Raymond Carver: Cathedral

I found “Cathedral” to be an interesting read, both because of what I saw as a beautiful character driven story and a unique writing style. The introduction described the writing style of Carver as hyperrealist, and his mixing of “the realistic short story with unconventional, irrealistic techniques” (2732). The narrator is blunt and closed off, basically an all around ignorant seeming guy. In the story, a blind friend of his wife visits and he is forced to deal with the situation which he finds uncomfortable. I always find it interesting when as a reader I am limited by the character flaws of the narrator. Maybe I got too used to the idea of an omniscient narrator who doesn’t mislead me. Anyway, he writes in curt and basic sentences, making this feel almost like an angry journal entry or something. On page 2733 he writes: “She told me he touched his fingers to every part of her face, her nose– even her neck!” The little details that the narrator emphasizes also make the work feel real. As the story progresses, the blind man (Robert) pulls him out of his shell, forcing him to examine himself from an outside perspective. Robert asks him to describe a cathedral, and the narrator cannot do it. By drawing it on a piece of paper and guiding Robert’s hand, Robert is able to conceptualize the image. They reverse positions and the narrator has an epiphany. Its a really beautiful story. Simple but it holds a lot of complexity.

We recently talked about the difference between named and unnamed characters in literature… What is the significance of the blind man being the only named character? Is there any?

I really enjoyed the casual style of narration. I was curious how everyone else reacted to it. Did you guys find it interesting or off-putting or intriguing?

How does the theme of blindness affect each character, literally or metaphorically?

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2 Responses to Raymond Carver: Cathedral

  1. vlevasseur11 says:

    To answer the last question…I think the theme of blindness is used to show how we tend to stereotype certain people even if we haven’t had any personal experience with someone who could represent the stereotype. Carver might have incorporated to television show both to bring discomfort to the wife, who thinks a blind person would never own a television and also to show the readers that we gather a lot of stereotypes from mass media. Maybe Carver is trying to tell that it’s better to learn through others (i.e., draw a cathedral instead of watch a show about it on TV) using the resources that we have. Is he also trying to tell us that we are slowly losing touch with each other and tuning out?

  2. youngdrake says:

    I think the blindness was used as a way to get people to step out of their own personal worlds and to reevaluate communication and meaning. In postmodernism the arbitrary meanings assigned to words is a big issue. To someone who has been blind since birth how can descriptors of size or color communicate anything. By having the narrator encounter a man with blindness and force him to try and communicate forces the narrator and the reader to recognize the uselessness of his language in this situation as he resorts to other senses, mainly touch, to describe the cathedral by guiding the blind man’s hand in drawing one.

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