My Take On Raymond Carver's "Cathedral"
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My Take On Raymond Carver's "Cathedral"

Maybe it's okay to experience things on a surface level

My Take On Raymond Carver's "Cathedral"

Often in life it becomes easy to fall into a routine; get up, go to work, eat, smoke dope until your wife falls asleep and go to bed. All of this monotony (a representation of the real world) results in people who are truly as dull and colorless as the narrator of Raymond Carver’s Cathedral. However, it is the reality of Cathedral which makes it so compelling and unique. With common, pithy prose, Carver uses hyperrealistic literature to make his readers confront the real world in its ordinary nature while also showing that even in the most common places extraordinary moments can occur.

Cathedral is a piece of prose which follows the story of two men: one man who can see but doesn’t seem to enjoy the world he is able to view, and one who is blind but has a much more optimistic view of the world around him. Our narrator, the man who can see, is the kind of man who doesn’t seem to take the world too seriously; he makes wisecrack jokes about blind people (mostly in his head, but still), smokes pot, and doesn’t bother to cover his wife in front of a blind man because “what the hell!”

And although he manages to relate to readers with his not-so-politically-correct humor, the language used by Carver also gives the narrator a flat, uninteresting image; he is meant to be incredibly ordinary. His language, until the last few paragraphs of the story, was deliberately bland and flat. Carver intentionally makes each thought its own sentence, creating a choppy cadence. This rhythm, combined with the bland vocabulary, leaves much to the imagination. He fails to evoke any images with his descriptions of cathedrals, can’t manage a positive attitude about anything with his wife, and has little sympathy for his blind recently widowed guest. And yet, his guest seems to be an almost religious figure within the story.

The pivotal moment of the short story is when our nameless narrator (we’ll call him Bub since that’s what our smoking-bearded strangely normal blind friend Robert calls him) has his ah ha!, “I think therefore I am” moment. The act of drawing with someone who cannot see, to draw with one’s eyes closed, evokes the idea of drawing what is truly within one’s soul. It seems as though our narrator Bub has perhaps never considered the value of self-evaluation or self-expression. Therefore, the act of doing so only well into adulthood would likely be very cathartic and an almost religious experience.

By insisting that Bub draws the cathedral instead of describing it, by making him use a new avenue to open his mind, Robert gave Bub the ability to access his own imagination and reach his own cathedral space of creativity and transcendence from ordinary life. Bub’s wife also experienced a near religious moment of artistic imagination with Robert: “The blind man asked if he could touch her face… She never forgot it.” Bub describes his wife’s attempts to portray the moment in poetry saying, “She was always trying to write a poem. She write a poem or two every year, usually after something really important had happened to her.” Her continued attempts to put the artistic moment into words seems to say something about the act of putting experience into words.

Carver uses hyperrealistic language that focuses only on the surface; there is not symbolic meaning or literary reference, what you read is what you get. This belief that effectively putting our experiences into literature through abstract concepts is impossible fits with the most critical moment of the story: when Bub chooses not to open his eyes and look at his drawing.

This act is a refusal to ascribe beauty through words to the epiphany of his first true piece of art. This is to show that words cannot describe the true value of the art; for Bub, something has changed which does not depend on the splendor of the piece.

Carver shows us with this transcendental experience that he has something to say about the modern world. Perhaps our world is one which induces a mentality of plainness, boring thoughts, and lack of originality. In many ways, this seems to be true. We go to school and do the same thing every day. We go to college and all end up in little boxes that tell us what to do with our lives. Then we (hopefully) get a job and go to work to do the same thing every day. Maybe we have a spouse or kids, but in a general sense most of our lives are spent doing the same thing every day.

In these day to day tasks, we often forget the importance of creativity and originality and art. Without these parts of humanity, our lives and our personalities become dull. To break these cycles in our lives we require an entirely new perspective on them, much like the change Bub has when he experiences Robert’s world by drawing with his eyes closed. This is, some would say, a call to stop looking when we cannot see. Perhaps Carver is telling his readers that there is something to be desired in being blind.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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