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The Narrator In Raymond Carver's 'The Cathedral'

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1322 words Published: 15th May 2017

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Fiction writers use various ways in telling their story. One of such ways includes the establishment of the position through which the storyteller is to convey the plot. Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral” is a perfect example of a story from a first person narrator. A first person narrator lacks a complete hold and knowledge of other characters and often gives incomplete information and perceptions about them. In the story, the use of first person narrator gives the story in the perspective of “I”. The anonymous character in “Cathedral” is revealed as having misconstrues and limitations in the story (Stern 50) His flaws are evident in the manner in which he interacts with other characters in the story. Nevertheless, the author gives the narrator an opportunity to grow and prove his stereotypes wrong. Confusion and ignorance are a great impediment for ones true focus in life. A slight moment with the truth can be a turning point in a person’s life; giving an opportunity to remedy past mistakes and misconceptions.

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The narrator is presented as having various inadequacies and flaws which prevent him from getting a clear view of the world. Perhaps, the narrator’s prejudice against blind people reveals more about his character. The narrator clearly shows his uneasiness with the blind man visiting, “And his being blind bothered me. My idea of blindness came from the movies. In the movies the bind moved slowly and never laughed” (Carver 186). Apparently, the narrator foolishly searches for any reason to dismiss the blind man. For instance, the narrator says, “I’d always thought dark glasses were a must for the blind. ….I remembered reading somewhere that the blind didn’t smoke” (Carver 190-191). The blind man is a friend of his wife and is paying the couple a visit. Evidently, the narrator is naïve and ignorant about blind people. Through the reactions and actions of the narrator, we are able to infer some elements of his character flaws. For instance, it is undoubtedly true that the narrator is overly insecure. As a man of the house, he is afraid that the feminine can take away his position. This is demonstrated symbolically through the use of the castle in the story (Bullock 343). The masculine castle of the narrator is demonstrated by the differentiation of whatever is inside and outside. As a male, the narrator must be able to not only prevent any form of external intrusion but also the threat of the feminine power he lives with. Surprisingly, the threat he faces is his own feminine nature.

The narrator is devoid of self-awareness. His attitude towards Robert, the blind man and his wife depict a great deal of the narrator’s insensitivity. In fact, he betrays himself through his inarticulate manner of speech. A plethora of flaws can be drawn from the mannerisms shown by the narrator (Bugeja 80). The author applies the present situation of the narrator as well as the past experiences to paint a full picture about the life of the narrator. As a working person, there is nothing desirable about the narrator’s job. From the story, we gather information that the narrator is struggling with bad habits. In the past, the narrator’s wife is said to have attempted to commit suicide. She also has had a divorce and seemingly, her marriage to the narrator is definitely an unhappy one. Yet, the narrator does not seem to be there for her. The narrator is not only a drunkard but also a drug addict. He spends most of his time after work in his living room watching TV. Worse still, he does not seem to have a flicker of enthusiasm about his marriage. In fact, he does not show signs of intimacy with anybody in his life. All these are signs of ignorance and insensitivity.

The transformation of the narrator comes rather unexpectedly. From the beginning of the story, he can see Robert as a mere blind man. He resents him and dismisses him as useless and weak. In fact, the narrator’s stereotypical associations of the blind man are not different with that of a common person. However, a turning point comes in his life when he spends time with Robert. At first, the narrator feels rather awkward that his wife does not keep her guest comfortable. Robert, aware of the narrator’s weaknesses and his lonely life, endeavors to create a relationship with him. He takes advantage of the narrator’s TV viewing habits to dispel the stereotypes and misplaced perceptions of the narrator. Unknown to the narrator, Robert is possesses very string personality. Unlike the narrator, the blind man is self sufficient, confident, sensitive, perceptive, and self-assured as well as gregarious. Moreover, Robert is immensely knowledgeable; possessing a heightened capability and awareness. As it dawns on the narrator, disability is not inability. The narrator recognizes the humanity possessed by Robert in spite of his blindness. The growth of the narrator comes along with his revised perception and stereotypes about blind people.

The use of the cathedral is significant in the story. It is used as an implied metaphor suggesting the isolation that the narrator faces as a masculine figure. The craving for the masculine narrator to maintain his power and ego seems as an imprisonment (Lacan 1280). After obtaining re-assurance from Robert, the narrator clearly changes his direction. The blind man does not meet the stereotypes possessed by the narrator about blind men. The moment he spends with Robert turns out to be his turning point. The TV program on cathedrals offers a chance for the narrator to come into self recognition, allying all previous fears about blindness. As the narrator draws the cathedral while his eyes are closed, he expresses the liberty he feels. He admits that “I was in my house. I knew that. But I didn’t feel like I was inside anything.” This is certainly a transformation of the earlier masculinity held by the narrator. The symbolism in the use of cathedral is that when the narrator draws it, he is designing a new masculinity different from that of the castle. The narrator escapes from his feeling of insecurity embracing a new dawn; a complete rebirth.

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The dependency of masculinity on others to achieve its full potential is depicted in the response given by Robert about cathedrals. Being blind, Robert describes a cathedral as he has just heard from the TV. According to the blind man, “generations of the same families worked on a cathedral….. Men who their life’s work on them…. never lived to see the completion of their work” (Carver 190). In this, it is evident that that just like Robert is a crucial catalyst towards the development of the narrator, men are similar to cathedrals and “have to have these supports. To help hold them up, so to speak. These supports are called buttresses” (Carver 191). Men need support like the cathedrals for them to reach the up. According to the narrator, men built cathedrals during the olden days for them to be closer to God. The metaphor presented through the use of a religious building shows a need for design directed towards religious dimension. Although the dimension is not presented through doctrines, we can decipher it from the church wedding for the blind man and his wife (Bullock 345).

Ignorance can pose a great danger in the life a person; particularly in their daily interactions with other people. Failure to adopt open mindedness and a free focus towards life can render an individual into imaginary blindness. Physical blindness does not mean mental blindness; a physically blind person can show a normal person with clear vision the way. Stereotypes are the dwelling places for confusion and ignorance; favoring the perpetuation of misplaced imaginations and beliefs.


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