Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 500
The characters in the Cathedral stories undergo the same anguish and agony as the characters in previous stories. Their prospects for the future, however, are better, largely due to their increased ability to sympathize, empathize, understand, and love. Their emotional resources have grown appreciably. The strongest examples can be drawn from the two best stories in the collection: "Cathedral" and "A Small Good Thing."
In "Cathedral" a blind man visits the narrator and his wife, who had worked for the blind man ten years before. The narrator is unhappy about the visit; he is both self-conscious and jealous. Both feelings recede, however, in the presence of the blind man, particularly in response to his naturalness and geniality. It is not long before the narrator begins to enjoy the blind man's company and becomes worried that he may not be able to visualize a cathedral from a verbal description that the narrator gives him as the two attend to a television show about cathedrals. 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. In a remarkable moment of imaginative vision, Carver has the blind man hold the narrator's hand as he draws a cathedral. The experience they share involves more than an intellectual comprehension of a cathedral. It 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.
"A Small Good Thing" portrays a similar but even more astonishing transformation. The plot combines predictability with astonishing surprises. A mother orders a birthday cake for her eight-year-old son, Scotty, who is struck by a car on the morning of his birthday. His parents keep vigil at the hospital, where he lies in a coma, until each independently returns home for a brief rest. Each is called by the baker who unaware of the accident, asks if they have forgotten Scotty. When Scotty dies, his grief-stricken parents return home together. When the baker calls again the wife realizes who it is — but only later. She has her husband drive to the bakery, where she confronts the baker and accuses him of cruelty and vicious insensitivity. Her accusation prompts the baker to realize how lonely he is and to confront the fact of his diminished humanity. In a gesture of contrition and generosity, the baker offers the heartbroken parents some of his hot freshly baked bread. "Eating," he tells them, "is a small good thing in a time like this." His act is beautifully apt and emotionally and artistically necessary. It reduces the parents' animosity, diminishes their sorrow, and helps them at least momentarily, to go on with their lives. The action can best be described as one of healing and communion. In sympathizing with the parents' loss and in breaking bread with them, the baker restores himself fully to the human family.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 179
The unnamed male narrator, called ''Bub'' by Robert, the blind man, is the protagonist of the story. The story unfolds through the narrator's point of view. ‘‘This blind man, an old friend of my wife's, he was on his way to spend the night,’’ announces the narrator conversationally in the first line of the story. The narrator is jealous of his wife's friendship with the blind man. He is unhappy in his work and isolated from others. According to his wife, he has no friends.
The narrator is unhappy about the blind man's visit. He seems to be uncomfortable with the notion of blindness, with his wife's connection to the man, and with his own inability to relate to other human beings.
After an evening of heavy drinking and pot smoking, the narrator turns on the television and begins to describe what he sees to the blind man. When clips of a cathedral appear on the screen, the narrator, ever inarticulate, is unable to describe a cathedral. The blind man teaches the narrator to "see" the cathedral through drawing.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 184
Robert is the blind friend of the narrator's wife. He is well-traveled and well-educated. Some years before, the narrator's wife worked for him as a reader and they became good friends. As the story opens, Robert has just lost his wife and is traveling across the country to see his wife's family. He arranges to spend the night with the narrator and his wife. While at the narrator's house, Robert reveals himself to be a patient, kind man, someone who cares deeply for the narrator's wife. Even when the narrator is rude to him, Robert continues to be pleasant and outgoing.
Robert and the narrator share many drinks and smoke marijuana together. After the narrator's wife falls asleep and the narrator turns on the television set, Robert asks the narrator to describe a cathedral to him. When the narrator is unable to do so, Robert asks him to draw one for him. Robert places his hand on the narrator's hand as he draws, and in so doing, teaches the narrator how to experience a cathedral. By so doing, Robert facilitates growth in the narrator.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 195
Although she is never given a name in this story, the narrator's wife is an important character. It is her earlier friendship with Robert that provides the catalyst for the story. As a much younger woman, she went to work as a reader for Robert in order to earn money so that she and her childhood sweetheart could be married. As an airforce officer' s wife, she moved frequently and lived in difficult conditions. Over the years she kept in touch with Robert; the connection between the two seems to be an important constant in her life. At one point after her marriage to the airforce officer and before her marriage to the narrator, she tried to commit suicide because she felt lonely and isolated. Her correspondence with Robert through the exchange of tapes continues into the present and appears to be her only outlet for her feelings.
The visit from Robert is important to her and she requests that her husband be polite. Although the woman falls asleep before the climatic moment of the story, her earlier encounter with Robert makes possible a life-changing epiphany in her husband's life.