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Carver

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Raymond Carver

Michael Tache
English 210-12
April 28, 2011
Raymond Clevie Carver, Jr. was born on May 25, 1938 and died on August 2, 1988. Carver was an American short story writer and poet. Carver is considered a major American writer of the late 20th century and also a major force in the revitalization of the short story in the 1980s. Carver was born in Clatskanie, Oregon, a mill town on the Columbia River, and grew up in Yakima, Washington. His father, a sawmill worker from Arkansas, was a violent alcoholic. Carver's mother worked on and off as a waitress and a retail clerk. His one brother, James Franklin Carver, was born in 1943. He married his first wife Maryann and six months later a daughter was born. A son followed. Carver enrolled at various colleges, where his studies concentrated on creative writing. Aged twenty-two, "The Furious Seasons", his first published story, appeared in college magazine Selection. "The Brass Ring", his first published poem, appeared in 1962, in the little magazine Targets.
In his late twenties, Carver filed for bankruptcy. His father died. He also got his first white collar job as a textbook editor. Carver’s story "Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?" appeared in The Best American Short Stories 1967, and a college press published the poems Near Klamath, his first book. Carver continued to move around, move jobs, and get stories and poems published. He began to lecture. He went bankrupt again and was hospitalized with acute alcoholism. In his late thirties, the stories Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? appeared in his first major-press book. Carver stopped drinking. He met Tess Gallagher, and he and Maryann separated. The American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters awarded him a fellowship to write full-time. At forty-nine, doctors diagnosed cancer. They removed part of his left lung, but the cancer recurred. He had brain radiation treatment, but cancer reappeared. Ray and Tess married in Reno, on Friday 17 June 1988. He died at home, in Washington State, on 2 August.
Many critics, as well as Carver himself, noted that his story, Cathedral, seemed to be moving away from minimalist writing, that it showed a widening of perception and style. In The Architecture of Masculinity in Raymond Carver’s Cathedral, Chris Bullock, argues that many of Carvers characters are concerned with issues of masculine identity. Bullock uses the example of the drawing of the cathedral and how it is portraying the masculine ego through the metaphor of architecture. Bullock points out the narrator’s lack of feeling with the relationship with his wife. For example when he points out his wife’s attempt of suicide, an account most likely containing emotion, yet has none. Bullock points out this form of writing as defense against the narrator’s slight feminine side. However, the irony of all this defensiveness is that only emptiness is being defended; the emptiness of the couple’s relationship and of life in the narrator’s living room. Bullock points out the narrator’s isolation and the way the narrator pushes away of relationship with others, as a form of his masculine ego.
I found Chris Bullocks critique of Raymond Carver’s Cathedral made some insightful points. Bullock backed up his reason with examples of the narrator’s reactions and feelings. Bullock uses the narrator’s stereotypical ways to illustrate the masculinity. The way the narrator attempts to have masculine control through vision. For example, when his wife’s robe slid open he didn’t even bother to cover her up or when he turned on the television in the living room. Bullock proved his perspective with quotes and metaphors from the story. In The Cathedral Overview, Carol Simpson Stern’s tone makes Raymond Carver works sound depressing and his human nature is bleak. Stern’s interpretation of Carver’s work revolves around characters that work mindlessly, drink, and have broken marriages. The characters usually cannot express themselves and once had hope and ideas about the kind of life they should live but don’t. One narrator dislikes blind people and is full of prejudices. Stern points out Carver’s narrators as a male or female who want to be taken seriously but aren’t; characters that hide behind alcohol and drugs to avoid confronting themselves. However, Stern reflects a breakthrough in the story Cathedral. Stern points out how the story moves toward a moment of illumination and transformation. The blind man, Robert, allows the narrator to have a moment of recognition when he has glimpses something much bigger the world he knows, “It’s really something.” Stern compliments Carver’s artistic way and understanding of the bodily knowing that can connect a blind man to a sighted one.
I found Carol Simpson Stern’s critique to be agreeable. Stern supported his ideas and point of view with examples of many of the works of Raymond Carver. Stern points out many of Carvers narrators to show his common choice of empty mindless characters. However, I believe that Carver did have a turning point when he wrote Cathedral. The narrator was stereotypical and close minded, yet he had a blind man show him a new light to life. Carver created a connection with a blind friend who held a precious kind of knowledge.

John Carver has a very minimalistic writing style. Carver gives the barest amount of information and leaves it up to the readers to draw their own conclusions. For Carver in most of his stories, salvation lies in human contact and connection. In most of the works of John Carver there is a lack of communication between wife and spouse, which eventually escalates to even greater problems. In the beginning of the story it is obvious that the narrator’s relationship with his wife was poor as she questioned whether he really loved her especially when he didn’t want her to invite her friend Robert, the blind man, whom she really cared about. “’If you love me,’ she said, ‘you can do this for me. If you don’t love me, okay.” (Carver 90) Although he knew little about the blind visitor, the narrator passed judgment on him before even meeting him. "And his being blind bothered me. My idea of blindness came from the movies. In the movies, the blind moved slowly and never laughed" (Carver 91). Raymond Carver’s short story “Cathedral” explores the theme of ignorance through the narrator’s journey from insecurity to openness. On the other hand, the pitied blind man is really the one who should be envied. He appears to have a more accurate view of the world than most with two healthy eyes. In addition, he has a closer relationship with the narrator's wife than the narrator does himself.
The blind man's high came from his relationship with his own wife, and not mind-altering substances. But to the narrator's surprise, as the story progresses the narrator's eyes are opened to the blind man's world. Carver fails to give the narrator or his wife a name and lacks details about their lives which dehumanize the characters. The one thing readers are sure of is that the wife and husband lack communication skills and personal connection. Robert urges the narrator to open up to discussion, the narrator begins to exit his comfort zone of indifferent detachment to forging a real connection with Robert, thus causing the narrator to rethink not only his prejudice toward the blind, but his outlook on communication and personal connection overall. However, throughout the story Carver includes drugs and alcohol as a way to escape the rigors of his reality. He says that he "smoked dope and stayed up as long as I could…My wife and I hardly went to bed at the same time” (Carver 94.) When conversation with Robert became awkward, instead of dealing with them, he asks Robert if he would like to smoke dope. Along with dope, the narrator refers to drinking numerous times throughout the story calling it "one of our pastimes" (Carver 95.) The narrator uses the drugs to achieve a sense of satisfaction. When the narrator is asked to describe to Robert the appearance of a cathedral he struggles for words and with Robert’s encouragement he loosens up and proceeds to have a life changing moment. This is a close personal connection and intimate moment of communication for the narrator, and it impacts him greatly.
The narrator is able to connect with Robert, and this is the moment where the narrator can put aside his insecurities and actually interact with someone else. It changes the narrator; he says, “It was like nothing else in my life up to now” (Carver 99.) In "A Small, Good Thing" is generally regarded as one of Carver's finest stories, in which he goes beyond the spare narratives and unrelieved bleakness of some of his earlier work. “A Small Good Thing” is a story about Scotty, an eight-year-old boy who dies three days after being hit by a car as he walks to school. The lack of communication between characters in this story causes even greater stress and frustration than necessary. The situation at the beginning of the story seems perfect. A loving mother, Ann, goes to a bakery and orders a birthday cake for her young son's birthday party. Before her world is shattered, Ann Weiss shows herself to be a person who likes to make connections with others; she likes to communicate and be friendly. When she first encounters the baker, she tries to engage him in conversation, however he insists on keeping a mental wall between them. A similar incident occurs later in the story, when Ann is in the midst of her family crisis. She still seeks connection with others. When she meets the parents who are waiting for news of their son, Franklin, she wants to talk more with them, since they are in a situation similar to hers: "She was afraid, and they were afraid. They had that in common." She wants to tell them more about the accident to Scotty, but she does not know how to begin. "She stood looking at them without saying anything more." (Carver 12.) Again, even though she senses the connections between very different people, the family is black, the baker is much older than she, and she is unable to articulate it or get others to feel it. But the baker places himself outside that circle of communication. He does not permit himself to reach out to others. This is clear from his interaction with Ann at the beginning, but it becomes more pronounced in the phone calls he makes to the Weisses' home.
At first, he is simply unlucky. It is quite reasonable for him to call and point out that the cake has not been collected; he just happens to catch Howard at the wrong time, and Howard knows no more about a birthday cake than the baker does of Scotty's accident. It is an unfortunate incident, filled with misunderstanding, and demonstrates how easily in this story things can go wrong. But after this incident, the baker is guiltier. He allows his resentment that the cake has not been collected to worsen, and he makes harassing calls. Without knowing, he is completely at odds with the current family situation, where sympathy and compassion are called for, he offers only malice. Only at the end of the story does this situation change. In the most unlikely of circumstances, the three people in the bakery manage to reach out to one another. This happens only after they reach an extreme of hostility and lack of understanding. It is the baker who makes the first move by apologizing, asking for forgiveness, and talking about his own frustrations and disappointments. They all learn that what they have in common is suffering. This is the bond that, when acknowledged, leads to compassion and understanding. The bakers in his loneliness, and Ann and Howard in their grief, in the darkness of the night and the warmth of the bakery, create for themselves a renewal of the bonds of community through the simple ritual of sharing food.

Works Cited Aubrey, Bryan. "Critical Essay on 'A Small, Good Thing'." Short Stories for Students. Ed. Anne Marie Hacht. Vol. 23. Detroit: Gale, 2006. Literature Resource Center. Web. 29 Mar. 2010.
Bullock, Chris J. "From Castle to Cathedral: The Architecture of Masculinity in Raymond Carver's 'Cathedral'." The Journal of Men's Studies 2.4 (May 1994): 343-351. Rpt. in Literature Resource Center. Detroit: Gale, 2010. Literature Resource Center. Web. 29 Mar. 2010.
Charters, Ann, and Samuel Charters. Literature and Its Writers. 5th. Boston, New York: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2010. Print.
King , Stephen . "Raymond Carver's Life and Stories ." New York Times 17 November 2009 , Print
Stern, Carol Simpson. "Cathedral: Overview." Reference Guide to Short Fiction. Ed. Noelle Watson. Detroit: St. James Press, 1994. Literature Resource Center. Web. 29 Mar. 2010.

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