“The Cathedral” is a short story written in 1963 by Raymond Carver. “The Cathedral” includes three characters: the narrator, the narrator’s wife, and a blind friend of the wife’s, Robert. Robert has an effect on the narrator from the very beginning but the effect changes as the story develops. At the beginning of the story, the narrator is very bitter about his wife’s blind friend. As the story begins to develop the narrator starts to treat Robert, the blind man, with more respect. At the end of the story, the narrator sees Robert in a new light. The blind man helps the narrator see clearly by showing him a different side of life.
The story begins with the narrator talking about receiving a visit from an old, blind friend of his wife’s. The blind man just lost his wife so he contacted the narrator’s wife because she was one of the only ones he kept in contact with. The narrator’s wife worked for the blind man a few years back and they kept in touch through tapes that they mailed back and forth. The narrator was not enthused about the visit at all; he was dull and bitter about the though of the visit. The narrator has unrealistic thoughts about blind people and learned all his knowledge about them from Hollywood movie scenes: “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 Cohoon2 something I looked forward to” (Carver). Clearly, the movies that he had seen did not give him a good representation of how blind people really are. The narrator talked briefly about his wife’s ex-husband but quickly changed the subject. The narrator seems to feel a petty jaundice towards his wife’s ex-husband: “Her officer–why should he have a name? he was the childhood sweetheart, and what more does he want? ” (Carver).
From this statement it is obvious that the narrator shows jealousy towards other men in his wife’s life. He portrays this jealousy through the visitation of the blind man as well. The narrator’s wife makes a big deal about how important it is that her husband, the narrator, must be on his best behavior and treat her guest with respect. The narrator replies to all her requests with fast, crude remarks such as: “maybe I could take him bowling” and “was his wife a Negro? ”(Carver). The swift remarks made the narrator’s wife furious. He was being very inconsiderate to his wife’s friend because the friend was blind.
He already seemed to dislike her blind friend before he even met him and was very bitter about the visit. Before the blind man had arrived, the wife filled the narrator in on how the blind man and his wife, Beulah, had met. Beulah had worked for the blind man one summer and they fell in love. Shortly following the working term, they planned themselves a little church wedding. They were inseparable for eight years but Beulah got sick with cancer. They married, worked and lived together, slept together and now the blind man had to bury her.
The narrator was bewildered by how one man can go through all that without had even known what she looked like: “And then I found myself thinking what a pitiful life this woman must have led. Imagine a woman who could never see herself as she was Cohoon3 seen in the eyes of her loved one. A woman who could go on day after day and never receive the smallest compliment from her beloved. A woman whose husband could never read the expression on her face, be it misery or something better. Someone who could wear makeup or not–what difference to him? (Carver, 16). He seemed to feel sympathy for the dead blind man’s wife.
He was no longer disrespecting the blind man but thought of him as less capable or less lovable then the narrator himself. When the time came for the wife to go pick up her blind friend the narrator waiting patiently for their return. When he heard the car pull up he watched as they got out of the car: “This blind man, feature this, he was wearing a full beard! A beard on a blind man! Too much, I say (Carver, 18). The narrator was comparing his wife’s blind friend to his imagination, which he developed from television, of what a typical blind man should look like.
He was amazed that the blind man did not use a cane or wear dark glasses. When the wife introduced her blind friend to her husband she introduced him as Robert. Instantly the narrator reacted in a polite manner and made small talk with Robert: although, the narrator was still treating Robert like he was different and needed special help. The narrator and Robert had little to talk about but they forced conversation. The narrator got Robert a drink and watched in confusion as he smoked: “I remembered having read somewhere that the blind didn’t smoke because, as speculation had it, they couldn’t see the smoke they exhaled.
I thought I knew that much and that much only about blind people. But this blind man smoked his cigarette down to the nubbin and then lit another one. This blind man filled his ashtray and my wife emptied it” (Carver, 42). The narrator Cohoon4 was still associating Robert to his imagination of how blind people should act. When the narrator realized that there was nothing left to talk about he turned on the television. The narrator kept asking Robert if he was ready for bed but Robert kept denying the request. As the story developed, the narrator was stuck in certain awkward situations with Robert, the blind man.
The wife went upstairs and changed into her robe. When she arrived back down stairs her husband, the narrator, and Robert were sharing a joint of dope and the wife joined in on the rotation. When they were finished smoking they focused back on the television. Shorty after, the wife fell asleep and only Robert and the narrator were left awake. The narrator said the he wished his wife was still awake to make conversation but he didn’t seem to mind it too much. The narrator and Robert talked a little about his wife and the narrator seemed to be interested in what Robert had to say.
He was very polite to Robert and listened carefully. When the news program ended, the narrator got up and change to channel. The television showed famous cathedrals including all the beautiful aspects of them. The narrator proceeded to explain to Robert what the television was showing including many little details. Robert then confessed that although he knew a lot of information about cathedrals, he could never imagine what they actually look like. The narrator began trying to explain to Robert what a cathedral looks like but it was no help to Robert: “It was then that the blind man cleared is throat. He brought something up. He took a handkerchief from his back pocket. Then he said, “I get it, bub. It’s okay. It happens. Don’t worry about it,” he said. “Hey, listen to me. Will you do me a favor? I got an idea. Why don’t you find us some heavy paper? And a pen. We’ll do something. We’ll Cohoon5 draw one together. Get us a pen and some heavy paper. Go on, bub, get the stuff,” he said” (Carver). The narrator was amazed by this request. He walked upstairs with shaking legs and got the stuff. When he arrived back downstairs he put the page next to Robert.
He found my hand, the hand with the pen. He closed his hand over my hand. “Go ahead, bub, draw,” he said. “Draw. You’ll see. I’ll follow along with you. It’ll be okay. Just begin now like I’m telling you. You’ll see. Draw,” the blind man said (Carver). The narrator proceeded to draw. He drew the beautiful arched windows, flying buttresses, hung great doors and everything that a cathedral had. Robert ran his fingers over the drawing and was so pleased. The wife woke up and asked what was going on but they didn’t stop. Robert told the narrator to keep drawing with his eyes closed, so he did.
He thought it was like nothing he has ever seen before, all though his eyes were closed. He was astonished: “My eyes were still closed. I was in my house. I knew that. But I didn’t feel like I was inside anything. “Its really something,” I said” (Carver) The blind man helped the narrator see clearly by showing him a different side of life. At the beginning of the story, the narrator was against the idea of the blind man coming to stay in his home. He seemed jealous of the relationship the blind man had with his wife and treated him as if he was different and in need of help.
As the story developed, the narrator started to realize that Robert, the blind man, was just another human being and started to give Robert more of the respect he deserved. At the end of the story, the narrator saw Robert in a complete new light. His wife’s friend was no longer the blind man that needed help, but rather, Robert. Robert showed the narrator that you don’t need to see the outer appearance of everything to appreciate it but you need to feel Cohoon6 the finer things in life. Cohoon7
Booth, Alison, and Kelly J. Mays. Cathedral. 10th ed. New york, London: W. W Norton & Company , 2010. 28-37. Print.