In Carver's "Cathedral," is the narrator connected with his wife?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is an interesting question. There is evidence inferred from what the narrator and his wife say to each other that indicates they are not, in fact, connected to each other--perhaps both have an inability to connect; the wife’s inability may be revealed in the events of her first marriage. It is clear, however, that the narrator is attached to his wife and feels deeply for her.

This attachment is revealed in several circumstances, for instance, in the way he always refers to his wife as “my wife.” This may be thought of as a means to put some distance between them and to insulate their mutual states of separateness and isolation. On the other hand, the possessive pronoun “my” indicates attachment, a welcome acknowledgement of relatedness and of interdependence. There is no hostility in the tone of nor in the contexts in which the narrator says “my wife,” therefore the inference is that their relatedness and interdependence is of an affectionate nature--a positive attachment--instead of a hostile nature. The best confirmation of this is when he sees her get out of the car when bringing Robert to their home. He then makes his only personal comment on her: he says, “She was still wearing a smile. Just amazing.”

What textual evidence shows that, while attached to her, the narrator is or is not connected to her? The most dramatic evidence for the contention that the narrator is  not connected to her is that she becomes vehement, with little or no justifiable provocation--unless it be provocation accumulated around many subjects over the years--while discussing how to welcome her friend and then while expressing the reality of Robert’s situation, doing so probably not for the first time:

You don’t have any friends. … Period.
[His] wife’s just died! Don’t you understand that? The man’s lost his wife!

Two other pieces of textual evidence occur during their visit with Robert. The first is the way they hungrily ate their meal with single-minded dedication without even any consideration of conversation; meal-time ease and conversation are traditionally thought to be indicators of the connectedness of the parties sharing the meal together:

We dug in. We ate everything there was to eat on the table. We ate like there was no tomorrow. We didn’t talk. We ate. We scarfed. We grazed the table. We were into serious eating.

The second is the way his wife looks at him when, during the visit, he turns the television on. The narrator recounts that “My wife looked at me with irritation. She was heading toward a boil.” When trying to deduce the narrator’s connectedness to his wife, it is helpful to note that he is a reliable narrator; his bitter and resentful tone and attitude are as unsparing to himself as to the other two characters. In summary, the evidence appears to indicate that while the narrator is deeply attached to his wife, he is not connected to her, though part of the cause may be her own inability to connect, as is illustrated by her feelings in her first marriage: “She got to feeling she couldn’t go it another step.”

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