In 1983, Raymond Carver introduced his short story “Cathedral” to the public. The first-person narrative takes place within the narrator’s home, where his wife is waiting upon the arrival of her blind friend Robert. The narrator, however, becomes more concerned about how Robert’s visit will affect him rather than enjoy the situation. Once Robert arrives, the narrator tries to understand the blind man, but he is unaware of what tasks Robert is capable of performing due to the narrator’s inability to “see”.
In time, Robert shows the narrator the difference between looking and seeing through illustrations of a cathedral, drawn by the narrator with his eyes closed. “Cathedral’s” narrator exposes readers to anti-heroic views influenced by his thoughts and actions through the analysis of the story’s theme, symbols, and conflicts. As readers will obtain, the theme, looking verses seeing, of “Cathedral” becomes a major element towards the narrator’s insulting comments.
The narrator clearly shows his capability of looking, through his remembrance of, “having read somewhere that the blind didn’t smoke because, as speculation had it, they couldn’t see the smoke they exhaled. I thought I knew that much and that much only about blind people. But this blind man smoked his cigarette down to the nubbin and then lit another one” (p. 86). The narrator’s blindness towards Robert’s capabilities reflects his ignorance of society as well as his corruption from self-absorbency. Later on in the story, Carver creates a situation that allows Robert to encourage the narrator to see beyond the obvious.
After a TV show on cathedrals, Robert requests a pen and paper for the narrator to draw upon. The two gentlemen, “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. ” (p. 93). The narrator knew the drawing experience was significant, but he does not fully understand the meaning of it. With the theme of looking verses seeing, the readers become aware of the reasoning behind the narrator’s derogative statements by experiencing his awakening of gaining “greater knowledge and a deeper understanding of himself” (sparknotes. om).
Evidence of the narrator’s anti-heroic attributes provides readers with symbols specifically supporting the protagonist’s views. A frequent symbol throughout the story is the act of drinking alcohol. The characters drink constant and often, which symbolizes alcohol problems; furthermore, Carver, himself, struggled with alcoholism during his life. The creation of “Cathedral” signified a major success in Carver’s life; his battle against alcoholism was conquered and Carver salvaged his life back together.
As Robert settles in at the narrator’s home, the narrator says, “Let me get you a drink. What’s your pleasure? We have a little of everything. It’s one of our pastimes. ” (p. 85). The offering informs readers about a possible alcohol problem from the statement “It’s one of our pastimes”. The narrator, in comparison, drinks heavily; yet with the progression of the story, the narrator’s tone simply converts to a dreamy manner softening the mood from the abundance of alcohol.
Another, more prominent symbol in the story is the cathedral drawing. The drawing with Robert symbolizes the ability to see beyond appearance and find the true underlying meaning within. The narrator eventually accomplishes the goal of seeing beyond the ordinary, but in effort to recognize this ability, the narrator reverts to his original ways of looking. When Robert asks the narrator to describe the cathedral on TV, the narrator’s little use of detail concluded “that’s the best I can do for you.
I’m just no good at it” (p. 91), yet when the narrator is asked about his religious beliefs, he responds, “The truth is, cathedrals don’t mean anything special to me . . . They’re something to look at on late-night TV. That’s all they are” (p. 91). However, when the narrator takes the time to draw out the cathedral with his eyes closed, he realizes the “cathedral has opened a door for him into a deeper place in his own world, where he can see beyond what is immediately visible” (sparknotes. com).
The symbols within the story give the readers a chance to put the pieces together and recognize the important anti-heroic aspects of each symbol. In conclusion, Carver demonstrates the versatile usage of characters through the short story “Cathedral”. However, evidence from the theme and symbols in “Cathedral” characterized the protagonist as an anti-hero. Readers will gain insight into the anti-heroic attributes of the narrator, but will also experience the narrator’s rebirth and comprehension of seeing beyond the surface.