How does the protagonist change in "Cathedral"?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The protagonist is the narrator. He is shy and self-conscious. He needs liquor to loosen up with people. He is afraid of strangers, and he feels jealous of the blind man named Robert who is coming to dinner because this stranger has a special relationship with the narrator's wife. The narrator's own relationship with her is obviously precarious. But he is pleasantly surprised to find that the visitor is very easy to get along with. This is probably because, being blind, Robert has had to put a lot of trust in other people. As the night wears on, the two men grow more friendly. They confide in each other. The narrator likes this man so much that he offers to smoke some pot with him. This would be a new experience for Robert, but he is the kind of man who likes new experiences. He seems more daring than many man who have normal vision. He doesn't have the existential angst that seems to characterize Carver's narrator. The narrator is not afraid of Robert's having a bad trip and spoiling the evening. He tells him:

"This stuff is pretty mellow," I said. "This stuff is mild. It's dope you can reason with," I said. "It doesn't mess you up."
"Not much it doesn't, bub," he said, and laughed.

The narrator finds he is having a surprisingly good time. He and Robert end up drawing a cathedral together, using a piece of wrapping paper and a pencil. Robert keeps his hand on top of the narrator's so that he can feel the form and perhaps the spiritual essence of the cathedral rather than see it. It is an experience remotely comparable to the fellowship craftsmen enjoyed in medieval times when they constructed real cathedrals together. It is like the last contemporary vestige of the unquestioning religious faith that prevailed in the art and architecture of older times. The protagonist will be less shy, less self-conscious, less uptight, less paranoid as a result of his experience with Robert, and he will have a better relationship with his wife in the future because they both share the same high regard for this blind man who sees more than many people with sight.

rogal eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The protagonist in “Cathedral” is the narrator. At the beginning of the story, he has little regard for the blind man, Robert, who is a dear friend to his wife. He is self-conscious and has trouble making friends. In fact, his wife says that he does not have any friends. This might be part of the reason why he does not want to host Robert at his house. He explicitly states that he “does not look forward to” having a blind man at his house. Also, he seems to be jealous of the kind of relationship that Robert has with his wife. He does not like it that his wife looks absolutely happy as she pulls into the driveway with Robert, on the day that he arrives at their house. He thinks that his wife thinks less of him than she does of Robert so that when his wife “finally takes her eyes off” Robert to look at him, on this day, he feels that “she does not like what she sees.”

However, as the narrator interacts with Robert, his attitude towards him slowly changes. He even rolls up some dope, which he and Robert smoke while listening to the television in the background. Since Robert has never before smoked dope, he teaches him how to inhale the stuff. When Robert offers to stay up with him until his bedtime, he is happy for the company. Later on, Robert teaches him how to describe things using drawings rather than words. This happens when the narrator is unable to describe to Robert what a cathedral is. As the two draw, him pressing his pen on the heavy paper and Robert’s hands closed over his drawing fingers, they experience a great connection. Through Robert, the narrator learns empathy for others. He learns why his wife treasures her friendship with the blind man.

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