Summary of Raymond Carver's Cathedral


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In Raymond Carver’s story, “Cathedral,” the story tells of how a close outside relationship can threaten a marriage by provoking insecurities, aggravating communication barriers, and creating feelings of invasion of privacy. The husband in the story is given the gift of seeing the cathedral through a blind man’s eyes. Although the title suggests that the story is about a cathedral, it is really about two men who come together and share a vision and realize it is he who is blind.
As the story begins, the character of the husband has a negative personality. He lacks compassion, is narrow-minded, and is jealous of his wife’s friendship with a blind man named Robert. His constantly complains that “a blind man in my house was not something [he looked] forward to” (362). The close outside friendship between the narrator’s wife and Robert provokes his insecurities. This friendship has lasted for ten years and during those years, they have exchanged countless tapes regarding experiences they have gone through. Because of this, her husband feels “she [has] told him everything or it so it seemed” (363) about their relationship.
Upon the arrival of his wife’s friend, the husband is ultimately uncomfortable around Robert because he does not know how to communicate with or act around him. His discomfort is revealed when Robert and his wife were sharing their experiences “about the major things that had come to pass for them in the past ten years” (367). He felt it was necessary to join in because he thought Robert would “think [he] left the room and didn’t want [his wife] to think [he] was feeling left out” (367). It is obvious the husband is overly involved with Robert’s handicap and fails to see him as a person with his own thoughts and ideas.
As the story progresses, the husband’s attitude towards Robert changes. During dinner, he “watched with admiration as [Robert] used his knife and fork” (366) on a piece of meat. As bedtime draws near, his wife heads upstairs, leaving both men alone. The husband begins to flip through channels and comes across a program about a cathedral. Robert is unaware of what a cathedral is and the husband is attempts to explain, but has a hard time in doing so. To get a better understanding, Robert suggests that he draws a cathedral while he places his hands on top of those of the husband.

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While they draw the cathedral together, the husband, with eyes closed and pen on paper, leads the blind man’s hand over what he imagines the contours of the cathedral would be. When they are done, Robert wants the husband to look, but his eyes remain closed because he “thought it was something [he] ought to do” (372). It is in this moment, the husband realizes that it was he that was blind, blind in knowing people for who they are and not for their disabilities.


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