Cathedral by Raymond Carver (Response)

A response to the short passage “Cathedral” by Raymond Carver. This piece written in 1981 depicts a man’s unusual experience of meeting a blind man for the first time and trying to teach him what a Cathedral looks like. In turn, the man with sight learns something significant as well. 

showing a blind man how to see a cathedral

showing a blind man how to see a cathedral

1) Why was the narrator not looking forward to the visit of the blind man? What do his feelings reveal about his character?

The narrator speaks in an annoyed sort of pessimistic tone throughout the majority of the reading. He makes it apparent he is close-minded towards the idea of a blind stranger visiting his house. This could possibly stem from a sense of jealousy from the bond between another man and his wife. However, he emphasizes the fact that the man is blind to the point where he becomes discriminatory against the man.

His constant bigotry reveals how he sees the world one dimensionaly  Instead of viewing all the possibilities of positives and negatives in the man’s personality, he can only see this man for one quality. He quickly stereotypes the man, categorizing his whole essence and way of life simply by a disability. However the way he cannot see the man as anything other than blind shows an ironic sense of a figurative blindness.

2) Is it possible to read the experience the narrator’s wife had of Robert touching her face as an experience of being “seen” by him? How is her writing of poetry related to her desire to be seen? How does her attempted suicide also relate to her desire to be seen?

The wife has the blind man feel her face in the beginning. This is a literal way of him to see her as he can imagine what she looks like by feeling the crevasses and shapes on her face. However he also sees her figuratively through her many poems. Here the man sees her soul, her heart, her thoughts, her ideals, and her personalities. This figurative sense contains deeper more important qualities then the literal sense .

The wife throughout the passage has this desire to be heard and seen. Her husband sort of talks in a tone that belittles her, and she sort of plays the role of a typical housewife by cooking dinner and being subservient towards her man rather than an actual person. Her poetry turns her into a more three dimensional character, and her suicide perpetuates this for the audience emotionally. Readers see her desire to be something bigger and have people understand where she’s coming from. She used her relationship with this blind man as a sort of escape.

3) What does it mean to receive another’s friend? Consider: “‘If you love me,’ she said, ‘you can do this for me. If you don’t love me, okay. But if you had a friend, any friend, and the friend came to visit, I’d make him feel comfortable’” (359).

To receive another’s friend means to care about someone else’s acquaintance as if they were your own due to your relationship with the friend of your own. In other words, it’s not only loving thy neighbor as thyself, but loving thy’s neighbor’s neighbor as well. This is a common  courtesy; however it’s also a fake relationship. Reader’s condemn his rudeness towards the man by jumping to negative conclusions due to the fact that the man is blind. However the more socially acceptable reaction would have him jump to the positive conclusion that the man is likable simply because of another’s opinion. Either way is a sense of stereotyping before actually deciphering the blind man on his personality and merit.

4) Consider page 360. Contrary to the narrator’s response of pity and disgust, do you think that Robert “saw” Beulah? What does it mean, more deeply, to see and be seen?

I believe that Robert did not truly see Beulah on a deeper level. On page 3, he only views Beulah as a “colored woman” and a negro. Then through out page 3 and 4 he stereotypes their relationship as miserable. He only see her as the wife of a blind man rather than the wife of a husband she loves. He says that the woman led a “pitiful life…imagine a woman who could never see herself as she was seen in the eyes of her loved one (3).” However throughout the course of the passage, the blind man proves himself to be polite, intelligent, worldy, and insightful all positive qualities of a good potential lover in a relationship.

5) Why do the characters smoke pot? What does it reveal of their desire?

On page 7, the narrator says he “didn’t want to be left alone with a blind man….(so) he asked if he wanted to smoke some dope with him.” The narrator finds himself in an uncomfortable situation. To relax himself, he and the blind man smoke pot together. His desire was to be more distant from the man, so he tried to solve this by distorting his reality with an outside substance. However, ironically it brought them closer together in a sense.

6) “In the olden days, God was an important part of everyone’s life. You could tell this from their cathedral-building” (372). What do churches reveal about what the culture thinks about God? Why?

On this page the narrator claims that God was the center of everyone’s life because they invested so much money and time into building a church for him. However, this shows how culture is so caught up in the design and flashy aspect of religion that they often forget the main message. God wasn’t about money, idols, or symbols. It’s about the message. On page 12 the blind man responds by saying “the truth is, cathedrals don’t mean anything to me. Nothing.” For him, all that the money spent and the appearance of the church is irrelevant because he can’t see anything. The only thing he can ‘see’ is the message, which is what we are supposed to see. It shows the blind spot in the culture of ancient Europe and even today.

7) Why does the narrator have difficulty describing a cathedral? What does he see with his eyes closed at the close of the story? Why?

The narrator has difficulty describing the cathedral because it’s made up of physical characteristics. Just describing how tall or beautifully built the cathedral doesn’t display the magnitude of its religious message and capabilities. He can say it’s tall, but without describing the sermon echoing through the building it’s not as impressive. He has difficulty explain this in detailed terms because he can’t see it from the perspective of the blind man.

Thus he closes his eyes drawing it. This metaphorically shows his willingness to be open minded and what it’s like to receive God on a deeper sense then sight. It’s all about changing his point of view. Here he sees the perspective of the blind man, but he also sees a new more accepting and perceptive form of himself.


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