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The Plot and Theme in Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral”


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The Plot and Theme in Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral”
Raymond Carver states that by the mid-1960s he was tired of reading and writing “long narrative fiction” (“On Writing” 46). Shorter fiction, he found, was more immediate. This mode of thought may help us to understand why Carver turned to compose shorter works of fiction like “Cathedral,” a work that acts as a brief glance into how one man’s physical blindness helps another man begin to overcome his own spiritual blindness. Carver’s thematic plots could convey alternate meaning—both directly and indirectly. “Cathedral” introduces the theme of blindness, shown by “this blind man” (Carver 709), but concludes by addressing the deeper theme of internal or spiritual blindness by the host. Therefore, the plot and theme of “Cathedral” relay simultaneous levels of meaning to the reader. “Cathedral” tells a story of an irreligious man, who learns a spiritual lesson from a blind man: “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” (Carver 718). That’s why at the end of the story he does not open his eyes for he wants to “keep them that way for a little longer” so that he can see clearly in his mind. There are two types of blindness, but when we talk about blindness, we usually think of the blindness on our physical body rather than the blindness in our mind. In “Cathedral” both Robert and the host are blind: one is blind in external sight, and the other one is blind in internal sight. The loss of external sight becomes the beginning of internal sight, which is what the blind man essentially teaches his host in “Cathedral” as they draw the picture of a cathedral together, so that the narrator can get a sense of what it looks like. Doing the drawing the narrator is capable of putting aside his prejudices and therefore the narrator connects with Robert. The narrator improves throughout the story: at first he has prejudice but without any social skills this changes to the total opposite. At first he is very judgmental: “A blind man in my house was not something I looked forward to” (Carver 709), but in the end the narrator himself realizes the changes: “It was like nothing else in my life up to now” (Carver 718). This is a close personal connection and intimate moment of communication for the narrator, and it impacts him greatly.
The plot of this story is simple enough—deceptively simple. It begins with the blind man—a friend of the narrator’s wife—coming to stay. The television shows a picture of a cathedral, and the blind man asks his host to describe it. The host, at a loss of words, fails to fully explain to the blind man what the cathedral looks like—or, rather, what it is. Indeed, after a period of reflection, the host himself asks the blind man, “Do you have any idea what a cathedral is?” (Carver 716) The host admits to having no religion, so he says, “cathedrals don’t mean anything special to me” (Carver 717). By way of response, the blind man asks him to draw the cathedral, and then takes the man’s hand in his own and asks him to close his eyes and he does so.
Suddenly, a new world is revealed to the narrator: it is a world within a world—a world that he has never thought about before. It is a spiritual world, where external sight does not matter, but where internal sight does. This sudden and unexpected use of his imagination has allowed him to transcend his surroundings and see with a spiritual eye: “It’s really something,” he says (Carver 718). The narrator may not come to any revelations of what it is, but he brings the story to the brink of a revelation. The bringing of the narrator to the starting line is the whole of the plot. It begins with the host that he is “blind” in spiritual vision, and it continues with the blind man teaching him how to see without seeing, and it ends with the host finally “seeing.” The shortness of the narrative and the double theme of “blindness” allow this plot to happen (Henningfeld). It is a kind of shortcut to the heart of the matter. The narrator is able to connect with Robert, and this is the moment where the narrator can put aside his insecurities and actually interact with someone else. Therefore the narrator now knows not to be judgmental and not to have biased opinions. It is when Robert tells the narrator to close his eyes that he is really able to see things the right way for the first time. So ironically a blind man teaches a man with normal sight how to see.
The common theme of the story is prejudice. The narrator of the story is so filled with prejudice that he is unable to see people for who they really are. He sees people in a very superficial manner where he immediately judges them by their looks or their distinctive body features such as blindness from what he sees on TV (Carver 709). For that reason he has to be taught how to see people the right way by a man who is completely indifferent to people’s superficial features, due to the fact that Robert is blind and therefore has no sight of such things. Again it’s ironic that a blind man has to teach a man with normal sight how to see the good in people and how to interact with others without being prejudiced.
In conclusion, “Cathedral” uses a thematic plot about a man forced to draw a cathedral with his eyes closed to tell a story that is more deeply about the loss of external sight and the gaining of internal or spiritual sight. The blind man is a very great person who knows how to overcome the host’s handicap. He could take full advantage of his ears to collect any information over the world. In just one night the narrator learned a lot from the blind man. The narrator no longer treats the blind man as a threat or enemy but instead made friends with him. From this short fiction we can also learn a good lesson that we should not make an assessment on others based on their appearance. We should respect everybody.

Works Cited
Carver, Raymond. “Cathedral.” Literature for Composition. Ed. Sylvan Barnet, William Burto, and William E. Cain. 9th ed. New York: Longman, 2010. 709-718. Print.
Carver, Raymond. “On Writing.” Mississippi Review, vol. 14, no. ½ (Winter, 1985), pp. 46-51. Print.
Henningfeld, Diane Andrews. "Cathedral." Short Stories for Students. Detroit: Gale, 2002. Literature Resource Center. Web. 24 Sept. 2012.

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