"Cathedral" by Raymond Carver

25Jan05

With the relationship of the narrator to the blind man, Carver seems to be exploring notions of reality as defined by material things. When Robert asks the narrator to tell him about cathedrals, the narrator is at a loss. He tries telling Robert the facts that he has learned from watching the special that is currently on television, but finally admits that he doesn’t know much about cathedrals. He turns to facts like, “[their] supports are called buttresses…Sometimes the cathedrals have devils carved into the front…In those olden days, when they built cathedrals, men wanted to be close to God” and such. Such descriptions do not describe the visual experience of a cathedral; the narrator cannot describe the material reality that he has come to take for granted.

When the narrator begins drawing the cathedral with the blind man, he is at first paralyzed by his notion of reality. He says:

First I drew a box that looked like a house. It could have been the house I lived in. Then I put a roof on it. At either end of the roof, I drew spires. Crazy.

But his determination, fuels his drawing and he keeps going, even when Robert tells him to close his eyes. Disconnecting with the sense for which he is trying to compensate for Robert ultimately becomes a liberating experience:

But I had my eyes closed. I thought I’d keep them that way for a little longer. I thought it was something I ought to do. “Well?” he said. “Are you looking?” My eyes were still closed. I was in my house. I knew that. But I didn’t feel like I was inside anything. “It’s really something,” I said.

Without his visual conception of reality, the narrator feels free.

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