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What is it about a character that draws the reader to a story? Obviously their personality and what makes them unique comes to mind, but it’s the journey the protagonist of the story makes and how the antagonist affects them along the way that makes a story interesting. In Raymond Carver’s short story, “Cathedral,” the narrator, who remains nameless, tells the story of his wife’s blind friend who comes for a visit. The narrator is a dynamic protagonist that evolves over the course of the story. The blind man, Robert, is his antagonist, and gives the protagonist a new perspective.
At the beginning of the story the protagonist seems insecure and jealous of his wife’s relationship with Robert. The narrator’s wife shared a professional past with the blind man, perhaps wished it was more, and they had worked together. They maintained a close relationship by mailing tape recordings back and forth, and the narrator felt uncomfortable about it. When Robert comes for a visit, and they finally meet, the protagonist puts on a nice face and treats the blind man kindly enough, despite his uneasiness about the blinds man’s relationship with his wife, and his inexperience with the blind in general. His wife seems to pity Robert and tries to assist him and hold his hand, help which later Robert denies. The narrator jabs a bit at the blind man at first, asking about which side of the train he rode on, angering his wife. The narrator isn’t impressed with the blind man at all at first. He observes the middle aged, heavyset, balding man with a beard and blank eyes that drifted about lazily. He appears to be nothing more than a blind old bum, and he wonders what it is about the blind man that draws his wife so close to him.
The narrator’s wife goes upstairs to change, and he is left with Robert. He doesn’t want to be left with the blind man, he feels uncomfortable. The narrator then has a drink and smokes with the blind man, and when his wife comes back downstairs she sits between them on the sofa. His wife falls asleep and Robert and the narrator are left on either side of her.
This is where we see the most change in the narrator. He asks Robert if he would like to go to bed, and Robert says that he would like to stay up with the narrator. The narrator agrees and says he’s glad for the company, he starts to like Robert. He was used to his wife going to bed earlier than him, and him staying up as late as he could and smoked before falling asleep. They sit for a while, saying nothing to each other, just listening and watching the television set. The narrator tries to explain to the blind man what’s happening. When the TV program starts to show the outside of a cathedral, the narrator asks the blind man if he knew what a cathedral was. Robert tells the narrator what he knows about them, but asks that he describe one to him. The narrator begins to describe a cathedral, but gets the feeling the blind man isn’t really getting it. “I’m sorry,” the narrator says, “but it looks like that’s the best I can do for you. I’m just no good at it.” “That’s all right, bub,” the blind man says. “Hey, listen. I hope you don’t mind my asking you. Can I ask you something? Let me ask you a simple question yes or no. I’m just curious and there’s no offense. You’re my host. But let me ask if you are in any way religious? You don’t mind my asking?” “I guess I don’t believe in it. In anything. Sometimes it’s hard. You know what I’m saying?” “Sure, I do,” he said. “Right,” I said (Carver 66). Robert asks the narrator to get some paper and pen, he has an idea. Robert puts his hand on the narrator’s hand and asks him to draw the cathedral. He does this, and Robert keeps encouraging him, “Terrific. You’re doing fine,” he said (Carver 67). His wife wakes up and asks what they’re doing, with curiosity and a bit of jealousy it seems. The narrator ignores her, and Robert says it’s all right, they were drawing a cathedral together. Robert’s hand rode on top of the narrator’s as he drew. They finished and Robert asked him what he thought. The narrators eyes were still closed, he was in his house he knew, but it didn’t really feel like he was inside anything. “It’s really something,” I said (Carver 67).
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