Short Story “Cathedral” by Raymond Carver



Artistic Expression

A very meaningful expression concerning art sounds like “Art for art’s sake”. However, the characters of Raymond Carver’s short story “Cathedral” prove that art plays a more important role in their lives than just aesthetic ones, for example. All the heroes are involved in artistic activities aimed to enlighten or educate. “Cathedral” is a powerful short story that gives the possibility to experience an artistic expression using deep irony and vivid imagery. With the help of a blind man, the narrator gains a particularly intimate inner insight and comes at a different level of consciousness through a powerful artistic experience. The story reflects on the overall significance of art in people’s lives.


Portrait of the Husband

The narrator of the story is an unnamed man, the husband. Even though his narration is forthcoming, this ideal antihero is unkind, pathetic, close-minded, sarcastic, contemptuous of others, and jealous. Actually, his wife and the blind man Robert are unaware of the narrator’s jealousy of his wife’s close relationships with the other men from her past and only the readers have the possibility to guess his true feelings. For example, the husband is not quite happy to accept Robert at their place as he claims, “a blind man in my house was not something I looked forward to” (Carver 1).

Moreover, the narrator continues to be sarcastic throughout the storytelling of the insipid jokes about blind men or similar stuff. Even though the husband shares most of his jests only with the readers, he, however, makes angry his wife, for instance, jokingly supposing to invite Robert to bowl with him: “Maybe I could take him bowling,” I said to my wife… She put down the knife she was using and turned around” (Carver 3).

Offensive to others, the narrator is, at the same time, dismissive to his wife and contemptuous of her aspiration to writing poetry: “I can remember I didn’t think much of the poem” (Carver 1). His narrow-mindedness, in fact, makes him unperceptive to a true art as an important means of self-awareness until he broadens his outlook with the help of the blind man. Actually, the husband takes all the things in the world one-sidedly. For example, listening to the tape recordings of his wife and Robert, he selfishly awaits to hear only any conversation about him as he narrates “I heard my own name in the mouth of this stranger… but we were interrupted… I’d heard all I wanted to” (Carver 2).


The husband’s bad traits even made him a home sitter who has no friends. He used to watching TV and smoking alone until late at night. Despite all his demerits, the narrator still reveals good traits as well. For example, even though he is not satisfied with his marriage, he still loves his wife. The latter says that regardless of the fact he loves her or not, he should be hospitable to their guests; as a result, the husband tries to behave more or less welcomingly. He also reveals a little compassion, though superficial, for Beulah and sympathy while watching how Robert uses his kitchen utensils at the dinner table and then listening to the story of their ten-year friendship with the narrator’s wife. Finally, the husband discovers completely new feelings inside himself.

The Artistic Experience

The special artistic experience took place at the end of the story. Robert and the narrator sit smoking and, for the first time during the day, when the wife is asleep, share some sense of comradeship. The husband confesses that he misses the time spent with friends. There is some program about cathedrals on TV and the narrator tries to describe them to his guest. Consequently, he finds out that his description is choppy and lacks words. Inarticulate man, the husband, perhaps for the first time, realizes his own narrow-mindedness. However, he replies matter-of-factly, “I’m not just good at it” (Carver 11).

Later, Robert offers the narrator to draw a cathedral in such a way that his hands will cover the narrator’s hands with his eyes closed. Surprisingly, the husband manages to picture “windows with arches, flying buttresses, great doors” and he cannot stop (Carver 13). The readers cannot judge the quality of the pictures but the inspiring feeling of the main character. Drawing a cathedral may be a symbol of the husband’s finding the connection with God. Moreover, the narrator’s inspiration is so great that he does not even want to open his eyes: “My eyes were still closed… “It’s really something,” I said” (Carver 13).


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Ironically, the blind man is the one who is seeing in this story as he can see many wonderful things in the mind’s eye. He shares this experience with the husband using art. At the beginning of the story, the narrator is close-minded but a new experience is changing his identity. Perhaps, he will become more open-minded and more sensitive to his wife. Robert makes the husband look at the world differently.

Art is significant in people’s lives. It fills the world with inspiration and makes it wonderful. Human beings can express their inner feelings and emotions via the arts. Artistic expression broadens people’s outlook, helps them think outside the box. If art had not existed, the world would have become an obscure place inhabited by gloomy, trivial beings.


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