The story “Cathedral” by Raymond Carver is, to me, extremely compelling because of the narrator’s personality, and he is a character who is not named. This narrator carries the plot of the story because his skeptical attitude towards Robert, the blind man, and this makes his motives in the story, though they seem small, very significant. The narrator has, if you will, a “single story” of blind people. He believes that blind people should look and act a certain way, but meeting Robert contradicts that. His dialogue throughout the story is very piteous towards Robert, and can, at times seem very sarcastic. His character is of course dynamic, because by the end of the story he has a whole new outlook on exactly what it means to see. This story defines both seeing and looking. According to Carver’s writing, you can simply look at something, but it takes a much deeper understanding to be able to see it. This is evident with the relationship between Robert and the narrator’s wife. Even though he cannot see her, he understands her more deeply than the narrator does.
I don’t know how many people notice it, but before every action in the story there is a mention of a drink. At the beginning of the story, when the narrator is telling the story of his wife he notes that before she passed out in the tub she had flushed down the pills with gin. The narrator drinks as his wife brings Robert home, and the three characters drink throughout the story. This, added with the marijuana use, creates a very dreamy tone of the piece. I also think the alcohol is a safety blanket for the narrator since he is the one drinking during the majority of the story. He drinks whenever he is stressed, and at times his drinking affects his behavior.
Even though I find the character of the narrator interesting, I do not feel very sympathetic for him. In plain terms, he’s a bad husband. Whenever he is listening to the tapes, he calls the conversation he hears at the beginning, “harmless chitchat.” This “chitchat” is actually conversation that he lacks in his marriage. Throughout the story he seems to not really respect his wife, but sees her as more of an object. He says that he has read her poetry but doesn’t like it, or at least doesn’t understand it. It’s kind of ironic, but the narrator pities Robert since he has never physically seen his wife, Beulah, but in reality, the narrator has never seen his own wife. And I think that once he draws the cathedral with his eyes closed he finally realizes what it actually means to “see.” A part of the story that made me very angry at the character was the part when he is talking to Robert and he notices his wife’s thigh exposed. He covers it with her robe, but after realizing that Robert is blind, flips the robe open again. I find this extremely disrespectful because he is kind of saying [through his actions] that he does not feel like Robert is actually there.
Bear with me, but it is obvious that the narrator has a lot of “single stories” on a variety of different subjects. The most evident one is of course, blindness. He thinks that since Robert cannot see, he is above him. Throughout the story he remarks on certain things Robert says and does with pity. Since he doesn’t know what it is like in a world with no sight, he judges Robert, also probably because Robert was very good friends with his wife. The narrator probably feels subconsciously that Robert presents a threat, but he is also engulfed in the idea that since he can see and Robert cannot, that he has the upper hand with his wife and in life in general. By the end of the story he learns that he has taken his sight for granted.
What I love about Carver’s writing style and this piece specifically is that he writes with such a realistic feel. Now I know a lot of writers do that, but with this piece of writing, the setting and plot is just so simple, but all together it makes an incredibly entertaining story. It’s just the story about meeting a blind man and drawing a cathedral, but the details and message behind it and in between all are just so fascinating. My stories tend to be very elaborate and beyond the realm of reality, and so in my writing I would like to mimic the concept of simple storylines, but with a bigger idea behind it.
I think one of the biggest questions in this piece is what the cathedral represents. I did some research because this topic was kind of bothering me a lot, and what I found was actually very surprising. According to Carver, he never intended for the cathedral to mean anything. It is just a hard thing to describe and a good thing to have someone fail at describing. The whole purpose of the object, whatever it might be, is it make the narrator realize that he can’t “see.” A cathedral is perfect for this role, because they are incredibly complicated. But if you want to think in metaphorical terms, the cathedral can be seen as life itself. The narrator is having a hard time to describe life, even though he can see it. This shows how that character lacks the “seeing” ability that Robert has.
The two topics I highlighted were characterization/character tone or voice and images. I also highlighted actions of drinking in the story, because I see it as a constant action throughout the piece. For characterization, I highlighted things that described the narrator’s personality. Since this is a narrative piece, I also highlighted a lot of his thoughts, and the tone they gave off. By this I mean little sentences that lack detail that, in my eyes, came off as either sarcastic or pitiful. I also paid attention to images, and while a lot of things in this story are images, I highlighted specific things that appeal to the eye. For example, drawing the cathedral or the narrator’s wife making dinner. I think both topics really contribute to making the story memorable.