What are the comparisons between "Cathedral" and "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love"?

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sagetrieb eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The stories can be discussed in terms of the themes of isolation, communication, and transcendence.  In “Cathedral,” the protagonist is unable to feel in a genuine way:  he is distant from his wife, and he’s unsure how to act when the blind man comes to visit. As a result, he is isolated.  Similarly, the couples in “What We Talk About” do not allow themselves to (or are unable to) feel, which is why they drink excessively. Laura and Nick (the narrator) say they love each other, and they touch each other throughout the conversation to reassure each other they do, but the fact is they need gin to hold their lives together. As that story comes to a close, the conversation ends because the gin runs out.  Laura says “I  don’t think I’ve ever been so hungry in my life,” and she is as hungry for human connection as she is for food. The room goes dark, and that, together with the absence of gin, signifies the isolation of each the friends around the table. Nick says he “could hear [his] heart beating” and “the human noise we sat there making, not one of us moving.” He senses their desperate humanity in the dark. In “Cathedral,” when the narrator closes his eyes and holds the hand of the blind man to draw a cathedral, he loses sense of place altogether: “I was in my house. I knew that. But I didn’t feel like I was inside anything at all.” Like Nick, he senses something profound and sacred about the experience of isolation

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