Cathedral vs Two Kinds: Compare & Contrast
- Date:Dec 29, 2020
Raymond Carver’s ‘Cathedral’ is a story of catharsis, in which the narrators’ pent up emotions find an outlet in an almost mystical encounter with a blind man.
It is the narrator who is blind to the richness of life. His ignorance is a deliberate defense mechanism against its’ perceived threats. He closes his mind by rejecting friendship and intimacy, even in the case of his wife: as seen in his cursory dismissal of her poems. He is biased: Beulah is “a name for a colored woman”. His insecurity needs the comfort of constant reassurance from his wife: “I had the feeling she didn’t like what she saw”, making him jealous of her past husband and the blind man. Behind all the bluster of indifference and the smokescreen of cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs, is a very vulnerable man, pursued by nightmares, crying for help. The emptiness of his life is seen in his confession: “I don’t believe … in anything”.
In contrast, the blind man has a better view of the world. He is open to the intimacy of relationships and to new experiences: “I’m always learning something”. He has the confidence to get up close to life and ‘touch’ it – touching the narrators’ wife’s face and fingering the drawing paper.
The blind man reaches out to draw the narrator out of his claustrophobic world of self-imposed blindness into the light of a new world: the cathedral. The cathedral is a symbol of life. Its’ vastness echoes the vastness of the world; its’ spires reflect mans’ reaching out to find meaning in life; its’ construction is an emblem of collective enterprise. Ironically, it is the blind man who opens the narrators’ eyes to the truth that it is people who make life matter: “What’s a cathedral without people?”. He urges the narrator towards the moment of catharsis and the confining house metamorphoses into the liberating cathedral.
‘Two Kinds’ is Amy Tan’s visualization of the Great American Dream through the eyes of a Chinese immigrant. At the same time, it is also a poignant depiction of a mother-daughter relationship, wrapped in the protagonists’ coming-of-age experience.
Jing Mei’s mother, with the harshness and tragedy of life in China left behind, but not forgotten, clings to the promise of America: anything is possible. She is determined to fulfill that dream, if not by herself, then vicariously through her daughter.
What her mother considers single-minded devotion, Jing-Mei resents as an obsession. Once she realizes that she will probably fall short of her mother’s unrealistic expectations that she will “be a prodigy”, Jing-Mei resorts to the stereotypical adolescent defense of outright rejection and rebellion, in order to assert her own individuality: “I won’t be what I’m not”. She deliberately chooses to be an underachiever, refusing to even try to succeed, so that she does not risk failure.
Inherent in the love-hate relationship of the mother and daughter is the clash of two cultures: Chinese and American, best expressed in the “two kinds of daughters …one who is obedient and one who follows her own mind”. Jing-Mei chooses to be the second kind. It is only after her mothers’ death when Jing-Mei realizes that the ‘two kinds’ of piano pieces are actually “two halves of the same song”, that the mother-daughter relationship comes full circle: they may be ‘two kinds’ in attitude and thought but the deep, underlying bond of love makes them one.