In "Cathedral" by Raymond Carver, what is the significance of the narrator referring to Robert throughout the story as "the blind man"? 

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The motif of blindness in this short story is one that is used to reflect just how much the narrator has grown and developed by the end of the story. At the beginning, the narrator is shown to be rude towards Robert and very insensitive, such as when he jokes to his wife about taking him bowling and then switches on the TV to watch it after Robert is in the room and he knows he can't see what he is watching. However, by the end of the short story, the narrator, after drawing the cathedral with Robert's hands on top of his so that Robert can "see" the cathedral, chooses to keep his eyes closed, even after Robert tells him to open them again:

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.

As he keeps his eyes closed, he experiences something of Robert's permanent condition, and at the same time undergoes a kind of epiphany where he feels that he is not "inside anything." Ironically, the narrator moves from finding blindness an incomprehensible condition that he mocks to embracing it and finding a sense of liberation through it. Blindness is thus used as a motif to explore the change in the narrator and to highlight his growth and development. Also, the refusal to call Robert by name shows the intrusion into his life that Robert and his blindness cause as Robert's blindness intitially threatens to put a wedge between the narrator and his wife though in the end Robert and his blindness becomes a common bond between them.