Carver's Cathedral


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The narrator, or storyteller, of Raymond Carver's short story "Cathedral" opens by saying, "This blind man, an old friend of my wife's, he was on his way to spend the night." The narrator goes on to explain that after the blind man's wife died while visiting her relatives in nearby Connecticut, he had called the narrator's wife from his in-laws' and made arrangements to visit. The narrator admits he is not excited about the visit. "He was no one I knew. And his being blind bothered me. 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. A blind man in my house was not something I looked forward to."

The narrator then tells the story of how his wife met the blind man. She had been engaged to marry an officer in training at the end of the summer. Neither of them had jobs. She saw an advertisement for a job reading to a blind man. During the time she worked for him, she and the blind man became friends. On her last day working for him, the blind man asked her if he could touch her face, and she let him. Then, she married the officer-to-be and moved away. But she and the blind man kept in touch. Her marriage deteriorated as she traveled around the country with her husband, and through her subsequent suicide attempt, separation and divorce, she and the blind man kept in touch. Now, after all these years, the blind man was coming to sleep in the narrator's house.

The narrator decides to have a conversation with his wife about the impending visit, and she asks him to try to make the blind man comfortable. She says she'd do her best to try to make any of his friends comfortable. When the narrator points out that he doesn't have any blind friends, his wife points out that he doesn't have any friends, period. She reminds him that the blind man's wife Buelah has just died, and tells him a little about her. The narrator asks his wife if the blind man's wife was a "Negro," to which she responds to by asking if he's crazy - or drunk. The man's wife Beulah, she explains, was a reader for Robert the summer after she was, before the two of them got married.

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"Carver's Cathedral." 123HelpMe.com. 13 Dec 2017
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They were married for eight years before Beulah got cancer, and had in a Seattle hospital recently, with the blind man holding her hand.

At first, the narrator has trouble believing this story. Then he starts to feel a little sorry for Robert (the first time the narrator refers to his future guest by his given name). He cannot comprehend being married to a woman for eight years without ever knowing what she looked like, nor can he comprehend what the woman's life must have been like — it didn't matter whether she wore makeup or not or what clothes she wore, she would never get a compliment from the man she loved. The narrator wonders if her last thought was about the fact that her husband never even saw her face. .

Then the narrator's wife brings the blind man home. Drink in hand, the narrator watches them move, laughing, from the car to the door. He notices the blind man has a full beard. A blind man, with a full beard—the narrator can't get over it! He finishes his drink and opens the door. Beaming, his wife introduces Robert, who offers his hand. The three move into the living room. The narrator, thinking about the scenic ride up the Hudson, asks the blind man which side of the train he sat on. His wife scolds him for his inquiry as she gives him a look and asks him why it matters.

The narrator, who says he has never met or known a blind person, observes his guest. He is a stout, balding man of almost 50, and is wearing all brown - slacks, shoes, tie and spiffy sports coat. He is surprised to find that the blind man doesn't carry a cane or wear dark glasses. The narrator can see his eyes. At first glance, they look like regular eyes. But a closer look reveals that there is something different about them. There is too much white around the iris, and the pupils seem to roam around in their sockets uncontrollably, something he finds disturbing.

He offers the blind man a drink—they have a little of everything, he says, as it is one of their pastimes. The blind man responds that he's a Scotch man, calling the narrator "Bub." The narrator pours three big drinks - one for him, one for his wife and one for Robert, and the three of them make small talk about Robert's trip. They have one drink for the trip from the west coast to Connecticut, and another for the trip from Connecticut by train. The blind man lights up a cigarette, which surprises the narrator. He thought the blind didn't smoke.

Before dinner, the narrator says a prayer that the phone won't ring and the food won't turn cold. They dig in silently. After dinner the nearly comatose and sweaty-faced group leaves the dirty dishes and moves into the living room, where they drink more. The narrator listens as his wife and Robert talk about the last 10 years. He waits for his wife to mention him, but she doesn't. Occasionally, the blind man turns to him, making small talk. Finally, the narrator gets bored and turns on the television. His wife stares him down. She asks Robert if he has a TV and, to her surprise, he responds that he has two. She calms down a little. She tells the blind man to make himself comfortable—he says he is—and goes upstairs to put on her robe.

The narrator and the blind man sit in silence, watching the weather report. The narrator gets nervous, worrying that his wife has gone to bed. Wishing she would come downstairs, he asks the blind man if he wants another drink. He says he does. He asks the blind man if he wants to smoke some dope. He says yes. The narrator rolls two joints and passes one to the blind man. When the blind man takes a hit, the narrator can tell he has never done this before. He tells the blind man to hold it in as long as he can.

Then his wife comes downstairs. Immediately, she asks about the smell. Cheerfully, the narrator says they thought they'd have some cannabis. His wife gives him a savage look. She tells the blind man she didn't know he smoked. The blind man says "There's a first time for everything." They pass around the joint, and soon his wife falls asleep. The narrator watches her, wishing she hadn't. Her head is lying back across the sofa, her mouth open, and her robe has slipped away from her legs, exposing her upper thigh. He reaches over, flipping her robe back over her, then glances at the blind man and flips it back.

The narrator offers to take Robert up to bed, but Robert says they haven't had a chance to talk and he'd rather stay up until the narrator is ready to turn in. The narrator says he's glad for the company — and he guesses he really is. Every night, he thinks, he stays up late smoking dope, alone, and when he does go to sleep, he has these dreams. On TV, a show about the Church and the Middle Ages is playing. The narrator looks for something else, then apologizes that there isn't anything. The blind man says, "It's okay."

They don't say anything for a while, as a group of men on the television are being tormented by men dressed like devils. The camera then takes a long, slow look at one cathedral, then another. For long periods, the show is silent as the camera pans over a scene. The narrator feels as thought he should explain to the blind man what is happening on the screen. He describes the scenery, including gargoyles and statues. Another cathedral is shown outside Lisbon. It occurs to the narrator that the blind man might have no idea what a cathedral really is, so he asks the blind man if he knows what they look like. The blind man spits out a bunch of facts about them, but admits that he doesn't know any of their physical qualities. He asks the narrator to describe one to him.

The narrator tries to describe a cathedral, but has trouble. He says they are very tall, have buttresses, supports and carvings of devils, lords and ladies. They're big, and can be made of stone and marble, he says. Men wanted to be close to God in those days, but that's all he can come up with. He apologizes. The blind man asks him if he is religious. The narrator shakes his head, then realizes he'll have to say it out loud. He says he's not, that he doesn't believe in much of anything. Sometimes it's hard, he says. The television drones on and the narrator's wife sighs in her sleep. The narrator apologizes again. "You'll have to forgive me," he says. "But I can't tell you what a cathedral looks like. It just isn't in me to do it. I can't do any more than I've done. The truth is, cathedrals don't mean anything special to me. Nothing. Cathedrals. They're something to look at on late-night TV. That's all they are."

The blind man coughs and says it's okay, then he gets an idea. He asks the narrator to find a pen and some paper so they can draw a cathedral together. The narrator brings some back. The blind man tells him to grab the pen, then puts his hand around the narrator's. The narrator draws a box that looks like a house. He adds spires, great doors and flying buttresses. He finds himself a little excited and can't stop. His wife wakes up and asks what they are doing, and the blind man tells her they're drawing a cathedral. The narrator keeps drawing as the blind man asks him to put in some people. His wife asks what's going on, but the blind man assures her that everything is alright. Then he tells the narrator to close his eyes, and the narrator does. The blind man asks if they really are closed, and the narrator says yes, so the blind man asks him to keep them that way. The narrator keeps drawing, his eyes closed, with Robert's fingers clasped over his as their hands gliding over the paper. The narrator explains, "It was like nothing else in my life until now."

The blind man says he thinks the narrator has got it, and asks him to take a look, but the narrator has his eyes closed and wants to keep them that way for a while. He says he thinks it is something he ought to do. The blind man asks him if he is looking, and the narrator explains, "My eyes were still closed. I was in my house. I knew that. But I didn't feel like I was inside anything." Then he tells the blind man, "It's really something."


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