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Discuss Robert's role in the story "Cathedral" by Raymond Carver, and how he differs...

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misssbooo | Student, Undergraduate | eNoter

Posted October 10, 2011 at 1:51 AM via web

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Discuss Robert's role in the story "Cathedral" by Raymond Carver, and how he differs from the narrator's expectations.

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted October 10, 2011 at 9:48 AM (Answer #1)

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In Raymond Carver's "Cathedral," the author doesn't like Robert before he arrives. In fact, he's jealous in that Robert is a part of his wife's past. This may be coupled with a certain dismissal he has for the blind man, as if having no sight has made him less valuable as a person—and the narrator need not take him seriously. He basically dismisses Robert's importance to him, and has few expectations of a successful evening.

When the narrator first heard about Robert, he referred to the other man as "her blind man"...

She and I began going out, and of course she told her blind man about it. She told him everything, or so it seemed to me.

The narrator is essentially having a temper tantrum. First he finds fault with the fact that Robert is blind.

“...if you had a friend, any friend, and the friend came to visit, I’d make him feel comfortable.” She wiped her hands with the dish towel.

“I don’t have any blind friends,” I said.

“You don’t have any friends,” she said. “Period..."

Soon his wife has just about had it with him:

“Are you crazy?” my wife said. “Have you just flipped or something?...What’s wrong with you?” she said. “Are you drunk?”

Before Robert ever arrives, the reader figures the evening will be disastrous. When their visitor does arrive with the narrator's wife, the husband watches Robert get out of the car. His sarcasm is "dripping:"

This blind man, feature this, he was wearing a full beard! A beard on a blind man! Too much, I say.

Perhaps besides jealousy, the narrator struggles not just with the fact that Robert is blind, but that he doesn't know how to act with a blind person. However, Robert seems to be very comfortable with himself, even in light of his limitations, and is very accommodating.

As they visit, we learn that the narrator may be somewhat lonely:

...I said, “I’m glad for the company.”

And I guess I was. Every night I smoked dope and stayed up as long as I could before I fell asleep. My wife and I hardly ever went to bed at the same time.

Finally, there is a TV program about cathedrals and the narrator tries to describe one, but struggles with it. Robert says:

“Hey, listen to me. Will you do me a favor? I got an idea. Why don’t you find us some heavy paper? And a pen. We’ll do something. We’ll draw one together..."

Materials are gathered and they draw. Robert's hand follows the narrator's hand. Robert continually encourages the narrator. Then he tells him to close his eyes, and he does.

So we kept on with it. His fingers rode my fingers as my hand went over the paper. It was like nothing else in my life up to now.

Ironically, as the narrator draws, he is surprised. He expected Robert to be helpless. However, now the narrator understands that there is more than one kind of sight. Being without sight isn't the only way to be "blind." With Robert's help—who the narrator originally had no regard for—the narrator's "eyes" have been opened to a new world. The blind man actually helped the narrator—something he never anticipated from Robert. Robert is not as "blind" as the narrator has been.

While the story begins with the narrator "denigrating" Robert and his blindness, by the end of the story, Robert has helped the narrator see the world as a much different place. Robert simply acts as a catalyst to get the narrator to open his mind to life's possibilities—and the narrator is forever changed with Robert's "insight," something the narrator never anticipated.

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