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The Cathedral is a short story about an unidentified character and his unnamed partner, who is friends with a blind man named Robert, with whom she used to work before marrying (Carver, 5). Because of his pessimistic attitude toward blind people, the writer is dissatisfied with his wife and Robert's relationship. The plot takes place on a night where the blind man pays a visit to the narrator's wife, and the narrator is not pleased. Narrator’s wife tells her husband to try and show the blind man compassion because his wife had died the previous year but the narrator make sarcastic remarks that Robert’s wife was so unlucky to have died without her husband seeing her beauty. When Robert finally arrives they interact with the narrator and share a roll of marijuana and thereafter switch on the TV whereby the only program is a documentary referred to as the cathedral (Carver, 11). The narrator asks Robert whether he knows what cathedral is all about. Robert tells narrator to explain to him what it is all about but he struggles to give a clear answer. It is from this point when Robert asks for a pen and a paper and tells narrator to start drawing everything that he will say and narrator does exactly that. Robert then tells him to close his eyes and continue drawing and when they are through he tells him to open his eyes but narrator refuses saying the experience of drawing while his eyes are closed is beautiful.
Analysis of Narrator
To get better understanding of narrator, it is important to first of all analyze the classic first-person voice in this narrative. The narrator connects with his audience in terms of both what he shares and his personal qualities. From this story, the narrator depicts himself as a crude, mean, glib individual and his narration is full of wicked humor. While at the start of the story narrator is detached from himself, he becomes unusually talkative as story draws near the end. His behavior at the end of the story is something worth noticing because it lacks glibness showing that something has shaken the narrator (Carver, 4).
First the narrator is ironic because he ignorantly despises blindness without recognizing his own weakness in sight. No doubt that the narrator can see using his eyes but fails to recognize the limitations he has placed on himself that prevents him from wanting or seeing something bigger in life. The story is all about transcendence meaning the existence beyond the limitations of physical things such as eyesight. The narrator does not seem to recognize that despite Robert being blind he can offer a lot than him (Carver, 8). Robert possesses ability to perceive things at a broader perspective than the narrator showing that physical limitations cannot stop someone express his potential for tenderness and greatness in humanity.
The characterization contributes a lot to camouflage the primary problem of the narrator and that is, he detached from his own life. As seen in most of his narratives in his book, the narrator appears to observe himself more than he see himself in control. This is clear from his constant drug and alcohol abuse. Narrator is a wicked, the reason why the word antihero is constantly coming up in connection with him. He smokes marijuana, drinks a lot of liquors, despises blind individuals and gets absolutely mean when he is jealous. Although he pretends to be an honest person he does not loudly admit his jealousy (Carver, 14). There is a clear sexual intimidation which he never wants to acknowledge but his language in his description of touching of the face tells it all. However, his jealousy is unable to hide functioning relationship because he is dismissive of his wife and introduces the story of his wife’s great emotional experience with certain glibness. Similarly, he dismisses his wife’s idea to practice poetry. Narrator’s detachment from his life becomes even apparent when he decides to listen to one of the tapes recorded by his wife and Robert.
The narrator is extremely close-minded and this is clearly portrayed in this pre-conceived notions and feelings about blind people. He admits that his negative notion about blindness comes from movies he had watched. He immediately sees blind individuals as distinct and remote from the normal persons. Not because he had interacted with blind people and noticed about their cruelty but presumptions from movies. The reasons he gives to justify his hate for blind people are absurd and do not make any sense. For instance, he hates blind persons because he thinks they cannot smoke or they do not usually wear beards. Ironically most of the movies he cites do not reveal the hatefulness the narrator shows. One of the hateful remarks about blindness is when he says "who'd want to go to such a wedding in the first place?" he asks about Robert and Beulah's nuptials (Carver, 21). Narrator’s attitude towards Robert’s wife is also harshly insensitive. He appears legitimately sorry for Robert’s wife due to her marrying a blind man who cannot even see and appreciate her beauty.
The narrator plays his role as husband because in the whole of this story he seems focused on his wife and grounded in his duty as husband. Even though he appears unhappy in his marriage he does seem to admire and love his wife. He gives detailed account of hi intimate life but does not reveal anything that would make the readers to hate her. It is important to note that narrator starts to talk about his wife before she appears for the first time in the kitchen. This clearly shows that he loves his wife very much. The primary reason why narrator hates Robert is not because he is blind but because of Robert’s close relationship with his wife (Carver, 10). The account of the events in the story shows how he is jealous about Robert’s friendship with his wife. First he gives a facet of the relationship between his wife and Robert. The narrator shares the presupposition he has about blindness. Although extreme jealous is not a sign of true love, the narrator appears to want to please his wife and in his own way he reveals how much he loves her. When his wife pleads with him to show compassion to Robert who is grieving the death of his wife, narrator agrees and when Robert comes he is not harsh to him. She says, “If you love me, you can do this for me. If you don't love me, okay. But if you had a friend, any friend, and the friend came to visit, I'd make him feel comfortable." By making Robert feel comfortable his love for his wife. The narrative shows that narrator’s wife also love him because she says “because I love you I'd be nice to your friends.” So it is apparent that they have a loving relationship but of course with some issues such as inability of narrator to talk about his jealousy over Robert with his wife (Carver, 19).
Out of him deciding to be nice to Robert to please his wife, narrator realizes Robert is a nice guy and ends up making friends with him (Carver, 23). At the final stages of story narrator sees Robert as a friend and no longer an enemy or a threat. He finally finds out that his wife and Robert are just good friends. This reveals that narrator’s wife has been telling truth about her relationship with Robert. Also, the woman realizes that narrator loves her and finally Robert becomes a common friend to both narrator and his wife.
To sum up, it is clear from the Cathedral story that the narrator is cynical, bitter, hardened, logical and whiney man. He perceives most things in life through an extremely sardonic and non-impressive lens because for the bigger part of the story nothing seems to impress him. He perceives blind people as pathetic individuals who do not deserve any respect from normal people. He says that his hatred for blind people comes from several movies he has watched but it is clear that he hates Robert because of his friendship with his wife. This shows clearly how he loves his wife.
Carver, Raymond. Cathedral. Vintage, 2015.
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