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Theme of Blindness in Raymond Carver's ‘Cathedral’

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“The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision” - Helen Keller.

In ‘Cathedral’, a short story written by Raymond Carver, the narrator is presented with a situation, one that shows him that there is more to life than he could have imagined. Throughout the story, it is apparent that the differences between Robert (the blind man), his wife Beulah, the narrator, and his wife, make the narrator uneasy. However, by the end of the story the narrator sees a deeper meaning to life. Carver portrays the narrator as being prejudiced and having a narrow sense of the world. He does this by showing him exhibiting disdain for both Robert and Beulah for being different, as well as his wife's relationship with Robert.

The narrator states within the first paragraph that his view of blind people comes from the movies. “In the movies, the blind moved slowly and never laughed. Sometimes they were led by seeing-eye dogs”. This statement shows the narrator believes the blind move slowly, are always unhappy, sometimes bring dogs wherever they go, and in general are helpless beings. He also states, “And his being blind bothered me/ A blind man in my house was not something I looked forward to”. This quote from the story shows that the narrator has not put an abundance of thought into how the blind live, even though his wife is exceedingly close with Robert.

An irrational attitude of hostility directed against an individual, a group, a race, or their supposed characteristics, is known as prejudice. The narrator shows disdain toward Beulah because her name indicates the color of her skin. “She’d told me a little about the blind man’s wife. Her name was Beulah. Beulah! That’s a name for a colored woman. ‘Was his wife a Negro?’, I asked. ‘Are you crazy?’, my wife said. ‘Have you just flipped or something?’. ‘What’s wrong with you?’, she said, ‘Are you drunk?’”. In this dialogue, the narrator is tremendously unambiguous to how he feels toward Beulah’s skin color, agitating his wife. At this point the narrator is less prejudiced about Robert being blind, and more so at Robert’s wife’s skin tone.

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Throughout the story, the narrator mentions, in abundance, Robert’s relationship with his wife. The narrator has a jealous and insecure tone about their relationship. “She told me, he touched his fingers to every part of her face, her nose - even her neck! She never forgot it. She even tried to write a poem about it. When we first started going out together, she showed me the poem. In the poem, she recalled his fingers and the way they had moved around over her face. In the poem, she talked about what she had felt at the time, about what went through her mind when the blind man touched her nose and lips”. This situation is brought up multiple times as the story continues. The narrator is uneasy with the thought of his wife being touched by the blind man, even if it was before they had met. As the story continues, the narrator brings up the deep level of communication between his wife and Robert. “He asked her to send him a tape and tell him about her life. This went on for years”. The narrator mentions when his wife was with her ex-husband - the officer - and tried to commit suicide, but instead got sick. “She put it all on tape and sent the tape to the blind man. Over the years, she put all kinds of stuff on tapes and sent the tapes off lickety-split. She and I began going out, and of course she told her blind man about it. She told him everything, or so it seemed to me”. The narrator is unnerved by the blind man knowing about the aspects of his wife’s life, more than himself. Eventually, his wife asked if he wanted to listen to one of the tapes Robert had sent. She informed him that the tape was about him; this infuriated the narrator. “After a few minutes of harmless chit chat, I heard my own name in the mouth of this stranger, this blind man I didn’t even know!”. Robert knows everything about his wife. To the narrator, his wife confiding in another man, let alone a blind one, is a major issue.

Beulah, Robert’s wife, a Negro and the wife of a blind man. On page three, trailing onto page four, the narrator talks about how he pities Beulah for the life she must have led. “After they had been inseparable for eight years-my wife’s word, inseparable. They’d married. Lived and worked together, slept together, had sex, sure, and then the blind man had to bury her. All this without his having ever seen what the goddamned woman looked like. It was beyond my understanding. I felt sorry for the blind man. And then I found myself thinking what a pitiful life this woman must have led. Imagine a woman who could never see herself as she was seen in the eyes of her loved one. I’m imagining now - her last thought maybe this: that he never even knew what she looked like, and she on her express to the grave. Pathetic”. The narrator feels that Robert and Beulah had a crappy marriage and life together because of what made them different, he is too narrow minded to see that there is more to a person than what you can physically see, let alone the world.

It took the blind to make a make a man truly see. Once Robert had finally arrived at the narrator’s house, things were awkward. Upon a few alcoholic drinks, full stomachs from dinner, and some ‘dope’, the narrator finally started to bond with Robert. Over the course of the evening, Robert impressed the narrator with his use of utensils, knowing the television was colored, and eventually having the narrator show him a cathedral. The narrator, with Robert’s hand over his, drew the cathedral on a shopping bag with a pen. Eventually, Robert told the narrator to close his eyes and continue drawing. “His fingers rode my fingers as my hand went over the paper. It was like nothing else in my life up to now. Then he said: ‘I think that’s it. I think you got it. Take a look. What do you think?’. But I had my eyes closed. I thought I’d keep them that way for a little longer. I thought it was something I ought to do. ‘Well?’, he said. ‘Are you looking?’ My eyes were still closed. I was in my house. I knew that. But I didn’t feel like I was inside anything. ‘It’s really something’, I said”. With this realization, the narrator finally started to grasp that there is more to the world than what he originally thought.

At the beginning of this story, the narrator is extremely shallow minded and prejudiced, however, by the end he has a new outlook on life. He understands why Robert and his wife are close, and has a new understanding of people who are different from himself. In conclusion, it is important to see the world with and open mind, don’t shut people out just because they’re different. The world can be a beautiful place full of amazing things, you just have to be able to see it.

Works Cited

  1. Aleman, Steven. ‘Blind Vision’. Disability Rights Texas, Steven Aleman, DRTx Attorney and Policy Specialist, 8 Oct. 2018, http://disabilityrightstx.org/2018/10/04/blind-vision/
  2. Carver, Raymond. Cathedral. 1981.
  3. 'Prejudice'. Merriam-Webster, http://merriam-webster.com/dictionary/prejudice
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Theme of Blindness in Raymond Carver’s ‘Cathedral’. (2023, September 08). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 5, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/theme-of-blindness-in-raymond-carvers-cathedral/
“Theme of Blindness in Raymond Carver’s ‘Cathedral’.” Edubirdie, 08 Sept. 2023, edubirdie.com/examples/theme-of-blindness-in-raymond-carvers-cathedral/
Theme of Blindness in Raymond Carver’s ‘Cathedral’. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/theme-of-blindness-in-raymond-carvers-cathedral/> [Accessed 5 Mar. 2024].
Theme of Blindness in Raymond Carver’s ‘Cathedral’ [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Sept 08 [cited 2024 Mar 5]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/theme-of-blindness-in-raymond-carvers-cathedral/
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