Raymond Carver was born on May 25, 1938. He was well known for being “the most powerful and innovative short-story writer of his generation” (May par. 1).
Before the age of twenty, he had two children and was married. This situation made it difficult for him to do what he wanted, but he moved his family to California in 1958 and enrolled in Chico State College, thus fulfilling his dream of achieving a higher education. (History Reference Center par 1,2). Carver was hospitalized multiple times from an alcohol addiction and on June second, 1977 he decided that there was only one way to fix this issue and that was to stop drinking (May par.
1). Raymond Carver was a recovering alcoholic who wrote stories whose characters mostly struggled with failed careers, broken marriages, and financial problems, however, “Cathedral” is unique because the main character seems to open up to his surroundings.
“Cathedral” was published in 1983 and is narrated in first person by the main character.
This short story had three major characters: a husband, his wife, and a blind man. Upon reading “Cathedral” the first time, one would assume that this story is simply about a blind man that comes to visit an old friend. It is not until after reading and digging deeper into the story that one realizes the true moral of the story, seeing versus looking.
In the first part of the story, the reader has no idea what the blind man’s real name is because the narrator, the husband, and the blind man have no relationship.
The story begins by explaining the relationship between the wife and the blind man, Robert. The wife and Robert met through a summer job she had reading to him and helping him organize his office. It was there that they became very close friends. At the time, the wife was married to her first husband and Robert was single. At the end of summer, Robert asked her if he could touch her face and she said yes. The narrator then explained the interaction. He described it by saying “he touched his fingers to every part of her face, her nose- even her neck!” (). It was at that moment that the wife and Robert began to have a deeper relationship. The two kept in touch by phone and by tapes. Robert soon meets another woman and gets married, and after 8 years his wife passes away from cancer. Shortly after this happened, Robert and the narrator’s wife plan a visit. Upon hearing about the visit, the husband is not to thrilled. He explicates that he only knew of blind people from television, and infers that he is not very comfortable with him coming because he does not know how to interact with a blind person.
In the story it seems as though the husband uses drugs and alcohol to aid his struggles in life. It is revealed in the story that he not only drinks, but he also smokes pot. This point sticks out because Carver struggled with addiction and he seemed to have carried over this issue into this short story even though he was in the period of his life where he was sober. Towards the end of the story, the wife falls asleep and Robert and the husband are practically forced to interact with each other. The husband and Robert find every little thing to talk about including topics such as color television and skeletons. Another program that appears on the television is talking about cathedrals which seemed to peak the interest of not only Robert, but the husband as well. At first the husband is unsure of how to describe it but Robert when he asks him to so he fixes this issue by having him get pen and a heavy piece of paper. The two begin to draw the cathedral together and at a point Robert tells him to close his eyes. As the two continued to draw, the husband began to come to a major realization in his life.
The husband realized that the act of the two characters drawing together was more than just drawing a cathedral. this situation is where the dilemma of seeing versus looking comes in. Throughout the story the husband is looking at things such as his life, his wife previous life before he married her, the city, and the blind man, but it is not until he closes his eyes and draws that he begins to actually see things and see a whole new world. He frequently refers to Robert as “the blind man” and looked at him as only a blind man. He also tends to use the phrase as a term of disrespect. He did not see him as a person nor did he treat him like one. However, at the end of the story he sees him as the human being that he is. The Husband also sees that a cathedral is more than just a building. As he says, “it really is something.” To him the cathedral is no longer just a building with a roof and some windows, it is a new outlook on life. This moment also shows that he now understands what his wife sees in Robert. Robert sees the world through such a different lense and he has now opened the husband’s eyes to almost the way that the blind man sees the world around him. This story is one of the most unique stories written by Carver because it is not often in any of Carvers other stories that a character comes to any kind of life altering understanding or opens to a character in the story with a positive outcome. The ending of this short story could also mimic the decision that Raymond Carver made in his own live to end his alcohol addiction. Just as it was hard for the husband to see life in a positive and productive way because of his bitterness it was also hard for carver to experience his full potential in life because he was constantly being hospitalized for his struggle with alcoholism. In both instances, carver and the husband came to realize that life wasn’t just about being bitter and drinking all day. It was about seeing the world and people for what they truly were. Although Raymond carver and the husband struggled with experiencing the world for what it was, the two had eye opening moments that brought them to reality and changed the way they saw the world.
To conclude, the short story “Cathedral” mimics Raymond Carvers life in a way. Just as the wife in the story was married twice so was Carver (King). Carvers first marriage was hard, and he was not very happy therefor picked up on a drinking habit and left his wife and years later re-married. To compare, the wife was not happy in her first marriage either therefor she left her husband and married another man; the narrator of the story. Also, just as carver came to the realization in his life that he needed to stop drinking; in the story the blind man comes to symbolize his opening of his mind to a whole new world. AKA realizing he needs to stop drinking.