How would you describe the narrator’s relationship with his wife in "Cathedral"?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The husband and his wife are alienated from each other, mainly because the husband feels only half alive.

In "Cathedral," the minimalist writer, Raymond Carver, employs a recurrent theme of anomie, the feeling of being only half alive often as a result of working a job that is meaningless, or of not being able to love or relate to others. This anomie characterizes the narrator/husband as one who suffers from not being able to connect with his wife or to relate to her friends.

When the "blind man," a friend of his wife's, has been invited to visit, the husband is very uncomfortable about this visit because this man has listened to tapes which his wife has made that reveal personal details about the husband and their life together. However, his wife is upset with her husband for not wanting her to visit with her old friend.

"If you love me," she said, "you can do this for me. If you don't love me, okay. But if you had a friend, any friend, and the friend came to visit, I'd make him feel comfortable."
"I don't have any blind friends," I said.
"You don't have any friends," she said. 

Then she emphasizes that her friend has just lost his wife. Nevertheless, the narrator feels little sympathy for this man, who is a stranger to him. After the man's arrival, the narrator engages minimally in their conversation; when he does say something, it is spoken sarcastically. As the evening progresses, they all drink some more, and the wife becomes sleepy and retires to the bedroom. 

When the blind man, who is named Robert, and the narrator are alone together, the narrator is courteous to the guest, asking him if he would like some pie or, if he is tired and would want to be taken to his room. 

"No, I'll stay up with you, bub. If that's all right. . . . We haven't had a chance to talk. . . . "
"That's all right," I said. Then I said, "I'm glad for the company."

This last statement by the husband reveals that he is beginning to open up and is finally starting to make some connection to another person. He admits to the reader that he is glad to have company because his wife goes to bed every night while he stays up and smokes dope. Fortunately, the husband makes a personal connection with Robert when together they draw the cathedral that is on the television screen. The narrator describes their experience as "like nothing else in my life up to now." 

jmj616 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The husband also seems to have some good old-fashioned jealousy regarding his wife's relationships with other men.  Here are some examples.

He recalls how his wife told him about the last day that she had read for the blind man:

...the blind man asked if he could touch her face...She told me he touched his fingers to evey part of her face, her nose--even her neck!

When the husband tells us about his wife's first husband, he describes him as, "this man who'd first enjoyed her favors."

When the blind man arrives, the husband seems jealous of the attention that his wife showers on her old friend:

My wife finally took her eyes off the blind man and looked at me.  I had the feeling she didn't like what she saw.


Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In "Cathedral" the narrator's relationship with his wife is one of isolation and distanced silence. Isolation is a frequent theme of Carver's short stories. Robert, the blind man who is theoretically isolated from others by his inability to see physically, is the one who builds and maintains the "cathedral" of human connection, which is the antithesis of isolation. There seems to hostility and bitterness in the narrator's isolation from his wife. This is either the result of or the cause of his drinking and her extreme responses to the feelings of utter loneliness--the result of isolation--that she feels. Also, she is disappointed that the narrator closes himself off further by his use of alcohol and marijuana as is evidenced in her disappointment when the narrator and Robert smoke marijuana.

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