Steve's Reviews > Cathedral

Cathedral by Raymond Carver
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's review
Jul 27, 2007

it was ok

After years of being told that Raymond Carver was the epitome of quality short story writing I finally read one of his books. I'm all in favour of sparse, concise prose that describe the minutiae of everyday life if it offers reveals the extraordinary within the ordinary. With many of the stories in "Cathedral" I kept thinking, "And...?" I did not feel that Carver's subtle observations amounted to any great insight. The only story that lingers in my mind is "A Small, Good Thing" in which a couple whose child is killed in a hit and run incident are harassed by the baker they hired to make the boy's birthday cake they obviously never picked up. It is a uneasy and moving tale of grief and obsessive indignation.

Maybe "Cathedral" isn't the best of Carver's writing, maybe I should persevere with his other work, but I can't help that I lost my invite to the Raymond Carver Adulation Society.
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message 1: by Kay (last edited Aug 25, 2016 11:44AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kay No, I sort of agree. I did enjoy the title story - a lot - but I think we Brits are maybe less in love with understated writing because we have so many examples of it: Eliot, Willam Trevor, even people who cross into the mainstream like Mary Wesley demonstrate this mastery of spare detail, and so Carver doesn't strike us - if we grew up reading our own canon - with quite as much power as he does American readers. Or maybe not ... any Americans want to chip in?

message 2: by Elaine (last edited Aug 25, 2016 11:44AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Elaine Finally. I always thought I was in a minority of one for not being more ga-ga about Carver. I've read three of his s.s. volumes, and while I liked the stories, and thought he is quite the master of the s.s., I never once hit that "god, this is so amazing" note others seem to do over and over. And I did think I must be missing something obvious. I think one either digs that completely bland, pared-down style or not. I'm clearly one of the "nots".

message 3: by PGR (new) - rated it 5 stars

PGR Nair Steve...While I do agree that 'Small good thing' is a touching tale(It was his favourite too) , the best of Carver is surely "Cathedral".I could sense the narrator's disconnect with his wife and her connection with the blind man. Yes, sometimes it does take a blind man to make the seeing see. Like Jesus said to the High Priests, 'if you had said u were blind u would have been wise, but now you've said you can see, your blindness remains'.The theme is the communication gap that isolates relationships. The narrator drinks too much and seems unable to adequately communicate with his wife. The wife has earlier tried to commit suicide because of loneliness. Both the narrator and his wife are unable to effectively communicate with one another; however, his wife communicates freely and well with the blind man. The narrator is very resistant to getting to know this man and is resentful of his presence. Only the blind man, Robert, seems able to form lasting human connections. "Cathedral" ends with hope; although there is no proof that the narrator will overcome his isolation, for the moment, he is in communion with himself and another human being.
The narrator also has limited knowledge which keeps the reader from seeing the blind man's feelings. Early on, the narrator is rude and inconsiderate. He often makes rude remarks to the blind man such as "what side of the train did you sit on?" and comments on color TV. Carver uses the narrator's prejudices as a reflection of the many prejudices inherent on today's society. The author sympathizes with the wife. Readers can sense the feeling of the wife being embarrassed. She covers up for the narrator's mistakes. The author's use of tone makes the readers dislike the narrator; therefore, the readers desire a change in him. The symbols in the story help to identify theme. The cathedral, the most obvious symbol, shows unity and common belief. A cathedral is a place where everyone is equal and accepted. The touching of the face is also a symbol. It shows the trust built between the wife and the blind man. The irony in this story is that it takes a blind man to make a seeing man see. Irony is when reality is not what it appears to be. Readers think that the blind man is at a disadvantage based on the prejudices known by everyone. In reality, the blind man can see things that seeing people are unable to see. The theme that all of these elements contribute to is that all people are equal, and the things you lack do not matter because they are made up for in other ways.
It is about one man's understanding and acceptance of a blind man. The narrator represents the story's dominant theme of overcoming prejudice of the blind through personal experience as well as mutual respect. Cathedrals are also spiritual houses of God. The building is a massive architectural symbol. Robert, a religious man and believer in God, is confronted with our narrator who doesn’t really believe in God or much of anything else. He is a lonely, drifting soul, the implication being that he is lost in an unsaved state. He lacks a spiritual center. He isn’t close to his wife. He doesn’t like his job. He has no purpose. Nothing much matters to him. The subject of cathedrals: their majesty and accomplishment, is something that forces the narrator to recognize his alienation. Robert then gives him the opportunity to realize that he is still capable of vision, insight, and creative energy. There may be a spiritual center to this loner after all. This is pretty clearly a liberating experience for our narrator, something memorable enough that he needs to tell his story.
The story also reflect of hope for personal growth, as the narrator seems to have an epiphany of sorts at the end when he makes the realization that he can communicate with the blind man and that doing so makes him feel very different and alive in many ways.

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