never cared about God. Socially, the last thing that is expected among people is failing to have an interest in their religion. If anything, people who do not believe in the existence of their creator might be deemed blind even if they have the eyesight.


Concisely, Cathedral the theme of identity is expressed in a way that ensure that people learn about themselves through a deeper level of engagement and self-realization (Stefanescu 6). It would be so wrong to judge others hastily in the society when we do not even have a personal understanding of self. The concept may be important to the readers of Carver's story, who are aware that the narrator initially perceived himself as superior to the blind, only to realize later that Robert could see more clearly than he could. It is also imperative for the readers to know that seeing is all about developing a connection with things in the natural environment.

Works Cited

Carver, Raymond. Cathedral. 1981. Print.

Carver, Raymond. Cathedral: Stories. , 2015. Internet resource.

Carver, Raymond. Collected Stories. New York: Literary Classics of the United States, 2009. RGCC Online Library.

Gale, Cengage L. Study Guide for Raymond Carver's Cathedral. Detroit: Gale, Cengage Learning, n.d.. Print.

Stefanescu, Andra. Postmodernism and Minimalism in Raymond Carver's "cathedral". Munich: RGCC Verlag GmbH, 2008. Internet resource.

November 24, 2023



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