“Cathedral” is a very complex short story. Although the actual story only takes up about 5 pages, that’s all Raymond Carver needed to compel an invigorating enlightenment. The narrator of this story is unnamed yet we get to see him grow rapidly in this short story. After meeting Robert, who at one time was his wife’s boss, he begins to see the world differently, and is able to change his views and realize the world isn’t as black and white as he would like it to be. When we meet the narrator he is awaiting Roberts’s arrival with little delight.
He constantly speaks to his wife about his little interest in meeting the blind man which his wife finds so captivating. We quickly begin to see the narrator’s jealousy towards Robert; he makes jokes about his blindness, speaks about sightseeing and makes other ridiculous suggestions about what him and Robert should do. We then realize he is only a naive jealous man who dislikes the fact that his wife thinks so highly of him, especially since he is blind and in the narrators eyes has nothing to offer.
After meeting Robert the narrator continues to have this wall up, he does speak to him and even treats him well, but the whole time in his head kept wondering what his wife found so interesting. The proof of change for this character is sparked at the very end of the story, when the narrator closes his eyes and draws alongside Robert and realizes this man who is blind has a clearer view on reality then he does. When we meet the narrator he is speaking to his wife about Roberts wife who had recently passed.
He thinks about how sad it must have been for Roberts late wife Beluah to never have been seen by her husband, no one to tell her she was beautiful and no one that could truly see her. As the story progresses we begin to realize it the narrator who never truly saw his wife, he pays very little attention to her and doesn’t really see her for who she is, although he is not blind he cannot pick up on the little things that Robert can see even though he is in fact sightless. Consequently, the narrator makes no effort to really get to know his own wife.
Instead of welcoming her old friend to his home, he merely categorizes Robert as part of his wife’s past, which makes him jealous, petty, and bitter. He doesn’t care whether this visit is important to his wife or what role Robert may have played in helping her through her suicide attempt and divorce. The narrator is jealous of his wife’s ex-husband but also cockily sure of his revered place in her life, expecting at one point to hear her tell Robert about her “dear husband. However, every comment he makes to his wife as well as everything he does seems designed to annoy and anger her. Far from being a “dear husband,” the narrator is insensitive and arguably has no idea who his wife really is. The fact that he can recognize her on sight doesn’t necessarily mean that he knows her intimately. The narrator then talks about these tapes that are sent back and forth between Robert and his wife. These tapes include long conversations between the two were they talk about life and all of its ups and downs.
The tapes represent a form of intimate conversation between the wife and Robert, the kind of communication that the narrator doesn’t realize is lacking in his marriage, and possibly the reason that they don’t even go to sleep at the same time. The comments the narrator makes at the beginning of the story to his wife about Roberts sight, proves how naive and childish he is. He tells his wife he wants to take Robert bowling, almost in a joking matter, and tells his wife he has no blind friends, almost as if it would be a burden to him to have some.
He thinks to himself about the beautiful scenery on the train ride and asks Robert what side of the train he sat on, without thinking how irrelevant it would have been for Robert the side he sat on given the fact he cannot see the actual scenery. He continues by saying that he believed all blind men had canes and dark glasses, he believed it was some sort of law requirement for those who were visually impaired.
And finally continues by saying if he knew anything about blind men it was that they couldn’t smoke cigarettes because they couldn’t see the smoke they exhaled and wouldn’t know when the cigerrete was finished, all things he was proven wrong about by Robert. Although he has been blunt and contemptuous of Robert throughout the evening, he is forced to converse with Robert when his wife falls asleep. After some initial discomfort, the narrator eventually taps into a core of compassion, clumsily describing what’s on television.
The narrator’s good intentions are disillusioned when he realizes he is unable to describe a cathedral. Even though he can see the cathedral, he is unable to describe the cathedral to Robert because he can’t “see” its deeper significance. “I stared hard at the shot of the cathedral on the TV. How could I even begin to describe it? But say my life depended on it. Say my life was being threatened by an insane guy who said I had to do it or else. ” We realize here that the narrator couldn’t describe a cathedral even if his “life depended on it. The scenario he imagines—a crazy man forcing him to describe a cathedral—is absurd and comical but reflects his sense of panic. Even though he can see the cathedral, he can’t describe what he sees because he really doesn’t understand it. The act of drawing a cathedral with Robert with his eyes closed, however, lets the narrator look inside himself and understand the greater meaning. As a result, his description of the cathedral takes on a more human element, which liberates the narrator and allows him to truly see for the first time.
Although his eyes are closed, he is seeing with his heart and mind, instead of with his eyes, thus a sense of enlightenment rises over him and he has an epiphany during which he can see more than he ever could with his eyes open. Only by drawing the cathedral with his eyes closed can the narrator bridge the gap between seeing and understanding, a gap that until that moment he didn’t even realize had existed. When they begin to draw the cathedral the narrator says “ So we kept on with it.
His fingers rode my fingers as my hand went over the paper. It was like nothing else in my life up to now”. Simply closing his eyes allowed him to experience something he had never a true rush of knowledge and for once, he let his walls down and realized he could “see” better if he stopped trying to analyze it with his eyes and simply understand it with his soul. He didn’t open his eyes he kept going and with his eyes closed experienced life in brand new light.