Carver's Cathedral Critical Perpective

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Critical Perspective Seminar Project
I reviewed a collection of literary criticism on Carver’s Cathedral, a collection of short stories written by Carver which was published in 1983. One that stood out to be in particular was James W. Grinnell’s criticism on Carver’s Cathedral works. Grinnell wrote his review in the winter of 1984, and went on to say many things about Carver’s work. Grinnell mostly praises Carver’s work and his addition of newer and more creative ideas in his latest work. Grinnell also believes that Carver has improved his, what some called “old” style, by adding new elements to his work. James W. Grinnell opens his critique by saying, “Things are finally looking up for Raymond Carver.” I have to say I agree with Grinnell’s opening statement, the stories in Cathedral were some of which had a more pleasing and refreshed outlook on life. James Grinnell gives an overview of Carver’s life. To paraphrase Grinnell, Carvers life was not always on the positive side that it seemed like it was on since the release of Cathedral. Carver was married at the age of eighteen and he had a lot of responsibilities at that early age. Carver had the responsibilities of supporting his children and wife at this age while working dull, routine jobs. Grinnell goes on to explain how Carver was raise in a poor neighborhood in the city of Yakima, Washington. Then Carver was able to go to college and complete a Bachelor’s Degree from Chico State in California. After college Carver took up writing from the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop, making just enough to barely survive in the year he spent there. After these experiences Carver took up drinking while wasting many years of his thirties. Which Carver fully accepted and did not make any excuses for. Before 1983, Carver wrote two books full of stories called Will you Please Be Quiet, Please? and What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. Compared to the long titles, the content of the stories were pretty short, many being less than or equal to ten pages each. Carver carefully crafted his stories despite his drinking and lack of comfortable writing space. Due to the restricted viewpoints and the characters not being quite clear, Carver gained a reputation for his kind of writing that won for him. According to Grinnell when Carver came out with Cathedral, “a book with a one-word title and a dozen, more fully fleshed-out stories,” which I agree totally with, the stories were still “hard little gems of fiction but they are a few carats heavier than those of the earlier books” (Grinnell p. 106). To summarize Grinnell, half of the stories were first person narrations, which Carver had tight control over his characters perspectives. Carver does not give too much to the outside world around his characters and allows the reader to bring their own emotional baggage to and from the stories. While Carver is a literary minimalist and presents the characters of his stories lives as nothing more than what it is.

Grinnell uses the opening story Feathers as an example, explaining the story. Grinnell explains that the narrator’s daily routine is exhausted and weary and that his wife is broken when a coworker invites them over for dinner. Carver places details such as the television that has a plaster of Paris cast of crooked teeth, and a La-Z-Boy chair, as well as the host’s wife, and their baby that is described as fat and ugly, as well as a pet peacock. The narrator holds nothing back and shares with the reader that the baby was the ugliest they had ever seen. The night turns out to be a nice, special one that is actually memorable because after that their lives became even duller. The narrator and his wife have a child of their own, who developed “a conniving streak in him.” Grinnell explains that Carver’s characters “Often experience a special moment which almost affords them a glimpse of something elusive- a better life perhaps” Grinnell then says that they cannot actually achieve it...
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