Raymond Carvers' Cathedral

Best Essays
In "The Compartment," one of Raymond Carver's bleakest stories, a man passes through the French countryside in a train, en route to a rendevous with a son he has not seen for many years. "Now and then," the narrator says of the man, "Meyers saw a farmhouse and its outbuildings, everything surrounded by a wall. He thought this might be a good way to live-in an old house surrounded by a wall" (Cathedral 48). Due to a last minute change of heart, however, Meyers chooses to stay insulated in his "compartment" and, remaining on the train, reneges on his promise to the boy, walling out everything external to his selfish world, paternal obligation included.

Meyers's tendency toward insularity is not, of course, unique among the characters in Cathedral or among the characters of earlier volumes. In Will You Be Quiet, Please? there is the paranoid self-cloistering of Slater and
Arnold Breit, and in What We Talk About When We Talk About Love we read of James Packer's cantankerous,self-absorbed disgruntlement about life's injustices. In Cathedral appear other, more extreme versions of insularity,from a husband's self-imposed confinement to a living room in "Preservation" to another's pathetic reluctance to leave an attic garret in "Careful." More strikingly in Cathedral than before, Carver's figures seal themselves off from their worlds, walling out the threatening forces in their lives even as they wall themselves in, retreating destructively into the claustrophobic inner enclosures of self. But corresponding to this new extreme of insularity, there are in several stories equally striking instances where--pushing insularity the other way--characters attempt to throw off their entrapping nets and, in a few instances, appear to succeed. In Cathedral, and in Cathedral only, we witness the rare moments of their comings out, a process of opening up in closed-down lives that comes across in both the subjects and events of the stories and in the process of their telling, where self-disenfranchisement is reflected even on the level of discourse, rhetorically or structurally, or both.

As one might expect, "de-insulation" of this kind necessarily involves the intervention of others: the coming out of a self-enclosed figure depends upon the influence of another being--a baker or a babysitter or blind man, o...

... middle of paper ...

...alk About When We Talk About Love. New York: Random House, 1981.

--. Where I'm Calling From. 1st edition. Franklin Center, PA: Franklin Library, 1988.

--. Will You Be Quiet. Please? New York: McGraw-Hill, 1977.

Howe, Irving. "Stories of Our Loneliness." New York Times Book Review. 11 Sep 1983: 42-43.

Lonnquist, Barbara C. "Narrative Displacement and Literary Faith: Raymond Carver's Inheritance from Flannery
O'Connor." Since Flannery O'Connor: Essays on the Contemporary American Short Story. Ed. Loren Logsdon and
Charles W. Mayer. Macomb, IL: Western Illinois University, 1987. 142-50.

Saltzman, Arthur. Understanding Raymond Carver. Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 1988.

Skenazy, Paul. "Life in Limbo: Raymond Carver's Fiction." Enclitic 11(0000): 00-00.

Stull, William. "Beyond Hopelessville: Another Side of Raymond Carver." Philological Quarterly 64 (1985): 1-15.

Verley, Claudine. "Narration and Interiority in Raymond Carver's 'Where I'm Calling From.'" Journal of the Short
Story in English 13 (1989): 91-102.

Weele, Michael Vander. "Raymond Carver and the Language of Desire." Denver Quarterly 22 (1987): 00-000.
Get Access