Discuss how Carver challenges our ideas of what it means to be handicapped in "Cathedral."

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The central way in which this excellent short story challenges our notions of what it is to be handicapped is through the use of a narrator who is at best unsympathetic and at worst rude towards his blind guest. For example, when Robert arrives, the narrator does little to encourage conversation by providing short answers to Robert's questions about his life, before turning on the TV, which, considering Robert's inability to see the image and the way that it closes down conversation is very rude. Consider the following quote:

From time to time, he'd turn his blind face toward me, put his hand under his beard, ask me something. How long had I been in my present position? (Three years.) Did I like my work? (I didn't.) Was I going to stay with it? (What were the options?) Finally, when I thought he was beginning to run down, I got up and turned on the TV.

However, in spite of the dismissive way in which the narrator thinks about Robert and treats him because he is blind, the end of the story shows the way in which the narrator himself has changed his notions about blindness and how he now is able to "see" something of the reality of being blind. This epiphany comes when he draws a cathedral with his eyes closed with Robert holding on to his hand so that he can see what it is like. When Robert asks him to open his eyes, note what the narrator does:

My eyes were still closed. I was in my house. I knew that. But I didn't feel like I was inside anything.

The narrator comes to experience first hand the way that being blind can actually not be a restriction, but something that can profoundly liberate you. Showing the narrator's change of heart and his epiphany is the key way in which the narrator challenges views about being disabled.

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