In Raymond Carver's "Cathedral," how does the author address the idea that emotional blindness is the true handicaps to be feared?

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Raymond Carver’s story “Cathedral” focuses on two men.  The host and his wife’s friend who is blind stay up late trying to get to know each other. The host tries to describe a  cathedral but cannot find the words to help the blind man picture it.   The men are willing to try something new and share an interesting experience. By trying something different, they find a connection that was unexpected. 

Carver uses first person point of view with the unnamed host or husband as the narrator.  His wife is also unnamed; however, the blind man is Robert. The unnamed host is dissatisfied in his life and does not know why.  It seems that each of the three characters need to relate to each other and eventually find a way to connect with the others.

Initially, the host does not like the idea of his wife having such a strong connection with her former boss, Robert. He thinks that blind people are melancholy and depressing.  He has never been around a blind person; all he knows about them is what he has seen in the movies. The man jokes about Robert’s blindness to his wife which she finds insensitive.  

On her last day on the job, she let Robert touch her face, then she wrote a poem about it. Much later the wife reads the poem to the narrator who does not like it. He also does not like the closeness of their relationship which stems back into her previous life.

When the woman goes up to change clothes, the narrator brings out marijuana cigarettes and begins smoking them with Robert, who has never smoked marijuana. When the woman returns, she smokes a little also and then falls asleep on the couch between the two men.

After watching a documentary on cathedrals, the man tries to explain what one looks like to Robert. He discovers that the words he needs come slowly, and his explanation is disjointed. He decides that he will draw one. 

This becomes a grand experience for both men. They sit on the floor and Robert puts his hand on the host as he draws the cathedral.  Robert tells him to close his eyes as he finishes the drawing. As he finishes the drawing, Robert tells him to open his eyes; but he keeps them closed.

Too often people make judgments based on unreal situations or stereotypes.  This man has trouble connecting with his feelings and listening to others.  His relationship with his wife is troubled because he does not allow himself to really understand her or psychologically connect with her; consequently, he is handicapped by his coldness and reserve. In addition, his judgment about blind people precedes his actual encounter with Robert, who is sensitive and receptive to others’ emotions.

When he actually sees the blind man and his sensitivities, he realizes that his view has been wrong. He opens his mind to the experience that he shares with Robert. It is doubtful that the drawing helped Robert sees the cathedral in his mind; however, that is beside the point because it is the realization of the host that there is more to seeing something than just the visualization. It is the parts that create the whole structure.  It the emotions, intellect, and interests that make up a person, not just the surface.  This was a good lesson.