In Raymond Carver's "Cathedral" why did he choose a cathedral and not another object?

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Kristen Lentz eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Raymond Carver's short story "Cathedral," the narrator, who is extremely close-minded about his visitor's handicap, learns to see him with a new perspective as they draw a cathedral together.  The experiment begins after dinner as the two men watch and listen to a television program; when a cathedral is mentioned, the narrator is unable to explain what it looks like to the blind man.  Robert encourages the narrator to draw it for him, so he can follow the movement and understand the shape.

Carver's choice of the subject, the cathedral, is symbolic and paramount to the developing theme in the story.  Cathedrals are long-lasting monuments to God, a place of grace, but also of vision--to learn and see the truth.  As the narrator sketches the cathedral with Robert, he begins to see the truth about him, not as simply a blind man, but as a genuine individual.  Moreover, cathedrals are auspicious buildings that take years of collaboration and effort to build, very similar to how a friendship must be formed and cultivated.  In the end, the narrator and Robert develop the foundation for a friendship that night as they draw the cathedral together:

"The blind man said, 'We’re drawing a cathedral. Me and him are working on it...'"

Carver's use of the cathedral imbues the story with a deeper subtext by suggesting a place in which beauty, vision, and grace all meaningfully come together.  Cathedrals are a place of transformation.