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Analysis of Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral” Essay Sample

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Analysis of Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral” Essay Sample

The short story “Cathedral” by Raymond Carver displays one man’s new found understanding and acceptance of a blind man over a relatively short period of time. The narrator represents the story’s dominant theme of overcoming fear and prejudice of the blind through personal experience as well as mutual respect. The narrator who remains nameless throughout the play holds deeply unfounded beliefs and stereotypes of what a blind person should be, yet through various stages of transformation he develops a bond with Robert, the blind man whom at first he privately mocked and feared. The narrator is ill at ease with the idea of having a blind man in his home; however, through various stages of transformation he quickly begins to warm up to Robert as a person, not simply as a blind man. When the narrator’s stereotypes of the blind are discredited, he reaches his first stage of transformation. This allows him to progress to his second stage with the realization that Robert is a capable human being. The final two stages come when the narrator allows his mind to let go of all of its prejudices and allows himself to identify with and understand Robert through his handicap.

The first stage of transformation for the narrator is that his preconceived notions about blind people are proven false when he meets Robert for the first time. The narrator is not looking forward to having a blind man stay at his house. But once Robert arrives at the narrator’s home, the narrator is shocked that Robert does not conform to the narrator’s idea of the blind. When Robert gets out of the car himself without any help, this action really goes against the narrator’s ideas of a slow moving blind man. The narrator now begins to question his image of a blind person. The narrator notes that Robert “didn’t use a cane, and he didn’t wear dark glasses” (106). Both are the narrator’s expectations of a blind person. Suddenly the narrator no longer has much to base his prejudices on. The transformation that is seen in the narrator in the first stage sets him up for the next stage to begin.

The next stage of transformation for the narrator comes at supper when the narrator begins to see Robert as a capable human being rather than a burden. During supper the narrator notes that he “watched with admiration as he (Robert) used his knife and fork on the meat” (107). This is the first positive comment that the narrator uses to describe Robert. Later, this stage of understanding is enhanced when Robert agrees to smoke a joint with the narrator by saying “‘I’ll try some with you'” despite never trying it before (109). This brings the narrator and Robert closer together as they share a moment like old friends. Now the narrator, while not completely over his prejudices, is beginning to see Robert not only as a blind man but also as a human being and possibly a friend. When the narrator’s wife falls asleep, he and Robert are left alone watching television. The narrator stumbles across the idea that Robert has no idea what a Cathedral is. The narrator tries his best to explain it to Robert, but he fails. The narrator apologizes to Robert for not being able to describe the Cathedral to him, and it is evident through the narrator’s thoughts and actions that he truly does feel sorry. The narrator’s stage of transformation has brought him to empathize with Robert.

After the narrator fails to describe the Cathedral, Robert asks the narrator to draw the Cathedral with him. This is when the most amazing stage of transformation takes place. The narrator begins to draw the Cathedral for Robert. At first the narrator is hesitant; however, suddenly he gets caught up in drawing as Roberts fingers follow along.

“I put in windows with arches. I drew flying buttresses. I hung great doors. I could not stop. The TV station went off the air. I put down the pen and closed and opened my fingers. I took up the pen again, and he found my hand. I kept at it. I am no artist. But I kept drawing just the same” (114).

These thoughts from the narrator represent his new found connection with Robert. He is now trying to help Robert and relate to him rather than suffer him. The narrator is honestly trying his hardest to help Robert understand what a Cathedral is in visual terms. The narrator then thinks how “It was like nothing else in my life up to now” (114). While doing this, the narrator furthers his stage of empathy with Robert.

The final stage of transformation is when the narrator lets go completely of all his prejudices and preconceived notions. This happens when he is completing the drawing of the Cathedral with Robert. The narrator keeps his eyes closed when Robert asks him to view the finished drawing. When Robert asks in reference to the drawing “‘What do you think?'”, the narrator then replies, “‘It’s really something'” (114 – 115). However, what Robert does not know is that the narrator is commenting on the experience with Robert rather than what the drawing looks like. In this final stage the narrator is freed from all of his prior conceptions of what a blind man is and all of his fears of Robert himself. The narrator’s mind has been expanded through his experience of teaching Robert what a Cathedral looks like. The narrator has an almost out of body experience through his newborn acceptance of Robert’s handicap when he thinks “I was in my house. I knew that. But I didn’t feel like I was inside anything” (115).

The stages of transformation for the narrator are very rapid. Each stage leads to the next in a neat sequence. The reader sees the narrator go from a prejudicial man to an enlightened man within a dozen pages. Along with its various stages, the transformation works with the story’s dominant themes of conquering trepidation and intolerance of the blind through personal understanding as well as reciprocated respect. The narrator goes through three initial stages before reaching his final stage of total acceptance and understanding. In the beginning he must first overcome his stereotypes of the blind, which are leading him to a negative idea. After this change takes place, he comes to see Robert as a man who is separate from his disability. Then he begins to empathize with Robert because of the narrator’s lacking ability to help Robert. This leads the narrator to thorough understanding through the shared experience of the Cathedral drawing. The narrator’s epiphany is not reached through slow gradual development but rather through various quick stages of transformation.

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