What is the author's tone in "Cathedral" (the implied attitude of the author)?

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The tone of the unnamed first-person narrator in Raymond Carver’s short story “The Cathedral ” (1981) masks itself as jealousy and contempt but has more to do with emotional numbness and the discomfort arising from it. The narrator is aware that he cannot feel much or connect with other...

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The tone of the unnamed first-person narrator in Raymond Carver’s short story “The Cathedral” (1981) masks itself as jealousy and contempt but has more to do with emotional numbness and the discomfort arising from it. The narrator is aware that he cannot feel much or connect with other human beings, let alone his wife’s blind friend, Robert, with whom he has little in common. Thus, he is threatened by the prospect of Robert’s impeding visit and of sharing his physical space with him.

I wasn’t enthusiastic about his visit. He was no one I knew. And his being blind bothered me. My idea of blindness came from the movies. In the movies, the blind moved slowly and never laughed. Sometimes they were led by seeing eye dogs. A blind man in my house was not something I looked forward to.

What makes the narrator uncomfortable about Robert's presence is his own fixed notion about Robert’s perceived disability. But bizarrely, his response is negative even when Robert’s “blindness” is revealed not to fit these preconceived notions. Logically, Robert disproving stereotypes should make the narrator breathe a sigh of relief. However, when Robert shows up at his house without dark glasses or a cane, the narrator gripes:

I’d always thought dark glasses were a must for the blind.

This contradiction makes sense when we consider the possibility that what scares the narrator the most is actually change. Static and limited in empathy at this point, he is also unable to understand what he has not experienced first-hand. This inability he disguises under contempt, repeatedly referring to Robert as “the blind man” and finding the very idea of his marriage to his late wife, Beulah, laughable.

Pretty soon Beulah and the blind man had themselves a church wedding. It was a little wedding—who’d want to go to such a wedding in the first place?—just the two of them, plus the minister and the minister’s wife.

The fact that a blind man can do something as "normal" as get married especially confronts the narrator. This discomfiture extends to Robert's close friendship with the narrator's wife and his ability to lead an empowered existence. It is almost as if the narrator is aware of the real reason he is angry at the "blind man:" because the blind man can live a full, meaningful life while he, the “whole” person, is emotionally incapable, numb, or cauterized. (Earlier in the story, the narrator's wife notes that he doesn't have "any friends.")

This self-aware anger foreshadows the shift that occurs in the narrator’s tone towards the end of the story. The metaphor for this shift, of course, is the "cathedral" of the title. Raymond Carver often used objects and images to trigger a moment of revelation or momentous change in his stories. In this context, the shift begins after his wife falls asleep and Robert and the narrator sit together in awkward silence before the running TV. As the TV shows images of a cathedral, the narrator has a sudden urge to ask Robert if he knows the difference between a cathedral and another kind of church, having seen none?

Do you have any idea what a cathedral is? What they look like, that is? Do you follow me? If somebody says cathedral to you, do you have any notion what they’re talking about? Do you the difference between that and a Baptist church, say?

Once Robert suggests the narrator describe a cathedral for him, we see the narrator spark into action, far more animated than we have seen him so far. He strains himself to describe the cathedral to Robert, and in this we can see him trying to break out of his disconnected state of ennui. As he begins to give up, having failed to find the right words to make the cathedral real for Robert, Robert suggests something startling.

“Hey, listen to me. Will you do me a favor? I got an idea. Why don’t you find us some heavy paper? And a pen. We’ll do something. We’ll draw one together. Get us a pen and some heavy paper. Go on, bub, get the stuff,” he said.

As the narrator heads off to get some pen and paper to draw the cathedral, he notes that his “legs felt like they didn’t have any strength in them,” as if after he’d done “some running.” The physical tiredness is a symptom of the thaw in the narrator's frozen emotional state. It also represents the enormous social effort the evening has been for the narrator, habitual as he is to being in his bubble. When Robert and the narrator draw the shape of the cathedral together, hands linked, a certain stillness falls over the story, like a hush. Towards the end of this strangely intimate ritual, Robert asks the narrator to draw with his eyes shut. The narrator’s closing his eyes represents his shift from lack of empathy for Robert to identifying with him. As he closes his eyes, he also gets a fresh perspective on the idea of “blindness.” As much as he has evoked a cathedral for Robert, Robert has evoked his blindness for the narrator. The narrator's mocking, cold tone has been replaced by one of absorption.

So we kept on with it. His fingers rode my fingers as my hand went over the paper. It was like nothing else in my life up to now. Then he said, “I think that’s it. I think you got it,” he said. “Take a look. What do you think?” But I had my eyes closed. I thought I’d keep them that way for a little longer. I thought it was something I ought to do.

The object they are drawing—a cathedral—is also fitting, with its serious, spiritual overtones. Through the drawing of the cathedral, we see the habitually contemptuous narrator come to life for the moment. Ironically, it is the very difference between him and Robert that has facilitated this change.

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At the start of Raymond Carver's short story "Cathedral," the tone of the story is begrudging and negative as expressed by the words of the narrator. The narrator of the story is unhappy about his wife's enduring connection with her blind friend, Robert, and he seems to hold on to this unhappiness stubbornly in the days approaching the visit from Robert. The negative tone of the short story becomes more complex as the narrator reveals his jealousy; not only is the narrator jealous of the closeness his wife enjoys with Robert, but perhaps he even retains some jealousy over his wife's marriage to her ex-husband. The narrator's jealousy does not come from a place of worry that his wife has romantic feelings for Robert; rather, he is jealous of how much Robert knows about his wife and her intimate histories.

The tone changes during and after the narrator's own bonding experience with Robert. At this point in the story, he no longer feels threatened by Robert and his wife's attachment to him. While they smoke pot together, he even confesses to Robert something deeply personal about himself when he admits that he has no religious depth; this sharing of something personal seems to give the narrator a more open feeling towards Robert. By the end of the story, the tone, and the narrator himself, changes from begrudging and suspicious to open and humble.

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In the beginning, the tone is one of skepticism and a hint of jealousy. The narrator doesn't understand why she would want to spend so much time with a blind person.  The narrator simply is not able to empathize with the blind man or understand what it is like to be blind.  Later in the story, the narrator tries to describe a cathedral to the blind man:

The narrator's description of the cathedral is inadequate partly because of the blind man's impaired vision, but largely because of the narrator's own blindness to spiritual and human values. (Enotes)

However, when the blind man takes the narrator's hand as the narrator draws the cathedral, he finally has his epiphany in the story (an epiphany is a moment of enlightenment).  The narrator has finally been able to think of ANOTHER, and not himself:

[This experience] evokes a deep, rich joy that transcends the superficial relationship they expected to establish, transforming the narrator from a vain, selfish person into one who, in thinking of another, finds himself. (Enotes)

The tone, at the end, then changes to one of realization and enlightenment.

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