The Humanist Transformation in “Cathedral” by Raymond Carver
Nowadays, the Blind Seer or Prophet may be considered a conventional trope or literary archetype. One that represents people who – despite, or perhaps because of, their disability − have a better understanding of the world and therefore possess even clearer sight than regular people. It is precisely this archetype that was employed in a short story entitled “Cathedral”, written by Raymond Carver in 1981. As a famous American short fiction writer, Raymond Carver was popularly lauded by readers and critics alike as “the father of minimalist fiction” (Sklenicka ix). True enough, in “Cathedral” Raymond Carver demonstrates his masterful use of minimalism as a mode and skillful manipulation of the elements of short fiction, particularly characters, symbolism, and point of view to depict the subtle but powerful transformation of the protagonist.
According to Facknitz, Carver was known to write stories that revolved around unconventional characters with bleak or mundane lives (287). The narrator in “Cathedral” is a perfect example of Carver’s typical protagonists. He was an ordinary middle-class man who was unhappy with his job, and spent most of his time drinking alcohol, smoking marijuana, and watching television. Activities which are all typically thought of as mindless and numbing forms of escape from daily life. The narrator’s wife as a secondary character was used to show that the relationship was filled with tension; and that this tension was caused by the man’s obvious insensitivity, self-absorption, and callousness. Whereas, the blind man served as an effective foil to further highlight the protagonists’ faults and establish his figurative blindness. Robert, the blind man, is shown to be sensitive, modest, and open-minded, while the narrator is content to stay ignorant and apathetic. The juxtaposition of these two characters successfully establishes the irony of being able to perceive but never truly knowing. Unlike Robert, the narrator does not listen to his wife, he does not see her as she truly is, and as such does not understand nor appreciate her. This is evident in his detached and almost cold narration of his wife’s first marriage, divorce, and failed suicide attempt. The tone and diction used in the retelling of these events suggests that they are uninteresting to the narrator as they do not involve or include him. The narrator often uses “etc” implying that the details are inconsequential. His dislike of thinking about other people’s roles in his wife’s life, is evident in this line “why should he have a name? he was the childhood sweetheart, and what more does he want?” (211).
We are further shown his ignorance when the narrator expresses his pity for Robert because of his inability to see or know what his deceased wife looked like. Here, Robert conflates the idea of seeing with knowing. He mistakenly thinks that Robert having never seen his wife, was not able to properly get to know or love her. Ultimately, the narrator’s inability, and refusal, to look past the superficial or concrete level prevents …