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The short story "Cathedral" by Raymond Carver is about a woman who has a blind friend who comes to visit her and her husband. Although the husband has, technically, normal vision he is in the beginning of this story the one who is "blind." Through the husband’s words and actions when he is dealing with Robert, the blind man, we can see that the husband does not "see" or understand what Robert’s blindness means or how it changes or does not change him as a human being. At first Robert makes the husband very uncomfortable, for the husband does not know what to say or do around the blind visitor. As the story progresses, we can see a change in the husband; he seems to be able to see Robert as a person and not just as a blind man.
One example that shows the husband is "blind" comes in the beginning of the story, before Robert arrives. When the husband and wife talk about Robert, the husband usually refers to him as "this blind man" (1052), and he never uses Robert’s name or assigns any human attributes to him. This shows that the husband does not really see Robert as a person, but just as a blind man who is different because he has a handicap.
When Robert arrives at the couple’s house, the husband does not know what to say to him. The husband asks stupid questions about the view from the train: "Which side of the train did you sit on?" (1055). The husband knows that Robert cannot see the view, but he asks him these questions anyway. Also, the husband thinks to himself, "I didn’t know what else to say" (1055) which is a clear indication that he does not know how to relate to Robert. Both of these quotations show that the husband does not know what to talk about with Robert because he only sees Robert’s handicap, instead of seeing him as a complete human being who has emotions, thoughts, ideas, and beliefs.
Not only does the husband not know how to communicate with Robert, he does not how to act around him either. A good example of this, shown after dinner, is when all three of them go into the living room. This is how the husband portrays what happens when they first enter the room: "Robert and my wife sat on the sofa.
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As the story progresses, you can see the husband’s attitude toward Robert starting to change. One example of this comes during their dinner, when the husband "watched with admiration as [Robert] used his knife and fork on the meat" (1057). The husband is obviously impressed that Robert can eat like any one else, and he therefore gives him credit for accomplishing this task. This incident is important because this is when the husband first starts to see Robert for who he is inside instead of just seeing his handicap. Another example that shows this change starting to occur comes after dinner. All three of them are sitting on the couch smoking marijuana. When it is Robert’s turn to smoke, he inhales and "held the smoke, and then let it go. It was like he’d been doing it since he was nine years old" (1058). This also shows that the husband is impressed with Robert’s actions, and it makes the husband start to view him as Robert the human being, instead of Robert the blind man.
Now the wife is tired and goes upstairs. The husband turns on the TV and a cathedral appears on the screen. Robert does not know what a cathedral looks like, so the husband starts to explain it to him. The husband is having a hard time explaining what a cathedral looks like, but Robert comes up with an idea. He suggests that the husband will draw one, while Robert has his hands on top of those of the husband. While they draw the cathedral together, the husband "rises with the spirit of the blind man as, with eyes closed and pen on paper, he leads the blind man’s hand over what he imagines the contours of a cathedral would be" (Weele 40). When they are done Robert wants the husband to look, but he has his eyes closed because he "thought it was something [he] ought to do" (1062). This is when the husband is no longer "blind" because he finally sees that Robert is person with the same thoughts and emotions as himself.
Carver, Raymond. "Cathedral" The Harper Anthology of Fiction: Ed. Sylvan Barnet. New York: HarperCollins, 1991. 1052-1063.