Blindness in Carver’s “Cathedral”

Topics: Short story, Fiction, Anton Chekhov Pages: 10 (4002 words) Published: March 23, 2014
Abstract Raymond Carver, being a famous American short story writer in the 20th century, was often labeled as a minimalist writer. However, his “Cathedral” was nothing like his previous stories. With no extraneous words, Carver expressed his unique worldview and vision in “Cathedral”. This essay will examine the text from four different perspectives: sight and insight, names and downplay of individuality, dialogues between characters, and the growth of narrator, which are all related to the theme “blindness” and all contribute to the fulfillment of the work’s artistic and literary value. Keywords Raymond Carver “Cathedral” Sight and Insight Downplay of Individuality Dialogue Growth of Narrator “Which stories are your favorites?” When the French literary journalist Claude Grimal interviewed Raymond Carver in the spring of 1987, Carver responded to this question with the answer “Cathedral”. Raymond Carver was a debatable American short story writer in the Reagan era. He was often labeled as a minimalist writer by his contemporary critics, which he rejected in several interviews. Yet, “Cathedral” was nothing like the “minimalist” stories Carver wrote before. According to Lehman, “‘Cathedral’ is a vastly different story from any that are collected in What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, but not because its theory of significant facts has changed. The distinction is that characterization and plots are expanded, while Carver, on occasion, allows himself an optimistic vision that seemed impossible for him to express earlier.” Even Carver admitted that himself in his interview with the French literary journalist Claude Grimal: “The story ‘Cathedral’ seemed to me completely different from everything I'd written before.” The idea of the story was inspired by a blind friend of Carver’s wife Tess Gallagher. Just like in the story, the blind friend of Carver’s wife came to visit them after his wife’s death. And this real blind friend of Gallagher Jerry Carriveau was the prototype of the blind man Robert in “Cathedral”. Carver’s stories often start with something real and he revealed this in the 1983 interview for The Paris Review: “But there’s always something, some element, something said to me or that I witnessed, that may be the starting place” (Carver Country, 51). It was often commented that Carver’s earlier stories were written for the blue-collar. However, we can hardly find any such traces in the story “Cathedral”. It mainly focuses on the narrator’s change and growth (Interview with Claude Grimal), through the inspiration from the blind man. Thus, “blindness” is especially important in this story. In the short story “Cathedral”, the word “blind” has appeared 80 times. “Blindness” is the key theme which causes the narrator’s change and growth. In the following passage, I will examine the text from four different perspectives: sight and insight, name and downplay of individuality, dialogues between characters, and the growth of narrator, which are all derived from the key theme “blindness”.

1. Sight and Insight
Blindness serves as an important feature of the wife’s old friend Robert and also the theme of the story. However what Carver wanted to show was not only physical blindness, he wanted to show the difference between sight and insight. The author gave effort to stress the feature of Robert repetitively so as to express the narrator’s discomfort and discrimination against blindness. In the first paragraph, the narrator expressed his stereotypical view towards “blindness”: “My idea of blindness came from the movies. In the movies, the blind moved slowly and never laughed” (Fiction 100, 123). In the following plot, every activity the narrator did with Robert was a new experience because Robert was physically blind and it was the narrator’s first contact with a blind man. From chatting, smoking, drinking, eating to watching television, Carver...

Cited: Cambridge Dictionaries Online. Cambridge University Press, 2011. Web. 23 Mar. 2011.
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---. “Cathedral”. Fiction 100: an anthology of short stories. Ed. Pickering, James H. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1997. Print.
Lehman, Daniel W.. “Symbolic Significance in the Stories of Raymond Carver”. Journal of the Short Story in English. Vol. 46. Angers, France: University of Angers Press, 2006. Web. 21 Mar. 2011.
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Stull, William L.. Interview by Claude Grimal. “Stories Don 't Come Out of Thin Air”. Prose as Architecture: Two Interviews with Raymond Carver. Clockwatch Review Inc., 1995. Web. 21 Mar. 2011.
Trussler, Michael. “The narrowed voice: Minimalism and Raymond Carver”. Studies in Short Fiction. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1994. Web. 22 Mar. 2011.
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