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As is characteristic of many of Raymond Carver's stories, the main characters in "Cathedral" undergo anguish, but the ending of the story has a much more promising note thanks to the visit of Robert, a man blind only in sight.
Here are three comparison and contrast points with respect to the narrator and Robert:
1. Both characters feel affection for the narrator's wife, but the narrator is figuratively blind to her needs, while the physically blind Robert perceives them.
The narrator still seems attached to his wife despite their sleeping in separate bedrooms, and he expresses an affection for his wife as he repeats the phrase "my wife." When he listens to one of the tapes from Robert he remarks, "I waited in vain to hear my name on my wife's sweet lips"; also, he is certainly still physically attracted to her as he sensuously eyes her exposed leg as she sits in her robe. However, he is insensitive and figuratively blind to his wife's emotional needs and this is probably why she sleeps in another room and has established such a close relationship with Robert, to whom she confides her innermost feelings.
2. Both the narrator and Robert have faced difficulties in their marital relationships, but they deal with them in different manners.
The narrator has become alienated from his wife because he is reticent about expressing his feelings and isolates himself emotionally from her, so she moves her bedroom. Evidently, Carver's narrator passively accepts this arrangement, but it does affect him because he tells Robert that if he goes to bed at the same time as his wife does, he has "crazy dreams." Although his is a permanent loss, Robert, too, has become separated from his wife, but he does not let that isolate him. Instead, he actively reaches out to others as a ham radio operator, and, of course, to the narrator's wife in his taped conversations.
3. When Robert first arrives, the narrator feels some hostility and negative feelings toward him, but as the evening progresses, they share an inner vision.
When he listens to one of the tapes that Robert has sent his wife, the narrator resents her having shared her personal life with him. Then, after Robert arrives, the narrator offers him a drink, although a little sarcastically, and he does not appreciate being called "Bub."
"What's your pleasure? We have a little of everything. It's one of our pastimes."
"Bub, I'm a Scotch man myself," he said fast enough in this big voice.
"Right," I said. Bub! "Sure you are. I knew it."
After his wife goes to bed, the narrator is uncomfortable with Robert. However, after they smoke some cannabis, the narrator begins to let down his guard and senses the warmth in Robert. When Robert asks him to describe a cathedral that is being depicted and discussed on the television, the narrator can only respond, "It's really something... I can't tell you what it looks like." But Robert presses the narrator to describe it further, suggesting that he draw it as Robert holds his hand over the narrator's. This act effects a connection between the two men. The narrator describes it in this way:
His fingers rode my fingers as my hand went over the paper. It was like nothing else in my life up to now.
After this experience, the narrator notes that although he is inside his house, he "didn't feel like I was inside anything." By his communion with the narrator, Robert has brought the narrator's inner feelings out.
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