“Cathedral” by Raymond Carver, describes a couple who is awaiting the arrival of the wife’s blind friend, Robert. The husband is not too fond of a blind man staying in their house and is judgmental about meeting him. It’s not until the family sits down to watch t.v. that the husband gains respect for Robert. A show about cathedrals comes on, and Robert asks him to describe them to him. When Robert and the husband draw the cathedral together with their eyes closed, the husband begins to see what he could not describe with his eyes open. Carver uses the cathedral in the story as a symbol of sight, insisting that the narrator was blinded by prejudice before he met Robert and also as a symbol of teaching, Robert acting as a preacher in a church.
The husband is very judgmental and negative toward blind people. He states, “My idea of blindness came from the movies. In the movies, the blind moved slowly and never laughed. Sometimes they were led by seeing eye dogs” (526). The husband views all blind people as the same and gives them the same respect, which is none. He brings them down to make himself feel better. “Carver’s figures close themselves off from their worlds, walling out the threatening forces in their lives even as they wall themselves in and retreat destructively into the claustrophobic inner enclosures of self” (Davis). When the narrator meets Robert and they all sit down for dinner, his opinion about Robert begins to change. He says, “The blind man had right away located his foods, he knew just where everything was on his plate” (531). The husband was in shock that Robert did not need someone to cut up his food and help him eat his meals. He begins to see and appreciate Robert as a person and not just as a blind man. His sight is in full affect when he begins describing the cathedral from the t.v. show. The narrator could see the cathedral, but he could not quite describe what he saw. He and the blind man began to draw the cathedral, and for once the narrator felt like he was the blind and that the blind man was the one who could see. The husband states, “It’s really something” (537). This is when he can fully see the picture not only of the cathedral, but also the understanding that even the blind can see and understand things with their eyes closed. The narrator comes to understand Robert and learns a lot from him. Robert helps him to open his eyes and become less judgmental of the blind. The husband learns from Robert that you can’t judge a book by its cover, and that sometimes it’s the important things in life that you can’t see that really matter.
Cathedrals are holy structures that people go to and receive an understanding of a higher power. In this story Robert is represented by the cathedral being the teacher, and the seeker is the husband. Robert is the one who gives the understanding of what it is like to be blind. Robert teaches the husband along the way by his actions and shows him that being blind is not a disability, but sometimes even a gift. Robert insists they draw a cathedral together and as the husband draws, Robert guides him through the process. Robert states, “That’s right. That’s good,” he said. “Sure. You got it bub, I can tell. You didn’t think you could but you can, can’t you” (536)? Robert is guiding the narrator through the process, just as a preacher would guide his church through a service. Robert is guiding the husband step by step, making sure he is getting an understanding of the Cathedral. In the beginning, the narrator was less passionate about Cathedrals, but through Robert’s eyes, he grew found of them. The narrator states, “The truth is, cathedrals don’t mean anything special to me. Nothing. Cathedrals. They’re something to look at on late-night TV” (535). The narrator viewed cathedrals differently by the end, and they made him feel something he had never felt before. The narrator states, “My eyes were still closed. I was in my house. I knew that. But I didn’t feel like I was inside anything” (536). At this point the narrator feels outside of everything at the moment and spiritually feels like he is part of something greater. “As a symbol represents a kind of common humanity and benevolence, and of human patience and fortitude, in the process of “a-spiring.” Curiously enough it is within the walls of the cathedral that the narrator ultimately ends up” (Nesset). Robert showed the narrator that there is a higher power out there. He did not want to pester the husband by talking to him about religion so he showed him through drawing the cathedral. The narrator felt like he was outside of his own body and felt like he was part of something higher. Robert taught the husband along the way showing him that seeing isn’t believing, but believing is seeing. By this point, the narrator witnessed himself opening up and becoming less judgmental of the situation. “Only in Cathedral does the reader witness the rare moments of their coming out, and process of opening up in closed-down lives that comes across in both the subjects and events of the stories…” (Nesset). Robert was a Christian man, and believes that he showed the narrator that there is a higher power out there, and helped the husband understand that through the cathedral. “The narrator of “Cathedral” communicated verbally and non-verbally with Robert, resulting a renewed sense of empathy and a remarkable, almost religious experience” (Champion). The narrator did experience a religious experience through the cathedral, and it made him feel like he was not himself.
Through the cathedral, the husband is a changed man. Robert shows and guides him along the way, teaching him that seeing is not everything and that even someone blind can help you to see and understand things you never thought you could describe. In the beginning the husband was very judgmental of Robert and did not want him in his home, and by the end he felt like his life had been missing something and that was the guidance of the cathedral. The sight he encountered as he sat there with Robert and drew the cathedral was like something he had never seen before, and could only be seen with his eyes closed.