The narrator in Raymond Carver’s "Cathedral" is not a particularly sensitive man. I might describe him as self-centered, superficial, and egotistical. And while his actions certainly speak to these points, it is his misunderstanding of the people and the relationships presented to him in this story which show most clearly his tragic flaw: while Robert is physically blind, it is the narrator who cannot clearly see the world around him.
In the eyes of the narrator, Robert’s blindness is his defining characteristic. The opening line of "Cathedral" reads, "This blind man, an old friend of my wife’s, he was on his way to spend the night" (1052). Clearly, the narrator cannot see past Robert’s disability; he dismisses him in the same way a white racist might dismiss a black person. In reality, any prejudice—be it based on gender, race, or disability—involves a person’s inability to look past a superficial quality. People who judge a person based on such a characteristic are only seeing the particular aspect of the person that makes them uncomfortable. They are not seeing the whole person. The narrator has unconsciously placed Robert in a category that he labels abnormal, which stops him from seeing the blind man as an individual.
The narrator’s reaction to Robert’s individuality shows his stereotypical views. The narrator assumed Robert did not do certain things, just because he was blind. When he first saw Robert his reaction was simple: "This blind man, feature this, he was wearing a full beard! A beard on a blind man! Too much, I say" (Carver 1055). When Robert smokes a cigarette, the narrator thinks, "I . . . read somewhere that the blind didn’t smoke because, as speculation had it, they c...
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...nd optimistic" (Watson 114). The few critics who have written specifically about "Cathedral" tend concentrate on that optimism, seen at the end of the story with the narrator’s "esthetic experience [and] realization" (Robinson 35). In concentrating on the final "realization" experienced by the narrator, the literary community has overlooked his deep-rooted misunderstanding of everything consequential in life.
The narrator’s prejudice makes him emotionally blind. His inability to see past Robert’s disability stops him from seeing the reality of any relationship or person in the story. And while he admits some things are simply beyond his understanding, he is unaware he is so completely blind to the reality of the world.
Carver, Raymond. "Cathedral." The Harper Anthology of Fiction. Ed. Sylvan Barnet. New York: HarperCollins, 1991. 1052-1062.
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