A Quick Summary and Analysis of “Cathedral” Short Story
One of the key defining factors of Raymond Carver is his distinct writing style. With the use of a minimalist and a strong approach, his writings have often been compared with that of Anton Chekov and Ernest Hemingway by the critics. Carver’s stories were often staged around the blue-collar and middle-class people who struggled under their ordinary lives’ harsh reality and disappointments.
Cathedral short story is often regarded as one of the best stories written by Raymond Carver. The short story is also, in fact, one of the author’s favorite stories. Unlike most of Carver’s earlier works, Cathedral’s short story culminated in an optimistic ending. The thing that sets Cathedral’s short story apart is its use of simple language, which could mold a narrative from a common man’s perspective, creating an impression of truthfulness.
The narrator of the Cathedral short story begins to mention that his wife’s blind friend will spend the night with them. The man has lost his wife quite recently. Finding the man’s blindness unsettling, the narrator exclaimed that he is not one bit happy about this visit. The narrator goes on to add that his wife met him when she worked as his reader in Seattle. The narrator mentions that he distinctly remembers the last day of her job when he touched her face about which she had written a poem.
The narrator goes into further detail about his wife’s past. The narrator’s wife got married to her love, who was an officer. Her life did not plan out as she hoped for, and she started to get depressed. She once tried to end her life by swallowing pills one night which she luckily survived. However, she was in constant touch with her blind friend, and they both exchanged audiotapes to talk to each other.
The narrator also mentioned that his wife had asked him to listen to one of the audiotapes sent to her by her friend but, however, was interrupted before he could listen. The narrator then advises his wife to take her blind friend bowling, but she quickly reminds the narrator that her blind friend had just met a tragedy. He had lost his wife, Beulah, quite recently. She also told the narrator to welcome her friend into their house if he loves her.
The narrator then asks if Beulah was “Negro”, to which she replied in a dismissive tone. She now tells the narrator about Beulah. Beulah started working as the blind man’s reader after she had quit her job. Both of them eventually fell for each other and got married. Sadly, Beulah passed away eight years into their marriage from cancer. The narrator felt horrible after hearing the story and thought to himself how sad it was for Beulah to live, knowing her husband would never be able to see her. The narrator then speculates that Beulah was in a situation to wear anything that she desired.
His wife later goes to the station to pick up her blind friend while the narrator waited at home. Upon reaching home, his wife guided her friend into the house by his hand, chatting and laughing. The narrator was shocked to see a full beard on a blind man. The wife introduces Robert, her blind friend, and the three settle in the living room.
The narrator of the Cathedral short story asks Robert on which side of the train he sat on; Robert replied that he chose the right side to sit on the train. Robert also added that he had not traveled via train for a very long time. The narrator described Robert’s appearance and told him that he had never known a blind person in his life. The narrator also found Robert not wearing dark glasses a bit strange. The three start to talk about Robert’s trip as the narrator pours scotch for them.
Robert was constantly smoking cigarettes, to which the narrator reacted by mentioning that he never knew blind people could smoke. The three of them then sat to have dinner, and the narrator was impressed by how Robert handled the utensils. After getting dazed with a hearty meal, the three moved back to the living room to have a few more drinks. Finally, the narrator’s wife and Robert started to talk about events from 10 years ago, with the narrator occasionally trying to be a part of the conversation.
The narrator later gets to know that Robert and his wife, Beulah, ran a distributorship of Amway together, and Robert also worked as a ham radio operator. Each of Robert’s questions was only met with short responses from the narrator. As the narrator turns the TV on, his wife gets irritated and storms upstairs to change. Meanwhile, Robert offers the narrator pot, and the two smoke a joint together. The narrator’s wife joins them after a long time, but she immediately falls asleep on the couch.
Changing the channel, the narrator asks Robert if he was sleepy and wanted to go to bed. Robert replied that he wanted to stay up and chat. The narrator mentions that he loved to stay in Robert’s company, and he never went to bed at the same time as his wife. In the middle of their conversation, a show about the Middle Ages started to air on TV, and no other programs were playing on TV. Robert insisted they keep it on as he loved learning about new things.
When the narrator on the TV stops speaking of what is happening, the narrator attempts to explain what is going on the screen to Robert. The video shows several Cathedrals, and the narrator asks Robert if he knows how one looks like. Robert replied in a dismissive tone and asked the narrator to describe it for him.
The narrator of the Cathedral short story explains how a cathedral looked but soon realised he could not explain things well enough for a blind person. Robert asked him if he was a religious person, to which the narrator replied that he was a non-believer. The narrator explains that since cathedrals hold no significance for him, it is quite hard for him to describe them.
Robert then asks the narrator to grab a pen and a piece of paper. The narrator and Robert sat around the coffee table, and the narrator started to draw the picture of the Cathedral. Robert tries to follow the pen’s movement by putting his hand on the narrator’s hand as he drew. The narrator gets engrossed in what he is doing. Meanwhile, his wife wakes up and asks what are they doing. Robert replied that they were drawing a cathedral. The wife gets confused as she had missed the context.
Robert then asks the narrator to keep his eyes closed and finish the drawing. After a few moments, Robert asks the narrator to open his eyes, but he does not. Even though the narrator knows he is inside his own house, he feels he is nowhere. “It’s really something”, the narrator then tells Robert.
Analysis of Cathedral short story
In the Cathedral short story, the central theme is irony. The narrator ignorantly despises blind people. Yet, even though he has perfect vision, the narrator does not realise all the limitations that he had restricted himself with and how these are limiting him to experience greater things in life.
In Cathedral’s short story, the readers learn that the narrator is quite naïve and has a judgemental mindset. The narrator mentions being shocked by Robert’s full beard and his smoking habit. This points to the fact that the narrator views himself to be superior since he can see.
The narrator of the Cathedral short story goes on to assume that blind people are not capable of keeping a woman happy. The narrator believed that blind people like Robert could not have led a normal life. He is certain that the ability to see is all that matters and fails to look deeper into the surface. This is perhaps the reason the narrator knows very little about his wife.
On the other hand, Robert is a kind-hearted person who sees deeper into the surface without having the gift of vision. Nevertheless, he is able to understand the plight of others, and he listens. This is why the narrator’s wife chose to share her feeling with Robert for 10 years through audiotapes.
Each of the Cathedral short story characters experiences new insight and meaning through storytelling, poetry, and drawing. For example, the narrator mentioned that his wife composed poems to commemorate special occasions in her life, though the narrator does not like them. Though he admits, he might not understand them.
The narrator of Cathedral, the short story, gains a deeper revelation about his life when he draws the picture of a cathedral in Robert’s company. It was the first time he has had a greater understanding and knowledge about himself. Robert, on the other hand, also gains new insight from experience. Though not able to see the drawing, Robert is able to visualize in his mind following the stokes of the pen while the narrator was drawing. Cathedral short story is the simple act of retelling the story that reflects on the narrator’s newly found understanding.
Cathedral’s short story dwells on the difference between looking and seeing. It only takes a moment to alter a person’s perception of the world. Even though the Cathedral short story reflects on the narrator’s personal life, the story was brilliantly treated.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the feelings of the narrator after meeting Robert?
Though the narrator was quite skeptical about Robert visiting his wife and him, the narrator got quite comfortable interacting and learning more about Robert over a couple of drinks and dinner.
How did the narrator’s wife know Robert?
The narrator’s wife knew Robert from her first marriage, which ended abruptly, after which she ended up working as a reader for Robert.
Why did Robert ask the narrator to draw the picture of the Cathedral?
Robert asked the narrator of the Cathedral short story to draw a picture of a cathedral so that he could follow the narrator’s pen strokes and visually analyze what a cathedral might look like.