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The style of Raymond Carver’s story “Cathedral” seems indebted to the typical style of Ernest Hemingway in a number of different ways. Resemblances between the two styles are especially visible in the final paragraphs of Carver’s work and include the following:
- Frequent use of very short sentences, as in the following sentence by Carver: “My wife opened up her eyes and gazed at us.”
- Frequent use of sentences reporting simple, everyday facts, as here: “She sat up on the sofa, her robe hanging open.”
- Dialogue that is often plain and unemotional rather than grandiloquent or melodramatic, as here: “She said, ‘What are you doing? Tell me, I want to know.’”
- Phrasing that seems very plain but can be intriguingly suggestive, as here: “I didn’t answer her.” Why does the husband not answer his wife’s question? Carver doesn’t say. Instead, he lets us wonder and come to our own conclusions.
- Emphasis on reported speech, with minimal interruption or explanation from the narrator or author, as here:
The blind man said, “We’re drawing a cathedral. Me and him are working on it. Press hard,” he said to me. “That’s right. That’s good,” he said. “Sure. You got it, bub. I can tell. You didn’t think you could. But you can, can’t you? You’re cooking with gas now. You know what I’m saying? We’re going to really have us something here in a minute. How’s the old arm?” he said. “Put some people in there now. What’s a cathedral without people?”
- Attempts to capture, in dialogue, the rhythms and vocabulary of normal, mundane speech, including the use of clichés, fragments, questions, and repetitions, as in the passage just quoted.
- Frequent use of very brief paragraphs, often used to report quick exchanges of dialogue, as here:
My wife said, “What’s going on? Robert, what are you doing? What’s going on?”
“It’s all right,” he said to her. “Close your eyes now,” the blind man said to me.
I did it. I closed them just like he said.
“Are they closed?” he said. “Don’t fudge.”
“They’re closed,” I said.
“Keep them that way,” he said. He said, “Don’t stop now. Draw.”
- Emphasis on epiphanies, or moments in time when one sees things in new and unexpected ways, as here:
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.
- Passages that communicate by suggestion or implication rather than by explicit explanation, as here:
Then he said, “I think that’s it. I think you got it,” he said. “Take a look. What do you think?”
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.
Why does the narrator keep his eyes closed? Why does he think he “ought to”? Once again, Carver doesn’t say. Hemingway compared successful works of fiction to icebergs, in which only the tip of the meaning was visible above the water line, and in which the full meaning was beneath the surface and had to be inferred. Carver seems to have been influenced by that idea here and elsewhere in his work.
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