- Date:Dec 29, 2020
‘Cathedral’ by Carver portrays the narrator as a self-absorbed man. He is not excited about the visit by his wife’s friend Robert who is blind. He argues that blind people make him uncomfortable because he has no experience with them. He is concerned about how Roberts’ visit will affect him and inconsiderate of what Roberts’ visit means to his wife who has maintained communication with Robert via audiotape recordings which they send back and forth. Despite his irrational feelings, Robert visits them and they dine together. His concept about the ability of a blind man is misplaced. He is in awe when he sees Robert smoking and monitors him as he speaks and eats during dinner.
It is interesting how the narrator lacks self-awareness. He pities Robert, his wife’s friend for being blind yet his lack of insight and compassion makes him symbolically blind than Robert. Though the narrator is not physically blind, he displays the inability to understand and see people past their physique. He is jealous, insensitive, and unaware of his wife. Though able to identify her physically, he does not understand her. His awakening is the realization that he is unable to describe to Robert how the cathedral looks like with his eyes closed. This is his onset of liberation.
Though blind, Robert sees other people better. He is an understanding and compassionate man. For the past ten years, Robert and the narrator’s wife are long time friends. They have been communicating with each other through audiotapes that they send one another. The narrator’s wife describes to him the details of her life about her marriage, divorce, and suicide attempt. It is not clear how Robert responded to these tapes. This is important in demonstrating the importance of the act of listening than the response given. His interaction with the narrator when he asks him to draw a cathedral with their hand touching prompts the narrator to search within himself.
The cathedral in this story represents true insight. It portrays the human ability to see the deeper meaning. At the beginning of their encounter, it is clear that the narrator can see and Robert is blind. Albeit this, he is unable to describe the cathedral that he has just seen on the television. However, when he decides to draw the cathedral with his eyes closed, he is captivated and adds gory details into the picture. This act of doing this in the absence of his sight causes him to open his mind in thought. After completion of his drawing, what he sees with his eyes shut is greater than anything he has ever envisioned with his open eyes. A cathedral provides a quiet place of solace. Similarly, the narrator suggests that he has found his epiphany when he says, “The blind man said, “We’re drawing a cathedral. I and he are working on it. Press hard,” he said to me”.
As portrayed in this short story, the act of looking differs from that of seeing. Looking is literal and is the ability to visualize physical objects. Seeing is deeper and requires internalization. The narrator though rich insight lacks the ability to see. He makes his wife miserable to the point of committing suicide because he does not see her. Robert on the other hand is physically blind but is capable of seeing beyond the surface. Although he is unable to see the narrator’s wife, he understands her and listens to her. This illustrates the power of listening. By listening more a person develops insight and understanding of an individual as is evident in the relationship between Robert and the narrators’ wife. Truly, “Right then my wife filled me in with more detail than I cared to know. I made a drink and sat at the kitchen table to listen. Pieces of the story began to fall into place.”
This story uncovers the inconsistent nature of perceived reality. The narrators envisioned Robert from his understanding of blind people based on movies. His voice is also discerned from the recorded videotapes that he normally sent his wife. The reality changes once he meets Robert and as he gets to know him better. His encounter with Robert causes a great shift in his initial perceived reality.
The ending of the story creates optimism and raises several questions. The narrator experiences a life-changing moment at the end of the story. One wonders if the narrator’s encounter with Robert and his epiphany caused him to change his relationship with his wife. Although this question remains unanswered by the abrupt end, the influence of Robert on the narrator makes one hopeful that the narrator may embrace reality. Carver, through this narrative, portrays the beauty of viewing the world with minds and not eyes. He expresses the effects of myopia and prejudice, which are detrimental to humans. The life lesson from this story is that learning is continuous and it never ends. In addition, this is a true reflection of what is achievable by an open mind.