Two Levels of Meaning in Cathedral
The short story "Cathedral" by Raymond Carver develops characters with a dualistic depth. On the surface they have believable human attitudes and attributes, but there is also a level functioning that offers another interpretation. Carver is not only creating a realistic human picture, he uses the old story of the "deliverer" and reworks it into something unique, fresh. He takes the characters and binds them in the mind of his readers in a way that leads one to feel as though there is a deeper level to his message.
The narrator is quite obviously the character that Carver wants us to see as figuratively "blind." There is a stark contrast in the blind man and the husband from the beginning. The story starts out as the young husband anticipates the arrival of his wife's friend. The reader can sense his disgust and unwillingness to understand what it is like to be blind. He worries only for himself and how uncomfortable he will be in the situation. Mental emphasis is placed on the physical aspects of things and how the narrator cannot understand how the blind man could have a wife and never see her. "She could, if she wanted, wear green eye-shadow around one eye, a straight pin in her nostril, yellow slacks and purple shoes, no matter" (214).
This situation is beyond comprehension for him, how to be with someone, "without his having ever seen what the goddamned woman looked like" (213) Through his short, somewhat clipped description of his wife's former marriage and attempted suicide it is clear that he is not quite in tune with her emotions. The tone in which he describes her suffering leads us to believe that his connection to her ...
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...que in creating a disassociation with the characters and a focus on the subject matter or lesson that is to be taught. However, the first person narration offers a closeness to the psyche that is being altered. Therefore the two levels of the story can exist in harmony without one outweighing the other.
Although Carver's technique could be viewed as a cheap trick, it can also be seen as a brilliant role reversal. Through utilizing both literal and figurative metaphors, the impact of the story is both emotional and realistic. Narrative choice is key to the success of the main character's ultimate revelation and the reader's appreciation of the story itself.
"In 'Cathedral' he succeeds, seemingly without effort, in weaving the
illusion that his characters are not only real, but representative."
--David Lehman, Newsweek
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