In Raymond Carver's short story titled "Cathedral," how does descriptive language (specifically the use of adverbs and adjectives) develop the narrator's character?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In his story “Cathedral,” Raymond Carver uses adjectives and adverbs in various ways to depict the narrator’s character.  Some of those ways include the following:

  • Many of the adverbs are simple and plain, as if to imply that the narrator himself has a simple, plain, straightforward personality. Such adverbs include the following: “slowly,” “usually,” “really,” finally,” “only,” “nearly,” “loudly,” “slowly,”  “recently,” “absolutely,” “hardly,” “simply,” “mostly,” and “really.”  Some of these adverbs are used more than once, but perhaps the most remarkable thing about them is that they are so unremarkable. Also striking is that there are so relatively few of them. Both facts suggest that the narrator of the story is not much given to emphasis or embellishment or calling attention to himself. He is a plain-spoken man, indeed a man of relatively few words. His vocabulary is simple, direct, and unadorned. In telling his story, he doesn’t seem to be trying to impress anyone. Very few of the adverbs he uses carry any specially impact; they are the kinds of adverbs anyone might use in describing almost anything.
  • Occasionally the narrator uses an adverb that is not really a grammatically correct adverb, as when he says that he is not “doing so good.” These grammatical errors again contribute to our sense of him as plainspoken, unpretentious, and perhaps not especially well educated.
  • Many of the adjectives used by the narrator are also plain, uncomplicated, and direct, including such words as “long,” “slow,” “famous,” “great,” “interior,” “tall,” “closed.” This is true even at the very end of the tale.
  • Of all the adjectives used in the story, one of the most significant in terms of the theme and meaning of the work is the word “lonely” – a word that seems to apply, if anything, even more to the narrator than to the blind man, although we might have expected the latter to be the lonelier of the two.
  • Given all the emphasis on the plainness and simplicity of the story's adjectives and adverbs, it hardly seems surprising that the story's very last sentence is as follows:

"It's really something, I said." [emphasis added]





Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial