The first publication of the short story ''Cathedral'' was in the March, 1981, issue of Atlantic Monthly. It was selected to appear in The Best American Short Stories, 1982, and became the title story in the 1983 collection, Cathedral. This volume was very well-received by critics and readers alike, receiving nominations for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize.
Many critics note a shift in Carver's work between the publication of What We Talk About When We Talk About Love and Cathedral, and many believe that Carver reached the zenith of his career with this collection. Adam Meyer, in his book, Raymond Carver, argues that ''Carver is at the height of his powers here, having arrived at his full maturity, and Cathedral as a whole is certainly the most impressive of his collections.''
"Cathedral," like many of Carver's other stories, portrays individuals isolated from each other for a variety of reasons. The narrator drinks too much and seems unable to adequately communicate with his wife. The wife has earlier tried to commit suicide because of loneliness. Only the blind man, Robert, seems able to form lasting human connections. Unlike Carver's other stories, however, "Cathedral" ends with hope; although there is no proof that the narrator will overcome his isolation, for the moment, he is in communion with himself and another human being.