Cathedral is a short story written by Raymond Carver in 1983. During this period when the short story was published, there was an increase in the level of poverty throughout the world. Nevertheless, the situation in the United States was quite different and only a very small section of the population was considered as being poor. The expectations of the American people had significantly declined following the high rates of inflation, the raising rates of unemployment as well as the skyrocketing rates of interest.
During this period, the gap between the rich and the drastically widened, the poor became poorer and the rich wealthier. It is against this backdrop that Raymond Carver wrote the short story entitled “The Cathedral”. regarding the life of the Raymond Carver, who is the author of the story, Webster (3), observe that the story came at a time when he had quit his heavy drinking, he had also survive an annulment of his marriage.
Brief plot summary
The story opens with the narrator who is a man very upset with the fact that a blind man who is a friend of his wife is about to arrive. The conversational tone of the narrator is a clear indication to the reader that he is not happy about the blind man’s visit. The narrator is upset with the visit of the blind man simply because he is blind. The introduction of the story emphasizes the dislike and fear directed towards individuals who are blind.
For this reason, the author uses the words “the blind man” in his introduction of the story. As a matter of fact, the blind man is not even given a name because what seems very important to the narrator is the fact that the man is blind. The narrator gets a moment to flashback on the circumstances under which the blind man and his wife met. In the flashback, the reader is made to understand that the narrators’ wife and the blind man met when the wife of the narrator worked for the blind man as his reader.
The narrator is irritated by the fact that during the time when the blind man Robert and the narrator’s wife were biding each other goodbye, the blind man asked her if he could be given a chance to touch the face of the narrator’s wife.
The blind man and the narrator’s wife have for more than ten years maintained their contact but they had not met during that duration. The visit by the blind man would therefore, be the first time when the two would be meeting since the narrator’s wife got married. The blind man is head to Connecticut where the family of his deceased wife lives.
On his way, the blind man intends to spend a night at his long time friend’s (the narrator’s wife) home. The narrator is informed by his wife that Beulah the wife of the blind man had a very good relationship in their marriage. Nonetheless, the narrator could not bring himself to imagine how horrible life must have been for Beulah the wife of the blind man Robert to spend the whole of her life without being seen by the person she had loved the whole of her life.
On arrival of the blind man at the narrator’s home, the narrator hardly engage in any form of interaction and only observe his wife and the blind man. After a while dinner is set and they sit at the table for the meal after which drinks are served. During this period, the narrator continued with his silence and did not take part in the conversations. To the surprise of the narrator’s wife, the narrator turns on the TV for them to watch a show.
The narrator’s wife excuses herself and leaves the narrator and the blind man. As they watch the show on the television, the two men share a cigarette made from cannabis. Ultimately, the narrator’s wife is overwhelmed by sleep and leaves the blind man and the narrator watching television. Having been left with the blind man, the narrator attempt to explain what the television show is all about to the blind man. Unfortunately, the narrator is unable to describe a show about the cathedral on the television.
The blind man request the narrator to bring a piece of paper and a pen for purposes of drawing the cathedral and the narrator obliged the request. The blind man Robert touches the paper brought by the narrator to determine its size. After the paper and the pen are brought the blind man holds the hand of the narrator in an effort to direct him on how to draw a cathedral. The blind man assures the narrator that it will turn out well if he follows the direction of the blind man.
The two go on with the drawing and ate one point, the blind man ask the narrator to continue drawing but with his eyes closed. The narrator tells the reader that at this stage something unusual occurred, and even when the blind man told him to open his eyes the narrator kept them closed. The narrator admits that something took place during the time he had closed his eyes that transformed his perception about life.
The narrator tells the reader that while his eyes were closed, the only thing he knew was that he was in his house but he felt free. He also states that the blindness of Robert was no longer an issue of concern to him and it was not a justification for him to propagate his hostility towards blind people.
The Importance of historical time period in the author’s body of literature
The historical relevance of the short story by Carver is the fact that during the past years, the same way in which the narrator of the story treated with contempt the blind man Robert, it is the actual way in which people treated the blind in reality. The story depicts how the society in the period isolated particular individuals among them for different reasons and considerations.
In the story for instance, the blind man Robert is gifted with the ability to establish a special kind of bond with other human beings an ability which is ignored.
It is a known fact that over the years, the people who are list expected to perform, often outshine the individuals who are perceived by the society to be competent. It is usually unexpected that people who can clearly see or have the ability to see can be lead to see by a blind person. In the short story the Cathedral, however, the blind man leads the narrator who can see to a new light of life.
Additionally, in the same way the narrator chooses to lead a life of seclusion, there are individuals in real life who opt to seclude themselves from communal life. The short story clearly indicate that even those individuals in our society who may be disadvantaged in one way or another, may present an opportunity of hope and encouragement to the normal people in their lives.
The author has employed symbolism throughout his work. There is the use of sight and blindness which dominate the narrative. In the story, the narrator’s intellectual blindness is changed by Roberts’s physical blindness. In an ironical twist of the narrative the blind man who is physically blind is able to see, while the narrator who is physically able to see is psychologically blind.
Ultimately, the narrator through the blind man realizes that all along he has been blind and that the misconceptions he had about the blind people are injudicious and hence realizing that individuals who are not fortunate enough to physically see are as worth if not more than the people who are gifted with the ability to see.
The ignorance of the narrator is what manifests his blindness. The narrator thought that all blind people wore dark glasses and used a walking cane. Nevertheless Robert the blind man in the short story does not use any of those things to the surprise of the narrator. This shows how ignorant the narrator is, particularly in relation to his point of view about individuals who may be blind.
Conversely, the blind man in Carver’s narrative has self assurance, he is quite sensitive, and he is confident. Surprisingly, blind man Robert is well aware that the narrator needs to be assisted in a certain way but the narrator does not know that.
The narrator is also blind in terms of his communication skills, unfortunately; only the blind man Robert is able to see this predicament of the narrator. As the watch a show on the television, the narrator cannot be able to elaborate what the show is all about. The show on the television is on cathedrals but because the narrator is a poor in communication he is unable to explain it (Billington 22). According to Malamet (18), the cathedral in the story is symbolic.
It is used to symbolize a spiritual house of God. In the Historical context, and indeed in modern times, cathedrals are used to symbolize the presence or existence of God. The inclusion of the cathedral in the television show is used by the author to assist the narrator realize his mistake beliefs. The narrator has lead a life without a friend in the world , he is not even close to his wife, dislikes his job, have no purpose for whatever he does in his life, and above all, the narrator does not believe in the existence of God.
It goes without saying that the author inclusion of a cathedral in his work is to bring about the aspect of faith in the life of his narrator. The function of a cathedral is generally a place of worship. It also represents how previous generations have been involved in the construction of the cathedral in the successive years (Carver 105).
In the past years, most of the individuals who were involved in the construction of the cathedral never witnessed the completion of the worship house. The drawing that the blind man Robert and the narrator sketch symbolizes the generations that were involved in the building of the cathedral and never lived long enough to witness its completion.
The narrator is also likened to the generations who were involved in the building of the cathedral but never lived long enough to see the completion of the structure. The narrator is not able to see the final and complete structure of his own drawing of the cathedral like those past generation who were not able to see the complete structure of the cathedral they has started building.
The narrator through the help of the blind man realizes that he is able to build an insight and a vision in his lonely life because deep inside him there a spiritual center. According to Lehman (77), the narrators’ experience with the blind man liberates him from his anomie. The use of the television or the media by the author is an effort to unite individuals with different perceptions in life.
Thus media in the story symbolizes a sense of unity and bringing people together. It worth noting that in the narrative, the blind man and the wife of the narrator frequently exchanged cassette tapes. For this reason, the two characters in the story were always in touch with each other even in instances where they did not meet physically with one another.
The media is further used in Carvers’ literal work to link different people with different perceptions in life like the narrator and the blind man. After watching the show in the television, Robert the blind man and the narrator who at first disliked blind people forms a strong bond, and this bond assist the narrator to realize that he was mistaken about blind people, thus, he learn to appreciate them.
The short story by Raymond Carver entitled Cathedral is set at a period when there was an increase in the level of poverty throughout the world. Nevertheless, the situation in the United States was quite different and only a very small section of the population was considered as being poor.
Carver’s narrative is a clear depiction of how different people in the society have coexisted and the fact that during the past period, the same way in which the narrator of the story treated with contempt the blind man Robert, is the actual way in which people treated the blind in reality.
This gives a great importance to the historical time period in the author’s work. In the Historical context, and indeed in modern times, cathedrals are used to symbolize the presence or existence of God as well as faith. The author has used a cathedral in his work as to cultivate the aspect of faith in the life of the narrator, and to symbolize how earlier generations have been involved in the construction of the cathedral in the successive years.
In the historical time period, most of the individuals who were involved in the construction of the cathedral never witnessed the completion of the worship house. Likewise in the narrative, the narrator like the past generation is not able to see the final and complete structure of his own drawing of the cathedral like those past generation who were not able to see the complete structure of the cathedral they has started building.
Billington, Michael. “Review: Theatre: Carver: Arcola”, The Guardian newspaper, July 11,(2005): 22-23. Print.
Carver, Raymond. “Cathedral. Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing”, X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia New York: Pearson, 2007. 98-108.
Lehman, Daniel. “Symbolic Significance in the Stories of Raymond Carver”, Journal of the Short Story in English 46. 2 (2006): 75-88.
Malamet, Elliott. “Raymond Carver and the Fear of Narration”, Journal of the Short Story in English 17. 4 (1991): 59-74.