At several points in "Cathedral," the narrator's wife loses patience with him. What causes her displeasure?
Men and women easily become irritated with each other after being married for a while. The narrator's wife is bothered by a lot of things in her husband. She doesn't like his heavy drinking. (Carver wrote many stories and poems on this subject.) She doesn't like his bizarre sense of humor. She doesn't like his introversion, which interferes with their social life. She is obviously far more extroverted than her husband, but he probably balks at going to social gatherings as well as to having visitors at their home. The fact that Robert is a stranger is bad enough for this shy, awkward husband, but the fact that the stranger is also a blind man makes the prospect seem like a terrible ordeal. The narrator is the kind of guy who likes to sit and watch television while getting high on both booze and pot. His wife is obviously seeking something better in life. She would like to see progress and improvements. She is the kind of woman who would take night-school courses. But the narrator, presumably Raymond Carver himself, seems impossible. Raymond Carver was divorced from his first wife, and he wrote many stories about that disaster. The visit from Robert is just one more of the many things that brings out the strained relationship between husband and wife. The narrator doesn't expect to get any pleasure out of the visit, but he is pleasantly surprised. Robert has been dependent upon other people and has developed an exceptional skill in relating to everyone because he has to trust them. He drinks with the narrator, smokes a little grass with him, gets into his enjoyment of escapism via television, and encourages him to open up to him about his innermost feelings about religion and the emptiness of his life. The narrator must come away from the experience with a realization of how much his shyness and withdrawal from people have prevented him from having innumerable enriching life experiences. The one-night interaction with the blind visitor may help improve the narrator's relationship with his wife. Maybe he can understand her better and get her to understand him better. Maybe! Carver never ends his short stories with solutions to problems. He was a great admirer of the Russian writer Anton Chekhov, whose stories, such as his well-known "The Lady with the Pet Dog," rarely end with significant resolutions. Chekhov wanted to reveal human problems but not to solve them.
The wife's displeasure is caused by her husband's deliberate or unthinking insensitivity towards Robert, her friend who visits them during the course of this short story. The narrator himself confesses that he and his wife do not enjoy the best of relationships, but it is clear he feels threatened or is very unhappy about Robert's visit. In particular, he is shown to feel awkward about the intimacy that Robert has with his wife and also the fact that he is blind. What happens when he arrives is that the narrator draws attention to Robert's blindness by, for example, asking him on which side of the train he travelled and then turning on the television to watch it when he gets bored of the conversation. Note how the wife responds when the narrator switches on the television:
My wife looked at me with irritation. She was heading towards a boil.
The narrrator's wife is therefore annoyed with her husband because he is not making any effort to make Robert feel welcome. Before Robert arrives, she says to him that if he loves her, she will be able to make him feel welcome. The way that he acts towards Robert therefore makes her annoyed because of the way that it shows her how little he cares for her.