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

Expert Answers

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

A cathedral is a physical embodiment of transcendent, universal values. The narrator, unlike the blind man, Robert, seems disconnected from these values and all they represent. His limited perspective on life is restricted to the here and now; he has no use for anything that's remotely spiritual or other-worldly. Thanks...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

A cathedral is a physical embodiment of transcendent, universal values. The narrator, unlike the blind man, Robert, seems disconnected from these values and all they represent. His limited perspective on life is restricted to the here and now; he has no use for anything that's remotely spiritual or other-worldly. Thanks to Robert, however, he's able to gain a new perspective on things as he draws a picture of a cathedral.

Cathedrals come in all different architectural styles, yet they all reach up to heaven in a symbolic recognition of a higher power. That's what the narrator is unwittingly doing when he draws the cathedral for Robert. He's acknowledging the existence of a much bigger world than the one in which he's been living.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team