In a critical essay written by Diane Andrews Henningfeld, Henningfeld says that the short story “Cathedral” by Raymond Carver first appeared in The Atlantic Monthly before Carver made it the title of his collection that bears the same name. The story has become one of the most frequently taught short stories of Carver’s body of work (Henningfeld). In the story, the closed-minded narrator meets his wife’s good friend, Robert, who happens to be blind. As the story progresses, the blind man teaches the narrator to see, in the sense that he teaches him to open his mind to things that cannot always be seen.
The narrator has an epiphany in which he begins to think differently; he opens his eyes and begins to see for the first time. It is important for one to understand this because it is a main theme and message in “Cathedral” that could possibly be missed upon a first reading. “The meaning of the story is not explicitly put before the reader, but rather is often hidden in the gaps of a story” (Henningfeld). The narrator begins as an unhappy, insecure, and judgmental man with an impassionate relationship with his wife.
He envies the relationships between his wife and Robert, which is such a sharp contrast to the narrator and his wife’s monotonous relationship that consists of drinking and watching T. V. to replace conversation. The narrator doesn’t understand the relationship between the blind man and his late wife because he doesn’t see how someone could be in love with an individual that they cannot see. “They’d married, lived and worked together- had sex, sure- and then the blind man had to bury here. All this without his having ever seen what the goddamned woman looked like.
It was beyond my understanding” (Carver 84). The view of blind people that the narrator has initially is very stereotypical and narrow. Upon meeting the blind man, the narrator’s theories begin to deteriorate as the blind man proves him wrong. The central idea of the story, and the final change in the narrator, is slowly revealed through hints in the text. The narrator learns that the blind man has a beard, he smokes, and he eats without needing assistance. He also sees the blind man laughing, which is different from his idea that blind people never laugh or smile.
These characteristics of the blind man hint to the narrator’s views beginning to change. The jolly blind man serves as a sharp contrast to the melancholy narrator; the blind man is passionate and “sees” things much more clearly than the narrator, who is very emotionally detached from his wife and looks at everything with a narrow, judgmental mind. The blind man’s demeanor could also foreshadow the new person that the narrator becomes after his experience with the blind man, as they draw a cathedral together.
While the two draw a cathedral, the narrator’s “eyes” are opened to a new way of thinking and one could predict; a happier life. The end of the story is rather abrupt, but when thinking about it further, it seems like this new found outlook will help the narrator in many ways, including possibly forming a more passionate and emotional relationship with his wife and others around him, considering his wife states that he has no friends. “’I don’t have any blind friends,’ I said. ‘You don’t have any friends. She said” (Carver 83). There is a lot of symbolism in “Cathedral” that communicates the theme and central ideas of the story.
The title, for example, describes a huge, intricate, and time-consuming architectural endeavor that would take many people to build. This title could be Carver communicating that anything great or worth something, takes individuals working together to create. In the story, this is depicted through the narrator and the blind man working together to bring the narrator to a wider frame of mind.
Randolph Paul Runyon in a critical essay proposes that “[In “Cathedral” the protagonists]… collaborate with each other to create together what they could not have done by themselves” (Runyon). The narrator most likely could not make this change if it was not for the blind man entering his life and changing his views. After being exposed to the blind man and witnessing all of the characteristics and actions that before having met the blind man, the narrator did not know could exist in any blind person, the narrator begins to “see” and comprehend everything differently.
From the last few sentences in the story, it can be concluded that the narrator experiences something life changing. “My eyes were still closed. I was in my house. I knew that. But I didn’t feel like I was inside anything. ‘It’s really something,’ I said”(Carver 93). He begins to see things the way that the blind man does. While of course, the blind man cannot physically see, he understands the complexities of human emotion and is much more content with his life than the narrator, even though one might think that the narrator is more well off than the blind man considering he possesses the ability of sight.
The description of the narrator in the story, his home life and his relationship with his wife shows that he is a dynamic character with room for growth and improvement within his thinking and lifestyle. This growth and improvement is taught to the narrator by his assumed most unlikely of people, the blind man, and he opens his mind far beyond what the eye can see.