In "Cathedral," what do the wife's reactions reveal about her in contrast to the narrator?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

From the beginning of the story "Cathedral," it is apparent that the wife is a sensitive person of great emotion as indicated by her friendship with a man who uses the tactile ability to feel as his method of seeing. And, because of his blindness, he employs his imagination and emotions in conjunction with his hearing to compensate for his loss of sight. Ironically, then, it is the husband, the narrator, who does not truly see the wife.  For example, after she has written a poem about her blind friend's having touched her face and neck in order to gain an understanding of her physical appearance, the narrator callously remarks,

Maybe I just don't understand poetry. I admit it's not the first thing I reach for when I pick up something to read.

This "sight"; than is, insight into her soul is what the wife hungers for from her husband. With her sightless friend, however, she receives an understanding of her emotional side, an outlet for her feelings, whereas the husband is clearly insensitive as he crassly asks the man which side of the train he sat on when he traveled to meet them.  Of course, the wife scolds him, "What a question!"

With her friend Robert, the wife is able to discuss her feelings; theirs is a friendship of the heart while, in contrast, the relationship between her and her husband is merely a physical one as he enjoys seeing her thigh revealed from her slipped robe as she falls asleep, but he has never probed into her soul in the manner that Robert has.  It is not until Robert asks him to draw a cathedral for him that the husband opens up the imaginative, sensitive part of himself. He, then, learns what his wife already has; that is, meaning in one's life depends upon sharing one's feelings.