How is figurative blindness exemplified in the behavior of Oedipus from Sophocles' Oedipus Rex and Raymond Carver's short story "Cathedral"? Which elements of their lives contribute to their...

How is figurative blindness exemplified in the behavior of Oedipus from Sophocles' Oedipus Rex and Raymond Carver's short story "Cathedral"? Which elements of their lives contribute to their figurative blindness? How does each character overcome this figurative blindness?

Expert Answers
Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Sophocles' play Oedipus Rex and Raymond Carver's short story "Cathedral," both the title character Oedipus and the unnamed narrator, respectively, are figuratively blinded by their vanity and arrogance. Oedipus's blindness is portrayed in his hot-hotheadedness, whereas the narrator's blindness is portrayed in his prejudices.

Oedipus first reveals the depth of his hot-headed temper when he relays to Jocasta the story of his youth concerning killing a man while journeying away from the oracle at Delphi. Prior to his journey, at his parents' table, King Polybus of Corinth and the Dorian Merope, a drunk man had accused him of not being his father's true son. The accusation had shaken his vanity for, up until that point, as the son of the king, he had thought of himself as "the finest man / in all the city" (930-31). Though his parents denied the accusation, Oedipus did not feel satisfied and journeyed to Delphi to consult the oracle of Apollo. The oracle had prophesied that he would sleep with his own mother and kill his own father. On his journey away from the oracle, he was run off the road by a man in his carriage and his entourage. Since Oedipus was already in such a state, being driven off the road made him so angry that he lashed out at the man and his entourage, killing them all. Since, unbeknownst to Oedipus, the man he killed was actually his biological father, Oedipus's action fulfilled the oracle's prophecy that he would kill his own father, and this one action led to the fulfillment of the other prophecies as well. However, had Oedipus not been so vain, arrogant, and hot tempered, he never would have had such a severe response and never would have killed his own father.

In addition, due to his vanity and arrogance, Oedipus forgets the murder he has just committed, considering the incident trivial, by the time he arrives in Thebes and becomes distracted by rescuing the city from the dreaded Sphinx. Only a very vain and arrogant person could see killing someone as so trivial, so less important than himself/herself, that he/she forgets all about it. Oedipus is even unable to recall the incident the moment Creon states the Oracle has explained the city is being plagued because a murderer is within the city walls. Even when Tiresias calls him blind for not seeing the "scope of [his own] evil," Oedipus still fails to immediately recollect that he once murdered a man (434-35). Hence, as we can see, it is Oedipus's vanity, arrogance, and hot-headed temper that have made him blind to any evil acts he has committed and their consequences.

Similarly, in "Cathedral," the unnamed narrator is blinded by his own arrogance, and this blindness manifests in his prejudices. The narrator displays prejudiced thoughts against his wife's friend, whom he only calls "the blind man." It's clear from the opening paragraph that he doesn't want "the blind man" in his house. Part of his objection is due to feelings of jealousy. The narrator senses that his wife is emotionally closer with "the blind man," whose real name is Robert, than with the narrator himself due to the intimate details of her life she shares with Robert. The narrator is aware that his wife has told Robert a great deal about the narrator as her husband, and that makes him jealous. Yet, his objection goes much deeper than that. From several lines in the short story, we know that the narrator has a tendency to look down his nose at people he thinks are "different" from him. For example, he informs his readers that he developed his impression of blindness from movies and thought of the blind as only being people who "moved slowly and never laughed." His perspective of seeing the blind as only slow movers who never laugh shows us that he only sees the blind as being deficient from "normal" people--they can't move as fast nor do they have the knowledge and personality to be able to understand jokes and laugh. Since he sees the blind as deficient, it is clear that he also sees himself as superior to the blind, which is the very definition of arrogance. He even displays prejudice when he credulously asks if Roger's deceased wife, named Beulah, was a Negro. Yet, his prejudiced view of Roger and the blind in general proves to be very wrong as the story progresses. Hence, as we can see, just like Oedipus, the narrator's arrogance makes him figuratively blind, and this blindness manifests in his prejudices.