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Languages, ‘Cathedral’ By Raymond Carver

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Published: Fri, 21 Apr 2017

Languages, “Cathedral,” by Raymond Carver, opens with the narrator telling the reader in a conversational tone that a blind friend of his wife is coming to visit them. The narrator is clearly annoyed about the approaching visit. The blind man helps the narrator to experience what it is like to be blind by trying to explain what a Cathedral is like to the blind man, he finds that his words fall short. Though both men speak English, one depends on vision to converse, the other does not. It is as if they communicate in foreign languages. Throughout this story, Carver uses literary elements such as narration, dramatic irony, setting, symbol, and figurative language, to fully engage his audience in his story, and to fully express the influence the blind man had on the narrator.

Point of view isn’t confused in “Cathedral.” The narrator is sharing a very important event in his life. He guides us through the transformations he endures over the course of a single evening. He has a say-anything sense of humor, to put it nicely, and is not scared to make himself the butt of all the jokes. He is sort of like a standup comedian, but at some points takes his jokes a little too far.. Some readers might become insulted by his blind-people jokes. Before Robert’s visit, the narrator is seriously close to crossing the line. The following quote contains the narrator’s thoughts after hearing Robert’s story from his wife, but before actually meeting him: “Hearing this I felt sorry for the blind man for a little bit. Then I found myself thinking what a pitiful life must have led. Imagine a woman who could never see herself as she was seen in the eyes of her loved one. A woman who could never receive the smallest compliment from her beloved. A woman whose husband could never read the expression one her face, be it misery or something better. Someone who could wear makeup or not – what difference to him? She could if she wanted wear green eye shadow around one eye, a straight pin in her nostril, yellow slacks and purple shoes, no matter (30).” This method is also known as dramatic irony, and happens when the audience knows more, and understands more than the character/ narrator.

“Cathedral” was first published in 1981. During this time television was slowly, but surly switching to color. The basic setting of the story is in a well of house hold someplace in New York, over a single evening. In a story called “Cathedral” one might expect setting to be a little more complex than it actually is. After drinks, an enormous meal, an normal living room is converted into what could be though of a scared place, kind of like a cathedral, but this would be where the people in it are adoring only each other. When Robert and the narrator draw the cathedral together in front of the narrator’s wife, something astonishing happens, something that isn’t automatically noticeable to the eye. When the woman wakes up, she can’t quite understand what she sees. Robert has his hand over her husband’s hand, and the two of them are sitting on the floor drawing on a paper grocery bag. After she opens her eyes, the narrator closes his, but starts drawing again, with Robert’s hand enclosed around his. Maybe the encounter is so astonishing because the narrator is able to find a way to connect with Robert not only without words, but in a way he never envisioned. He’s shocked by the process, but also by the close connection with Robert. In terms of setting, the second to the last line tells us so much: “My eyes were still closed. I was in my house. I knew that. But I didn’t feel like I was inside anything” (37). For the narrator, the precise setting of the story, his home, is not his drawback. Instead, he is imprisoned by habit, by boredom, and by his own restricted vision. He does not just feel like he is not inside his house, but also like he is not inside himself.

“Cathedral” is very light on symbols, imagery, and allegory. Carver claimed that there is really nothing symbolic about the two men drawing a cathedral. The audience might find that to be enormously comforting. Other readers might find that the drawing of the cathedral cannot be a metaphor for art, because it is simply art. At the conclusion of “Cathedral,” the narrator has a life-changing moment, an epiphany, while trying to describe to Robert what a cathedral looks like, the narrator, tries to explain what the cathedral looks like, but struggles for the words to accurately describe the cathedral. Nonetheless, upon Robert’s support, the narrator relaxes, and draws the cathedral with Robert steering his hand with a pencil onto paper. Together, the who men are creating art. The process in which the creating of this art seems to be written, or told different three phases. The first phase is shown by this quote: How could I even begin to describe [a cathedral]? But say my life depended on it. Say my life was being threatened by an insane guy who said I had to do it or else” (36). The narrator tries to define what he sees by forming something that looks like it. For an artist to make art, there is normally a hint of this earnestness. That is the part of what encourages the artist to create. In any case, the narrator keeps trying over and over again but he just cannot do it. He cannot find the correct words for the job. He is totally irritated. In the ultimate stage, the narrator closes his eyes, he loses himself even more. Observe that not one person of this comments on the excellence of the drawing. The audience cannot evaluate the real piece of art that was created. They can only judge the narrator’s explanation of the experience of it being created. When we see how much he needs the experience, the narrator’s words reverberate. When we consider the opportunity that his wife is headed for another suicide attempt, the words take on ever greater importance.

As the audience can see, Carvers writing style greatly influences the success of his story. Throughout this story, Carver uses literary elements such as, narration, dramatic irony, setting, symbol, and figurative language, to fully engage his audience in his story, and to fully express the influence the blind man had on the narrator. If this story were written any other way, it would not have the same impact on the readers. The way of using a narrator, and hearing the story from his point of view is very important in the story. This allows us to hearing the story from the person whom was mostly impacted from the blind man. Although light on symbols, the symbols that were used greatly impacted the story. The use of the Cathedral, and the detailed explanation of when Robert was describing how to draw the cathedral to the narrator, has some great symbolism. The setting, including the time period and where the story actually took place is of great importance to the story. This story would not have the same influence on it’s readers if it were to be written any other way.


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