What Can You See?

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Douglas Kleinsmith
Lisa Rochford
8:00- 9:20 MW
18 March 2013
What Can You See?
For many, you have to see something to believe it. However, when looking at the beliefs of a blind person, we discover that seeing may actually distort our beliefs. In Raymond Carver’s short story “Cathedral”, an unnamed narrator tells a story of meeting a blind man for the first time in his life. Before meeting Robert, the narrator tells us of how uncomfortable he is about him. If it had not been for his obligation to meet this man, he probably would have chosen to avoid it altogether. As the story goes on, a transformation is seen with the narrator’s attitude towards this man, a transformation that symbolizes a far more important transformation within his very being. Carver means to show us that just because you can see something, doesn’t mean that you understand it, and just because you can’t see something, doesn’t mean you do not understand it.

“I’ve never met, or personally know, anyone who was blind… I’d always thought dark glasses were a must for the blind. Fact was, I wished he had a pair.” (140) Much of the story is filled with sarcastic and rude thoughts of the narrator; thoughts that are best left as thoughts. If he had voiced all of the opinions he had regarding Robert to his wife, the story would have ended with a divorce, not a revelation. Stuck up and overconfident, the narrator seems to think he understands everything. He is thinking of the world as if it was all about him and his ego. We are all guilty of this sometimes, but it seems that the narrator is guilty of it a lot more than sometimes. His self-centered perception of the world shows us that he does not see things how they truly are. Time goes on and Robert, the wife and the narrator go about their pleasantries, always with a glass of scotch close by. In stories with a message about spirituality, alcohol and marijuana are typically demonized in the western culture. Carver takes a refreshing approach to this and also hopes to convey that a spiritual experience is not any less powerful because the one who experienced it was inebriated. While normally not considered a very spiritual substance, the alcohol and marijuana act as a catalyst that helped spark an epiphany in the narrator, and also provided an important connection for the characters. The slight reality shift was arguably necessary in order to provoke a transformation. At the time, no one was drinking because they planned to have an awakening; but the reason why they felt the urge to drink is irrelevant when looking at the big picture. If fate had an epiphany planned for the narrator, and if it took a few glasses of scotch to help him get there, then he felt the urge to drink. In this case he felt awkward and uncomfortable being around the blind man. Even with his wife there he was passively dreading the experience, and even more so when his wife would leave. Robert and the narrator are left alone for the first time when the wife goes upstairs to change. “I wished she’d come back downstairs. I didn’t want to be left alone with a blind man.” (142) While his actions are polite and courteous, his thoughts remain crude and arrogant. By now, most readers have not only gained a general distaste for the narrator, but also have come to like the blind man. He is friendly, warm and just the kind of blind person I would want to be friends with, if I were to ever meet one. The wife comes back to the narrator and Robert lighting up a joint. We discover that Robert has never smoked before. Perhaps he joined to be polite, or perhaps there was something else influencing him; the reason he decided to smoke isn’t as important as the purpose. The wife joins as well, causing her to fall asleep between Robert and her husband. They are left alone again.

“’Are you tired? Do you want me to take you up to your bed? Are you ready to hit the hay?’” (144) The narrator attempts to avoid the seemingly awkward and uncomfortable...
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