In Raymond Carver's "Cathedral," what is the role of "irresistible grace" in the story?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"Irresistible grace" takes place...

...according to God's timing, [it is the overcoming one's] resistance to obeying the call of the gospel

In Carver's "Cathedral," the narrator is grumpy, prejudiced and isolated. Robert, who is blind, is coming to visit. The narrator is annoyed.

“Maybe I could take him bowling,” I said to my wife. ...She put down the knife she was using...

“If you love me,” she said, “you can do this for me...

“I don’t have any blind friends,” I said.

“You don’t have any friends,” she said. “Period...” 

The narrator is cut off from the world. He is unkind. Learning that Robert once was married, he thinks...

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?

He finds reasons not to accept Robert:

[My wife] hadn’t seen [Robert] since she worked for him one summer in Seattle ten years ago...his being blind bothered me...A blind man in my house was not something I looked forward to.

He is prejudicial: with no good reason, the narrator doesn't like blind people.

In addition, his wife has always been able to "talk" to Robert. He helps her feel connected. Perhaps what the narrator really dislikes is that his wife and Robert connect as people, as the narrator and his wife don't seem able to:

She told him everything, or so it seemed to me. 

The narrator is isolated, even from his wife:

Every night I smoked dope and stayed up as long as I could...My wife and I hardly ever went to bed at the same time. 

Robert arrives, and he and the wife talk a lot. They all eat. The men visit, "watching" TV together. The narrator asks Robert if he's ready to go to bed, but Robert wants to talk...if that would be ok.

“That’s all right,” I said. Then I said, “I’m glad for the company.”

And I guess I was.  

This signals a change in the narrator—a connection to the outside world. They begin to "watch" a show about cathedrals; the narrator really struggles to describe one—he can see but can't describe this building to his guest. Perhaps this helps him connect with Robert. Robert asks if the narrator would draw the cathedral while Robert's hand rests on get a sense of its shape. The narrator begins. Then Robert tells the narrator to close his eyes and draw. 

“Don’t stop now. Draw.”

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.

The narrator's world has altered. It may be that he has "looked" at he world without sight—and perhaps now he better understands Robert's world—but he is "transformed." In a way, Robert has taught the narrator "how to see."

"Irresistible grace"—in this story—starts with a small miracle: the narrator accepts Robert for who he is. He puts aside his resentments of the man, and so is drawn into Robert's circle of acceptance and peace. The narrator unconsciously reflects on his connection to Robert—perhaps by accepting Robert's lack of sight—and his own lack of vision

"Irresistible grace" is the concept that God can choose to change someone at any time; in this case, the narrator is gently reconnected to the world, through grace that seems to come from the gentle and patient Robert. The "calling" connects the narrator to the world, removing his sense of disconnectedness:

“It’s really something,” I said.