Metamorphosis of the Narrator in Cathedral by Raymond Carver


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Metamorphosis of the Narrator in Cathedral by Raymond Carver

A metamorphosis is an act of change or a transformation from one thing to another. Most associate a metamorphosis with the process in which a caterpillar turns into a beautiful butterfly. However, metamorphoses occur in humans as well. Cathedral is a story of man, the narrator, who experiences a life changing metamorphosis in an unexpected manner. The narrator is first introduced to the reader as an insensitive and ignorant man, and he reveals these characteristics in many ways throughout the majority of the story. However, interaction with a blind man not only exploits the narrator's character flaws, but is ultimately the catalyst for his metamorphosis.
The narrator's insensitivity reveals itself early in the story when his wife's blind friend, Robert, comes for a visit after the death of his wife. Almost immediately in the beginning of the story the narrator admits "A blind man in my house was not something I looked forward to." [Carver 2368] He even goes so far as to suggest to his wife that he take the man bowling. He hears the story of Robert's dead wife and can not even imagine "…what a pitiful life this woman must have led." [Carver 2370] The narrator is superficial, only recognizing the external part of people and not recognizing the value of a person on the inside.
The narrator, although insensitive, is actually quite polite. He tries to engage in small talk when Robert arrives but shows his insensitivity once again when he asks him which side of the train he sat on during his trip. He clearly does not know how to communicate with Robert, and it appears that he does not want to learn. Robert makes him uncomfortable, and the narrator does not know how to handle this. The narrator, in an effort to relieve his discomfort with the situation, offers Robert an alcoholic drink, and pours the first of many drinks to come.
The narrator is not only insensitive, but ignorant as well. His beliefs about the blind are based on only what he has seen in the movies. He believes that the blind are led by seeing eye dogs, wear sunglasses, carry walking sticks, and move very slowly. Robert does none of these things, much to the narrator's surprise. When Robert lights a cigarette, the narrator is surprised.

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He believes that the blind do not smoke because, "they couldn't see the smoke they exhaled" [Carver 2372]. The narrator's discomfort escalates so he replaces conversation with food. The three of them eat dinner, and as the narrator watches Robert, he is impressed at how quickly he locates his food, cuts with a knife and fork, and eats properly. This is the first of many things Robert does that sets the metamorphosis of the narrator in motion.
The narrator continues to be impressed with the actions of Robert. After dinner the narrator, his wife, and Robert sit on the couch talking, when the narrator gets up and turns on the television. He is surprised to hear Robert claim that he can tell that the television is in color. He is even more surprised to find that Robert has two televisions, and always turns on the color one. The narrator shows himself to be unimpressed and without words, so he decides to test Robert yet again, and asks him if he would like to smoke some marijuana. True to form, Robert surprises the narrator by accepting his offer to smoke the drug. Robert's first smoke is a bit awkward as the narrator has to tell him how to smoke it. However, Robert inhales the marijuana just as the others do, and "….held the smoke, and then let it go. It was like he had been doing it since he was nine years old." The narrator is impressed with that for some reason, and begins to see Robert as a person, not just a blind man. He is beginning to relate to him, just a little.
After his wife falls asleep, the narrator begins watching a program about cathedrals on the television. Robert, in an effort to interact with the narrator, asks him to describe the cathedrals and what he was seeing on the television. Of course, the narrator has an extremely difficult time explaining what a cathedral looks like. The narrator gives up, explaining "…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." [Carver 2376] After this admission, Robert has the narrator draw a cathedral on a rough piece of paper while he holds his hand on top. He encourages the narrator to keep drawing, that "it'll be okay……You'll see. Draw." [Carver 2377]
As the narrator draws, he becomes increasingly excited about the prospect of drawing a cathedral that the blind man can ‘see'. The narrator draws in great detail, as Roberts enthusiasm escalates even further. Robert knows the change is coming, as he says, "Terrific…..Never thought anything like this could happen in your lifetime, did you, bub?" [Carver 2377] As the men draw together, Robert asks the narrator to close his eyes and continue drawing, which he does. At this moment, the moment of metamorphosis, the narrator ‘sees' as the blind man ‘sees'. At this moment, he truly realizes that seeing has nothing to do with having eyesight. Robert asks him to look at the drawing, but the narrator keeps his eyes closed, as if he sees better without sight. He sees the drawing the way Robert sees the drawing, and he is overwhelmed. "So we kept on with it. His fingers rode my fingers as my hand went over the paper. It was like nothing else in my life up to now." [Carver 2378]
We are introduced to an ignorant and insensitive man in the beginning of Cathedral. He is insensitive to his wife's blind friend. He is ignorant to the facts about the blind, believing only what he sees in the movies and what he imagines to be true. Throughout the story, this man undergoes a significant, although slow, change into a man who understands and relates to the blind man. He realizes that it is he who was blind, not Robert, and that now he can finally see.


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