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Key Themes of Raymond Carver's Short Story 'Cathedral'

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The short story ‘Cathedral’ has many different themes. These include, but aren’t limited to, jealousy, insecurity, isolation, detachment and connection. Raymond Carver’s short story ‘Cathedral’ is about prejudice and the ignorance that comes with it. The narrator’s false assumptions based off stereotypes and lack of knowledge eventually is overcome by treating others with equality and seeing things from their perspective.

The main character’s narrow-mindedness is already apparent in the first few sentences when saying, “I wasn’t enthusiastic about his visit… a blind man in my house was not something I looked forward to”, giving the reason, in which he states that his picture of the blind “came from movies … the blind moved slowly and never laughed”. The narrator bases his opinion of Robert on his lack of knowledge and assumes he does not like him. In order to really see someone for who they are, one has to look past the stereotypes and judgments from others and get to know them on a personal level. One could compare this story to ‘Boys and Girls’ written by Alice Munro. They are similar in the way that both stories make assumptions about, the role of a girl and boy, and a blind person, as ‘Cathedral’ does.

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Throughout the story, the narrator’s words are less direct and subtler, compared to what he thinks. The contrast between the narrator’s thoughts and what he says reveals his acknowledgement of his bigotry, and also his fear and obvious lack of understanding the blind man. The audience is allowed to see the reasoning behind the narrator’s outrageous statements, including when the narrator states, “I’d always thought dark glasses were a must for the blind. Fact was, I wished he had a pair”. The use of the first-person point of view opens a gateway into the narrator’s mind in which his prejudice and ignorance of people different from him is revealed and emphasized.

‘Cathedral’ also demonstrates that people can change. After the dinner, the tone is switched to empathy and awareness. The narrator becomes more playful and humorous. This is shown when the narrator states, “I watched with admiration as he used his knife and fork …. It didn’t seem to bother him to use his fingers once in a while, either”. The tone then again changes into more accepting. The narrator tries to explain cathedrals to the blind man, and he realizes that he is no better than the blind man. The blind man then proposes they work together to draw the cathedral. This leads to a moment of deeper connection. The narrator originally stated that, “Truth is, cathedrals don’t mean anything to me”. After connecting with the blind man by drawing a cathedral, he states, “It’s really something”. This shows how the main character changes at the end of the story. The blind man shows the narrator the difference between looking and seeing.

At the end, the dialogue between the blind man and the narrator is a big turning point. The narrator is asked about their drawing; however, he continues to keep his eyes closed. I believe he realized that he could see more than he ever could with his eyes open. This proves that ignorance and prejudice is caused by false assumptions based off stereotypes and lack of knowledge and can be overcome with treating the other with equality. I have personally learned this through an experience with having a close friend who was blind. We were in band together, and I initially believed she could never be a great marcher. However, after practicing with her and standing by her when learning her steps, she showed that she could be as good as anyone else in the band.

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Key Themes of Raymond Carver’s Short Story ‘Cathedral’. (2023, September 08). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 1, 2024, from
“Key Themes of Raymond Carver’s Short Story ‘Cathedral’.” Edubirdie, 08 Sept. 2023,
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Key Themes of Raymond Carver’s Short Story ‘Cathedral’ [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Sept 08 [cited 2024 Mar 1]. Available from:
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