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Raymond Carver’s Cathedral and Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son Essays

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Generally considered that the American Dream consists of a healthy family, a well-paying job and a sturdy home. A lot of people dream about it and use all their opportunities to achieve it. However, the socioeconomic situation of the United States is an obstacle to this ideal. The characters who inhabit Raymond Carver’s Cathedral are blue-collar Americans confused and illusioned by the hollow image of an American dream they see on the TV screen every night. Denis Johnson’s protagonists, however, have never heard of an American dream, and are certainly not devoted to achieving it; their lives slip by a state of alcoholism and drug use and futures become brutally shapeless. Their despairs and disappointments are displaced instead through drug addiction, alcoholism, infidelity and unemployment. Nonetheless, there are rare but genuine pulses of hope in both authors’ stories. (Carvarian people find their own ways to communicate and affect each other in order to survive in this brutal world. Johnson’s character is influenced by his own experience and surroundings; his sparks of hope occur while he is on his journey to recovery.) Despite the fallacy of the American Dream, the characters of Denis Johnson and Raymond Carver have occasional moments of hope, either in the struggle to achieve the American Dream, or in spite of it.
In “A Small, Good Thing,” Carver constructs his tale around the Weiss couple: a wealthy, happy family that has been “kept away from any real harm” (Carver, 62). The Weiss couple is distinct from Carver’s typical characters in the fact that they are content and prosperous. However, their tragedy disproves that wealth and prosperity can protect one from fate. When a car strikes little Scotty on his birthday, their w...


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...ohnson’s characters, the hope is masked early in life by violence and chemical substances. Sometimes a simple glimpse of hope can suffice to animate the lost causes, vegetating in drugs or joyless lives. Carver’s characters angle obsessively towards the material promises of the American Dream, but find that the more qualifying abstractions do not come from a house or well-paying job. Despite all disappointments and hopelessness one must always find a beam of light that can shine even through the darkest world.


It is hard sometimes to talk and say what people really mean: either they are not skilled enough at being intimate with others, or they just feel they need to protect themselves. But in these stories there are other ways of communication. Even if the things done in stories seem to have no purpose, they help people in a very hard moment of their lives.



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