Blindness can manifest itself in many ways. Arguably the most detrimental form of this condition may be the figurative blindness of ones own situations and ignorance towards the feelings of others. In Raymond Carver’s short story “Cathedral,” the narrator’s emotional and psychological blindness is immediately apparent. The many issues faced by the narrator as well as the turn-around experienced at the culmination of the tale are the main ideas for the theme of this story; and these ideas aid the narrator in eventually succumbing to character transformation by simply regarding the literal blind man in a positive light.
The narrators statement at the very beginning of the story explains his own lack of knowledge concerning physical blindness. His lack of knowledge relating to the visitors disability is undeniable, yet he makes it very clear that he is aware of this ignorance, stating that he wasnt enthusiastic about his visit. He was no one I knew. And his being blind bothered me. My idea of blindness came from the movies. In the movies, the blind moved slowly and never laughed. Sometimes they were led by seeing-eye dogs. A blind man in my house was not something I looked forward to.” (90) These statements sum up his entire attitude about Robert (the houseguest) and other blind people in general at the onset of the story, giving the narrator an instant feeling of exactly who the narrator and even what he may turn out to be. While there are many undertones concerning other things about which he is unaware, the specific topic of character awareness is the main thought of the storys plot, ultimately developing into a solid theme.
The introduction of the story explains the relationship between narrators wife and the blind man, detailing how it evolved to its present status. It is here the reader may see other examples of the figurative blindness from which the narrator suffers because of his knowledge of the relationship between the two, which seem to stem from his own troubled relationship with his wife. His wife gives him an ultimatum for acceptance of the blind man, stating that if her husband loves her, he would do this for me. If you dont love me, okay. (92) Throughout the story the narrator exudes jealousy toward the relationship his wife and the blind man share. Insecurity gives way to a troubled relationship with his wife. The narrator revaluates his suspicious ideas regarding the troubled relationship; and his ultimate personal transformation gives way to the foreshadowing of a profound epiphany surrounding the entire story.
Drug and alcohol usage throughout the entire story significantly adds to another blindness of which the subject is oblivious. Once Robert arrives, he is immediately introduced to social drinking, especially when he is questioned for his choice of drink. The narrator quickly supports this inquiry by further explaining that he and his wife carry a little of everything. It’s one of our pastimes.” (94) From this point on in the plot, drug and alcohol usage is described. The final enlightenment experienced by the narrator is a direct result of the mindset brought upon by his marijuana usage. In fact, many of his described problems may be attributed to his drinking and drug use. The effects of these habits are shown very well as the narrator and Robert converse directly after smoking a marijuana cigarette: “I reached for my glass. But it was empty. I tried to remember what I could remember.” (98) This exact portion of the dialogue accurately describes that of someone who is under the influence of a foreign substance. Once presented, the negative effects of drug usage on the characters are obvious throughout the story.
The story climaxes after the wife falls asleep and the two men are finally allowed to converse with each other. It is at this time when the narrator finally gets to see the attitude and thoughts of the blind man, leading directly to his own personal transformation. When Robert asks whether or not the narrator is religious, his ambiguous response “I guess I dont believe in it. In anything. Sometimes its hard. You know what I’m saying?” (99) leads the reader (and Robert, as well) to see that this man is in need of something which means more than physical blindness.
The reader becomes aware that this blind man feels it necessary to help the narrator both mentally and emotionally, bringing justice and understanding to a man filled with petty ideals. Once Robert has fulfilled this deed, the narrator begins to understand that certain positions of his are, and always has been, wrong, leading to an ultimate revelation towards change. Many among society today have a minute understanding of what it is to truly see, that this initiative is more than physical viewing and bases itself mainly on emotional understanding, for instance, figuratively seeing what is inside other people, what they feel and how they think.
Conclusively, the final drawing of the Cathedral truly helps the reader understand the meaning of achievement through working together. The two men hold hands while drawing the Cathedral, which inevitably is the basis for the story being told. If not for this truly life-changing experience, this narrator would simply have continued on his close-minded lifestyle never learning about or accepting other people as they are. The last few sentences of this story paint a beautiful picture of someone coming to the realization that being blind is not an affliction that is limited solely to the body. A person can be blind to the feelings of others and the problems that can affect our everyday life, yet through interaction and tolerance an individual can find both themselves and an awareness for people around them.
Carver, Raymond. Cathedral Literature and its writers. 4th ed.
Ed. Ann Charters and Samuel Charters. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins,2007. 91-113
Below you will find five outstanding thesis statements for “Cathedral” by Raymond Carver that can be used as essay starters. All five incorporate at least one of the themes found in the text and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements for Carver’s “Cathedral” offer a short summary of different elements that could be important in an essay but you are free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent paper.Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1: The Psychology of “Cathedral"
Raymond Carver’s work has been called, among other things, “dirty fiction." This might be, at least in part, because he deals with profound themes by exploring the baseness and rawness of the human condition. Rather than repel the reader, however, Carver’s treatment of these issues is adept and he is able to stir up psychological dilemmas within the reader. In reading “Cathedral," for example, the reader may feel embarrassed or shocked by his or her agreement with the narrator’s initial observations about blindness and the blind man. He may similarly in this short story question the characters’ use of alcohol and drugs as a means both of escape and connection. Consider one or more of the reactions that you had to this short story, and explain how Carver manipulates the characters and his plot through raw truthfulness to provoke psychological dilemmas in the reader.Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2: Casual Narration
From the first few lines of this story, the reader gets the sense that this is no ordinary tale. The narrator is extremely casual in telling his story, and this narrative style is deliberately used by the author to engage the reader. Consider the various ways in which the narration of “Cathedral" can be considered a casual narration. Include treatment of issues such as line length, candid admissions, a devil-may-care attitude at times, and word choice in your analysis. Explain how this narrative style works to capture the reader’s attention and make him or her care deeply about the characters in the story.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3: The Function of the Tapes
Early in the story, the narrator explains that his wife has maintained a correspondence with a blind man for whom she worked by sending cassette tape recordings of her voice and his voice back and forth. The narrator expresses a certain ambivalence about these tapes; he sees that they bring his wife a great deal of pleasure, yet he can’t really understand them (nor does he want to). In the tapes, his wife talks about her relationships and experiences connection and catharsis. Write an essay in which you analyze the function of the tapes for each of the three characters. Be sure to address the symbolic meaning that the tapes may hold in relationship to the theme of the story.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4: The Role of the Wife
The narrator’s wife is a principal character for at least half of the story, but then she falls asleep on the couch between the blind man and her husband. Her sudden withdrawal, which we might consider an absence of sorts, provides the possibility of the two men connecting. The wife’s centrality contrasted by her absence is a subtle yet dramatic shift that permits the rest of the story to unfold. At the end of the story, she wakes up and is curious to know what is transpiring between the two men, yet the reader gets the sense that she could not understand even if the men told her. Write an essay in which you analyze the role that the wife plays in this story. Specifically, explain this shift in the degree of her presence and determine what function it plays in the development of the plot.
Thesis Statement/Essay Topic #5: The Metaphors of Blindness
Blindness is a dominant motif in this story, and it serves multiple metaphorical functions. Perhaps the most obvious of these functions is that the friend’s literal blindness is a foil to the narrator’s and his wife’s own blindnesses, which are not physical but social and emotional. Write an essay in which you explore and explain the multiple metaphor of blindness in this story. Alternately, focus on the closing of the story, in which the blind man teaches the narrator how to draw a cathedral, even though he has never seen one.
This list of important quotations from “Cathedral” by Raymond Carver will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes from “Cathedral” listed here correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes and explanations about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned and explained. Aside from the thesis statements above, these quotes alone can act as essay questions or study questions as they are all relevant to the text in an important way. All quotes contain page numbers as well. Look at the bottom of the page to identify which edition of the text they are referring to.
“My idea of blindness came from the movies. In the movies, the blind moved slowly and never laughed. Sometimes they were led by seeing-eye dogs. A blind man in my house was not something I looked forward to." (2533).
“On her last day in the office, the blind man asked if he could touch her face. She agreed to this. She told me he touched his fingers to every part of her face, her nose—even her neck! She never forgot it." (2534)
“Over the years, she put all kinds of stuff on tapes and sent the tapes off lickety-split. Next to writing a poem every year, I think it was her chief means of recreation." (2534)
“They’d married, lived and worked together, slept together—had sex, sure—and then the blind man had to bury her. All this without his having ever seen what the goddamned woman looked like. It was beyond my understanding." (2535)
“Imagine a woman who could never see herself as she was seen in the eyes of her loved one. A woman who could go on day after day and never receive the smallest compliment from her beloved." (2535)
“My wife finally took her eyes off the blind man and looked at me. I had the feeling she didn’t like what she saw." (2537)
“They talked of things that had happened to them—to them!—these past ten years. I waited in vain to hear my name on my wife’s sweet lips….But I heard nothing of the sort." (2538)
“I’ve had a real nice time. This beats tapes, doesn’t it?" (2539)
“She’d turned so that her robe had slipped away from her legs, exposing a juicy thigh. I reached to draw her robe back over her, and it was then that I glanced at the blind man. What the hell! I flipped the robe open again." (2540)
“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." (2541)
Reference: Carver, Raymond. “Cathedral." In The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Nina Baym. 2532-2543. New York: W.W. Norton, 2003.