Not so long ago, I went to the book store and happened to pick up “The Best American Short Stories 1982” since I had always been a fan of John Gardner. I was excited to read the stories in the book, but I was surprised to learn that it contained short stories from several authors. The one that particularly stood out was Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral.” Carver had apparently been longing for critical acclaim for quite some time, which he received after his collection containing this story was published. Considering the remarkable characters, dialogue, plot, and the theme of Carver’s short story, it is no wonder that this story was critically praised, among Carver’s other stories.
Typically, the characters in Carver’s short story, i.e. the narrator, his wife, and Robert, the blind man, are all living somewhat difficult, ordinary lives and in a sense, they are attempting to connect, to see some meaning in their lives, perhaps this is why “blindness” is such a noteworthy symbol in this story. Along with the fact that they are struggling to connect, Carver’s characters in this short story also seem to be unable to express their feelings or ideas clearly and easily enough, which complements the spare style in which Carver has written this prose, through which Carver attempts to suggest that people need to communicate more and connect with each other. It probably would not be wrong to consider the unnamed narrator as a central character in this short story since he plays the important role of communicating with readers. The narrator's wife is an example of a character who struggles with expressing her problems and suffering. A casual reader would probably find this story a bit pointless, but I may argue that the lives of these characters have been depicted by Carver quite properly.
Raymond Carver uses the narrator in order to tell this short story through first-person dialogue. Much like Carver's typical short stories, the dialogues of the characters resemble precisely how real people generally speak, and these dialogues often end up so abruptly that some readers may not find this story well-organized. Moreover, whether on purpose or not, Carver makes the narrator seem incompetent at properly telling a story, as a result of which he often interrupts the story to present some defense, the transitions are rough, and overall, he has not put together the narrative skillfully enough. However, I believe that Carver intended his story to have such a narrative because even these flaws do not prevent readers from getting a more comprehensible picture of not only the other characters, but the narrator himself. I believe that this made the story even more effective.
The plot of Carver’s short story is rather ironic and self-contradictory. From the very beginning of the story readers learn that the narrator is not fond of blindness, and he ignorantly admits that the visit of his wife’s blind “old friend” to his house “was not something [he] looked forward to” (Carver). What is ironic is that despite having sight, the narrator is not able to see how he restricting himself potentially achieving something greater in his life.
Conflict exists in the story’s plot in the form of the jealousy that the narrator has towards Robert because his wife has been in contact with him, and has been sharing details of her life with him, and vice versa. Upon Robert's arrival, most of the plot feels rather complicated because the awkwardness between these three characters, as each attempts to get along. The climax of the story is also ironic since when the narrator is forced to close his eyes to draw a cathedral, upon Robert’s insistence, it is then that he is able to ‘see’ that his experience in life was so limited.
It is obvious that the narrator is biased and ignorant, and this theme is presented through his dialogue, which tend to reflect his skepticism. Carver suggests that not having enough knowledge and the right beliefs can make a person biased and ignorant, but at the same time, if people treat everyone equally, they should be able to overcome these flaws. The narrator’s initial attitude symbolizes how the expectations of a person are often molded by their doubts and their judgment, especially when they are wrong. It is such bias and ignorance that can lead a person to have a limited viewpoint as the narrator initially had.
The gaining of insight is an important part of the story, and all three characters gain such insight in their own ways. For the narrator's wife, this insight comes from the poems that she writes to surmise significant events in her life. For the narrator, who had a limited viewpoint due to being biased and ignorant, he gains insight when he is forced to draw a cathedral with his eyes closed. At the same time, guiding the narrator to draw as a blind person would and help the narrator in metaphorically opening his eyes also proves to be insightful for Robert as well.
Thus, it should be apparent that there is something special and unique about these elements of Raymond Carver’s famous short story, “Cathedral.” Along with proving to be an entertaining and interesting read, reading this story itself was insightful for me as well. I understood Carver’s lessons quite clearly, that people need to free themselves from their bias and ignorance in order to free themselves from their limited and restricted viewpoints.
Carver, Raymond. "Cathedral." N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Mar 2014. <http://nbu.bg/webs/amb/american/6/carver/cathedral.htm>.