Raymond Carver: Cathedral
“Cathedral” tells the story of a man whose insecurity leaves him blind to the world and who further seeks to blind himself from his own feelings by desensitizing himself with drugs and alcohol. The protagonist shows an excruciating lack of connection with his wife, whom he never refers to by name, and always in the third person. Yet, he cares for her, for he feels vulnerable and insecure when confronted with his wife’s friendship with an old blind friend of hers, a spiritual closeness that leaves him unsure as to where he himself fits in her life. In his description of major events in his wife’s life you get a sense of disconnection and lack of empathy and understanding on his part. Every interaction between the protagonist and his wife serves as a vehicle for further alienation. The wife reacts to her husband’s words and actions with a sense of trepidation, tiredness, and frustration at his lack of sympathy and understanding.
Into this stage enters the blind man whose wife has recently died of cancer. The protagonist is more than ambivalent towards the blind man, resenting the blind man’s relationship with his wife, although his wife and the blind man had only known each other for a single summer, before the wife left town to never see him again until this visit ten years later. In every word and gesture the protagonist shows his ignorance, prejudice, and lack of sympathy towards the blind man. In contrast, the blind man can “see” the protagonist and succeeds in drawing him out to get to see him even more. The blind man also sees the world in ways that the protagonist’s inner blindness prevents him from seeing.
The three have dinner together and then the two men are left alone. The protagonist turns the television on and begins to describe to the blind man some cathedrals that are being shown in the program. At the same time, through questions, the blind man describes the inner world that he can see. In the end, the blind man invites the protagonist to draw a cathedral together, with the blind man’s hand riding on the other man’s hand, and when the picture is nearly complete, the blind man asks the man to close his eyes and continue drawing. Finally, he asks the man to open his eyes and to tell him what he sees. The man kept his eyes closed and answers, “It’s really something.” He can “see” now.
Carver, R. (2007 ). “Cathedral.” Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama,
and Writing. X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia, eds. New York: Pearson, 98-108.