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Cathedral by Raymond Carver, Essay Example

Pages: 6

Words: 1565

Essay

The “Cathedral” is a short literary story that builds around a husband and a wife.  There is very little history explained about the narrator and his wife.  The story begins with his wife and her blind friend.  It tells how they met, how their friendship grew, and the blind man’s plans to come and visit.  The writer then discusses the husbands dislike for this man, simply because of his ability to see.  He questions the race as well, showing that the narrator’s ignorance is not solely based on the blind man’s inability to see.  Events unfold and the characters change throughout the story.  Carver addressed the issues of narrow-mindedness and showed how circumstances can be used to open the eyes of individuals who were once figuratively blind.

Analysis

The “Cathedral” by Raymond Carver is a short story that displays characters as they evolve.  This is done through the use of a narrator that shows very believable human attributes and attitudes with an adequate room for alternate interpretation.  The realistic human picture that is painted by the author is done so to create a different, unique story.  The story holds significance by portraying the narrator as figuratively “blind” and the wives friend as actually blind.  Significance is a provoking word because it both remains slippery and grounds the act of reading when the reader tries to understand a specific meaning.  Patricia Harkins writes,” finding the significance of a text is deemed to be basic to the act of reading itself. Indeed, we expect texts to have significance and if they don’t, we tend to question why we’ve bothered to engage in the reading act at all.” (Harkins 1999)

The story begins with the narrator dictating the history of his wife and the blind man’s relationship.  The disgust and lack of understanding is clearly painted from the beginning.  There is no concern with the fact that it is his wife’s friend coming, simply his feeling of how uncomfortable it will be to have him there.  The ignorance of this man is very well written, allowing the reader to the depth of his dislike.  The husband’s feelings toward the blind man are based on his lack of personal social life as well.  The wife is a symbol of change, trying to reform the narrator’s views by welcoming her friend into their house.  Using her, it allows the two men to exemplify their approach to life.  The husband is superficial, relying on visual clues and taking things for what they are worth and not much more.  The blind man depends on her feelings, thoughts, and words.   The significance that Carver tried to tell is his desire to teach a lesson through disassociation with the characters by focusing on a message of teaching the readers a new perspective.

Argument

The characters symbolic encasement in “Cathedral” is neither humanistic nor postmodern.  The plot lays out in a predictable and uneventful manner.  “Where is the rhetorical irony to undercut the narrator? Where is the televised image of medieval exploitation contested or even explored? The change that has been wrought by the narrator’s symbolic experience with the cathedral is nothing if not a ‘universal referent’.” (Brown 1990) There is no life changing lesson for any individual to walk away from this short story with.  The well written and clearly painted story lacks the value necessary to create a necessary change.  The narrator accepted the change too easily and as the story unfolded it became predictable.  It ended with a sudden epiphany, and the life lesson that the narrator walked away with was almost too much to be believable or realistic.  The old saying if it’s too good to be true it probably is this holds true with literature as well.

The narrator has been filled with ignorance for his whole life. He suffered from a life-time of symbolic blindness, with little desire to see things differently. This was not a trait he picked up at the market, so changing his narrow mindedness would take time and effort.  It is not feasible for narrator to have a healing vision in just one night. This epiphany occurred because of human touch, the blind man and the narrator.  The cathedral was a way of drawing two very different types of blind men together to see clearly. The darkly painted short story filled with a lack of understanding and ignorance does not change due to one evening when his wife falls asleep and the narrator is left to entertain.  It is arguable that the “Cathedral” is well written, but the symbolism is not adequate for the story the writer is trying to tell.

Tone

The tone of this story can be perceived as controversial, conspiratorial, sincere, metaphoric, and lowbrow.  The narrator begins by trying to captivate the reader, keeping them amused, through clear and precise language.  The conspiratorial becomes a tone because the character is disclosing his true feelings, without getting mushy regarding them.  The metaphors are very strong and used throughout the entire story. The narrator explains the circumstance that is unfolding without disclosing his personal feelings.  “If Carver’s rhetorical strategy cannot stand up to its own symbolic weight, it is certainly not because Carver’s aesthetic refuses metaphor.” (Chénetier 186) Each character has their metaphoric symbolism that unravels throughout the entire story.  Some have a greater weight than others.

The lowbrow wisecracks come from the narrator.  These jokes are often about blind people; however there is still a tone of sincerity that shows through.  This is his attempt at providing the reader with unadorned honesty, sparing no punches.  The narrator is in the rut of his life, he sees no way of getting himself out of it.  The controversy comes into consideration due to the sensitivity of the topic.  The negative comments made regarding the blind man portray ignorance.  The lack of compassion the narrator shows for the blind man’s physical ailments.  These are a few of the tones that Carver used in the “Cathedral”.

Thesis

The narrator is a man with limited awareness that discovers the need to let go of his own rigid perceptions of the world and expose himself to a life altering self-realization.  A journey of figuratively blind man to finally be able to see and the people that helped pave the way.  There were few characters utilized in this short story, however they all played a vital role in the end results.  In the end, it was not the blind man who needed to see, it was the narrator.

Structure

The “Cathedral” provides evidence of a strongly controlled symbolic structure is in this pessimistic story.   This short story shows a glimpse of characters who are tied in a web of relationships.  The significance of these characters is not always understood in the original structure.  Carver refuses to give the events and facts with a significant underlying.  The structure was build off of the male character, the narrator.  “The relative invisibility of the wife’s perspective throughout the story supports a reading that suggests that Carver has followed the convention of using a female character as a material obstacle to overcome to enable a male protagonist’s intellectual epiphany. Students might be encouraged to mull over this observation by considering how the word “wife” has been positioned within the “histories of articulation” (Ahmed 1)

Evidence

This story does unfold around a narrow-minded man with rigid perceptions and by exposing himself to a new situation he had a life altering self-realization. The solutions are found by his desire to help someone else.   Wendy Hesford makes a similar point by noting that “the concept of ‘material rhetoric’ highlights the discursivity of the material world as well as the materiality of discourse” and in so doing “prompts consideration of how individual and collective struggles for agency are located at complex intersections of the discursive and material politics of everyday life.” (Hesford 1999)  Had the narrator stuck with his dominate opinions regarding the blind, he would have never take the time to show him what a cathedral looks like.  The healing in the narrator’s life would have never occurred.  The intersection was when the literal and figurate blind men crossed paths at the demands of his wife.

There are many opinions to the literary significance of Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral”.  Some find it irrelevant, and others argue the true underlying meaning of this story.  However, it is arguably a journey of discovery.  The narrator is a man with limited awareness that discovers the need to let go of his own rigid perceptions of the world and expose himself to a life altering self-realization.  His wife, and her friend the blind man were obstacles that the author used in changing the way he viewed things.  Regardless of the skepticism associated with the predictable ending, there was still a certain amount of surprise that generated from the narrators ability to separate from his dominate views disclosed early in the story.  This story sets the stage and clearly shows the journey of a man who discovers who he really is.

References:

Ahmed, Sara. (2004) The Cultural Politics of Emotion. New York: Routledge.

Brown, Arthur A. (1990) Raymond Carver and Postmodern Humanism. Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction.

Chénetier, Marc. (1986)  Living On/Off the ‘Reserve’: Performance, Interrogation, and Negativity in the Works of Raymond Carver. Critical Angles: European Views of Contemporary American Literature. Ed. Marc Chénetier, Carbondale: Southern Illinois

Hesford, Wendy. (1999) Reading Rape Stories: Material Rhetoric and the Trauma of Representation. College English, 192-221.

Harkin, Patricia. (1999) Acts of Reading. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Inc.

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