Rowland Bismark's Reviews > Cathedral

Cathedral by Raymond Carver
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May 18, 10

Read in January, 2001

The Difference between Looking and Seeing

In “Cathedral,” the act of looking is related to physical vision, but the act of seeing requires a deeper level of engagement. The narrator shows that he is fully capable of looking. He looks at his house and wife, and he looks at Robert when he arrives. The narrator is not blind and immediately assumes that he’s therefore superior to Robert. Robert’s blindness, the narrator reasons, makes him unable to make a woman happy, let alone have any kind of normal life. The narrator is certain that the ability to see is everything and puts no effort into seeing anything beyond the surface, which is undoubtedly why he doesn’t really know his wife very well. Robert, however, has the ability to “see” on a much deeper level than the narrator. Even though Robert can’t physically see the narrator’s wife, he understands her more deeply than the narrator does because he truly listens. The wife obviously has a lot to say and has spent the past ten years confiding in Robert on the audiotapes she sends him. The only interaction we see between the narrator and his wife, however, are snippy exchanges in which the narrator does little more than annoy her. True “seeing,” as Robert demonstrates, involves a lot more than just looking.
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