The Use of Literary Elements in Raymond Carver's Cathedral

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In all literature work, there is a persistent use of literary elements to serve various purposes. Some have comic value; others are picturesque while the rest serve their unique goals. However, all have one principal objective; take the reader across the story “terrain” in enhancing understanding of a particular line of thought/theme. Raymond Carver’s Cathedral intensely utilizes a variety of elements as he strives to deduce that acceptance doesn’t depend on an individual’s physical, psychological and social class but aligns itself to individual capabilities. He uses the point of view, flashback, and person vs. person conflict to enhance the theme as elaborated below.

Through point of view, otherwise known as first person narration, he strategically positions himself to serve two roles: protagonist as well as a participant economizing in the use of characters. Character economy is usually used in the literary world to reduce bureaucracy in understanding the overall plot. The narrator, as a protagonist leads the reader in a step by step chronology of events that took place in that one single evening. He also depicts limited omniscience or in simple terms self-absorbed; only concentrates on how Robert’s visit is likely to affect him ignorant of the contribution of Robert in her wife’s past. Self awareness deficiency is elaborate on a feeling of pity towards Beulah, Robert’s wife saying that:

“Then I found myself thinking what a pitiful life (Robert’s wife) must have led. Imagine a woman who could never see herself as she was seen in the eyes of her loved one… a woman who could never receive the smallest compliment from her beloved”(Carver 3).

What the reader deduces is the narrator’s paradox showing his capacity to identify flaws in other people’s marriages but fail to recognize and amend his. He was able to speculate what Robert’s wife endured in marrying a blind man yet the same person threatens his marriage. Besides, the literary device exposes the writer’s defiance to standard grammatical principles in storytelling as he utilizes crude methods to drive home his aspersions through poor use of defensive interruptions and rough transitions. When he referred to his wife’s childhood sweetheart, for example, he wears a brave face despite hidden jealousy and insecurities. He says that “why should he have a name? He was the childhood sweetheart, what more does he wants?” such statement gives the reader a rare opportunity to have a glimpse into the marriage turbulences that the narrator is undergoing despite the outward assurances.  He had alternatives to prevent such frustrations from a blind man but never bothered. 

Secondly, the narrator, through flashback, gives the reader a snapshot of events that happened in the past to his wife, the blind man as well as personal life encounters focusing more on Robert’s growing friendship with his wife. Raymond incorporates such vivid flashbacks to portray inert anxiety his heart is engraved in as depicted in page 1 when the narrator said “She told me he touched his fingers to every part of her face, her nose-even her neck!” (p1).

 Going through such statements, the reader pictures the torments that the narrator is enduring and the emotional turmoil he was susceptible to. To the narrator, the touch projected a brewing sexual arousal Robert instilled on his wife and not just a platonic action expected in an office environment. The sentiments propagate his anger and thus reluctant to reserve Robert some kindness other than bitterness. Even though the narrator strived to sustain “Gentlemanship” and prevent a show of weakness, the bitter feelings disappointed him more often. He goes ahead to describe her wife’s poems as only produced once or twice every year. He continues to allude that her wife only writes poems about her life’s critical moments at the hands of Robert. The narrator deliberately adds such detail to the narration to show that the wife never composed a poem or dedicated one to him. Apparently, the reader continues to affirm the narrator’s jealousy in the kind of relationship that his wife was having with Robert viz-a-viz his.  However, he doesn’t take any course of action but allows things happen as they did.

From the onset, the narrator opens with a dominating voice staying clear of any potential challenge to his authority in his house. He holds higher opinion for himself and appears to be the alpha male to his marriage despite an existing tension when he says;

 “I wasn’t enthusiastic about his visit. He was no one I knew. And his being blind bothered me. My idea of blindness came from the movies. In the movies, the blind moved slowly and never laughed. Sometimes they were led by Seeing Eye dogs. A blind man in my house was not something I looked forward to” (Carver 1).

 The statement suggests stereotyping a blind man as naïve and unable to do much harm yet he is still threatened by his presence. However, ideally, the blind man, Robert, is highly engrossing which leverage the negative impacts of any impairment; a trait that gives Bub a run for his affections towards his wife. Another conflict is between the narrator and his wife. He says;

“I was having a drink and watching the TV when I heard the car pull up into the drive …I saw my wife laughing as she parked the car. I saw her get out of the car and shut the door. She was still wearing a smile. Just amazing” (Carver 4).

Without paying much attention to the poor sentence structure full of repetitions, he struggled to admit the affection that his wife showed to the blind man but appeared to lack a viable alternative. Through acknowledging the fantastic smile his wife showed out the car, the reader comes to understand that the laugh was genuine unlike those that he received in rare occasions. The sarcastic voice depicts deep-rooted envy that the narrator bellies towards Robert.

On the third note, the narrator’s wife is also elusive with the type of marriage she was in intensifying internal conflict within herself as well as discomforts her husband. Even though she tells the blind man she loves her husband, the subsequent activities suggest otherwise. For instance, she only mentions her loved for the husband in passing shifting conversation towards Robert going ahead to compose a poem dedicating to him “on the tape she told the blind man she’d written a poem and he was in it” (Carver 3). The narrator was also very pensive without hearing his name being mentioned in his wife and Robert’s conversation and I quote “I waited in vain to hear my name on my wife’s sweet lips…but I heard nothing of the sort” (Carver 6). The reader is forced to speculate that the narrator was insignificant to his wife and would warrant mentioning in any serious debate.

In conclusion, the narrator had a lot of alternatives but did not implement any. He had an option of stopping his wife from meeting the blind man. Instead of unending jealousy to a blind man, he had a choice to seek for divorce. The stereotypes were not warranted as the narrator had all the freedom to send away the blind man. Nevertheless, Robert’s capabilities made him win the favors of the narrator as the story nears the end. He “sees” on behalf of the narrator. Robert helps him accept that despite incapacitation, there is an inherent skill in every individual.

Work cited

Carver, R. The stories of Raymond Carver. London: Pan Books, 1981. Retrieved

November 24, 2023



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