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Cathedral Raymond Carver Summary

Updated on February 1, 2016

Literary Analysis

Raymond Carver writes a seemingly simple story in which a man is upset about the arrival of a friend of his wife’s, largely because he is blind. We learn of his prejudice towards blind people, become aware how his own life lacks meaning and intimacy, and see how he changes as a result of his interaction with the blind man. In the end readers can “see” how the narrator was really the blind one, his eyes are opened metaphorically through the insight of the blind man

The fear and dislike for blind people is the primary focus in the introduction of the story. Carver introduces the story with the words “The blind man…” He isn’t given a name at first, as the fact that he was blind was the only thing the narrator cared about. It upsets him that the blind man was coming to his home. He makes no secret of that as he said. “And it bothered me that he was blind.”

He goes on to express his dislike for the blind by saying that they move slow, use canes, wear dark glasses, never laugh, and use seeing-eyedogs. Upon meeting him, all of these myths are dispelled. Carver has the blind man humanized as an individual so the stereotypes are broken. The blind man smokes, laughs, and says several times “I’m comfortable,’ because he really is.

He knows who he is, how to get along, and is a happy confident person.

The narrator notices how the blind man situates himself, eats, talks, and has a rich history of work, relationships, and easy conversation. He seems so normal. The narrator’s stereotype of the blind is falling away slowly. The blind man uses his other senses in order to learn about people.He uses his sense of touch in several ways. The first example was when he touched the woman’s face to learn it in a way that the woman never forgot. She felt that “…something really important had happened to her.”

Later the blind man squeezes the narrators hand hard upon meeting him.This shows how touch can be very powerful, but also that one can “see” in different ways. One can learn about a person through touch. This was brought home again when the narrator was thinking about how the blind man had been married to someone he had never actually seen with his eyes. But The way the blind man had “seen” her was different…

He uses his auditory abilities by listening to the TV and being a radio operator. He uses his spatial abilities by getting his “bearings.” And, most importantly, the blind man is very intuitive. He can sense the need for a learning experience and one that will help the narrator “see” from the blind man’s point of view. The narrator is depicted as someone who is depressed and whose own life lacks meaning or happiness. Carver chooses this characterization of a man who is like an empty shell because that is precisely what is needed in order to create a character change. If he would have been a secure happy person there wouldn’t have been a revelation to learn from.

Carver goes on to show us the narrator as a man who is jealous of his wife’s first husband, envious of her friendship with the blind man and who smokes marijuana every day. The regular drug use coupled with his own insecurities, make the narrator appear depressed and unhappy. The reader knows that the marriage isn’t very good either as he and his wife have strained conversations and don’t even go to bed at the same time. He can’t sleep and when he does he has bad dreams and his heart goes “crazy.’ He seems incapable of intimacy and is emotionally distant. At one point his wife even says, “You don’t have any friends.” All of this makes the narrator ripe for change…

The use of the cathedral on the TV is definitely a metaphor for the spiritual awakening the narrator needs. With its strong foundation, colorful windows, and towering structure that reaches up, inspiring people with its design and purpose, the cathedral is everything that the narrator isn’t, and everything that the blind man is. The cathedral is the subject of their conversation, but it becomes much more than that. It serves as a way to reach the narrator and show him to “see” things differently. When the blind man puts his hands on the narrators, in an effort to draw what a cathedral looks like, he is showing him that even with his eyes closed the narrator can see things in a new way. Even when he is told to open his eyes, the narrator doesn’t want to at first because he is learning that seeing is more than a visual experience, it’s seeing with your mind and heart as well.

Having the cathedral as a metaphor gave the narrator and the blind man the opportunity to discuss religion briefly and illustrated the need to believe in something unseen. Irony is used by having a blind man help the narrator “see.” Ironically marijuana was used as a way to relax, but it made the narrator sleepy. Instead of opening his mind it closed it. The real mind altering experience was without drugs. It was simply closing your eyes to one way of thinking and “seeing” them differently.

In an interview by Claude Grimal, it says “Carvers characters, drawn from Middle America, are threatened in their work, their love lives, their equilibrium, and their identities. They are always caught at a moment of truth: revelation,” and this describes the characters in “The Cathedral.” The narrator has that moment of revelation Carver is known for. In the interview Carver goes on to say that “The Cathedral” is one of his favorite stories because the character “changes” and “grows.” He says “I felt I’d tapped into something. I felt it was very exciting. The sighted man changes. He puts himself in the blind man’s place. The story affirms something. It’s a positive story and I like it a lot for that reason.”

In conclusion, the narrator in “The Cathedral” does experience a revelation, as was intended by Raymond Carver. He gains insight literally and figuratively. Through him the reader can also learn to “see” stereotypes, and other points of view. In the end the story is anything but simple. It appears that way because Carver was known as a minimalist (For keeping the stories simple in telling), but the opposite is true. The life lessons taught are deep and meaningful. Look at people as individuals, look from a different point of view, and as the blind man says, “Learning never ends.” With that, the reader can learn from a man who was without true happiness and gained much from one who couldn’t see with his eyes, but could in every other way.


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      gragusa 5 years ago

      Life is not very easy when prejuidice shows it's pearly whites, what do I mean when I say pearly whites? It means stuff other people may blindly hold against another person, without knowing too much information on a persons condition or ways in which they react towards different situations. In reading Carver's, "Cathdreal" the walls of the husbands animosity could almost be felt by his mis-guided remarks and comments about what he thinks of the blind man who will be coming to visit. Little does he realize that it is, "he" himself that is blind, as he begins to explore his visitors great ability to see beyond, "blindness" he captures a spirit that is rare and unique as the two sit together in a boundless clatter of paper and ink, drawing this faboulous structure, that one could not imangine with vision, and one could imangine with out vision. The thinking here is done in a warm heartfelt way, that only real understanding can explain.

    • romper20 profile image

      romper20 5 years ago from California

      Thank you!

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      Karen Bailey 5 years ago

      this is a great review. thanks for your help. I will also add that i think this story has a religious intonation because of his use of the Cathedral. This story, to me, is about a dark secret and how the narrator gets through 3 stages of "grief" through the help of cathedrals around the globe. my take

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      Kifah 5 years ago

      Rich of lessons story ! It's so interesting

    • romper20 profile image

      romper20 5 years ago from California

      I am glad it helped Tasha :D Thanks again for the support!

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      tashakira 5 years ago

      Thanks for sharing, this is interesting and well written. Helped me catch a few things i hadn't picked up on :)

    • louromano profile image

      louromano 5 years ago

      Nice story ! Thanks for sharing !

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      Bani 5 years ago

      Mari kaka zot service

    • romper20 profile image

      romper20 5 years ago from California

      Jcoop i am glad you liked it. Cathedral is of my top 10 short stories as well.

    • jcoop profile image

      jcoop 5 years ago from Long Beach, California

      A great discussion of one of my favorite short stories.

    • marchriley profile image

      marchriley 7 years ago

      Once at an intersection, I was sitting in my car, rather impatiently waiting for the light to change. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught sight of a pedestrian crossing the street. He was going to pass in front of my car. Upon closer observation, I noticed his "cane" and his gaited walk, realizing that he was blind. Suddenly, as he came within a foot of my car, his cane got stuck in the grill of my car. The light changed and I was frozen, feeling the gravity of the situation. As quickly as his cane became stuck, he removed it and proceeded on his way. It was a life-changing experience for me as well. This analysis reminded me of that "page" in my life, 32 years ago. Thank you.

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      Sarah 7 years ago

      Nice desription I found it very interesting, as I am a teacher myself.