Raymond Cathedral Carver Criticism - Essay

Raymond Carver

Paul Gray (review date 19 September 1983)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Cathedral, in Time, Vol. 122, September 19, 1983, p. 95.

[In the following review, Gray suggests that Cathedral contains hidden depths of meaning.]

For years now, the demographics of the American short story have been moving up-scale. The line of Hemingway drifters and Flannery O'Connor grotesques seems to be dying out. Characters rarely worry any more about finding God or their next meal. They are likely instead to be well educated, sensitive to a fault, politically liberal, and affluent enough to feel pleasurable guilt in their possessions. They tend, in short, to resemble the stereotypical reader of The New Yorker, which is where the luckiest of these fictional people are chosen to appear. The rejected ones must troop off to the quarterlies and go through their paces (at greatly reduced rates) for smaller audiences composed of people with whom they can feel equally at home. These days a good many characters in short stories are also quarterly readers.

Author Raymond Carver, 45, has successfully bucked this trend toward the gentrification of short fiction. Furthermore, he has done so in part in The New Yorker, where three of the twelve stories in Cathedral originally appeared.

Carver's art masquerades as accident, scraps of information that might have been overheard at the supermarket checkout counter or the local beer joint. His most memorable people live on the edge: of poverty, alcoholic self-destruction, loneliness. Something in their lives denies them a sense of community. They feel this lack intensely, yet are too wary of intimacy to touch other people, even with language. "What's to says?" wonders one man. Another, traveling to meet the son he has not seen in many years, dreads the moment of greeting: "He really didn't know what he was going to say."

Such uncertainty leads to eruptions of inappropriate behavior. In "Feathers," a man named Jack and his wife Fran are invited to dinner at the home of one of Jack's co-workers. They arrive and find a...

(The entire section is 870 words.)

Joseph G. Knapp (review date 31 December 1983)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Cathedral, in America, December 31, 1983, p. 438.

[In the following review, Knapp praises Carver's poignancy and emotional depth in Cathedral.]

Rarely, and at unpredictable intervals, a writer of genius appears on the literary scene, who waves a wand over the relentlessly banal events of everyday life and transforms them. Such a master of the short story form is Raymond Carver. His first two collections of stories, Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? and What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, announced to critics that an extraordinary talent had emerged from the obscure town of Clatskanie, Ore. In this latest collection of...

(The entire section is 677 words.)

James W. Grinnell (review date Winter 1984)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Cathedral, in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 21, No. 1, Winter, 1984, pp. 71-2.

[In the review below, Grinnell praises Carver's writing, arguing that he has improved on his old style and added new elements.]

Things are finally looking up for Raymond Carver. In a way it is entirely fitting that this, his third volume of short stories is entitled Cathedral and that the collection ends with the title story, for in both Carver's life and writing, as in a Gothic cathedral, all signs are pointing upward.

Such was not always the case. Married at eighteen and burdened at that early age not only with the responsibility of a...

(The entire section is 1025 words.)

Patricia Schnapp (review date Summer 1985)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Cathedral, in Western American Literature, Vol. XX, No. 2, Summer, 1985, pp. 168-69.

[In the review below, Schnapp, who is a professor at Bowling Green State University, discusses the significance of the inability to articulate essential truths and beliefs in Carver's characters.]

A red-eyed peacock startles a couple visiting acquaintances who have an extraordinarily ugly baby. A man tells his estranged wife that he's about to go crazy because of his plugged-up ear. A wife comes home to find her unemployed husband unaware that the refrigerator has quit working and the food is thawing out. In Raymond Carver's Cathedral, his third...

(The entire section is 543 words.)

Mark A. R. Facknitz (essay date Summer 1986)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "'The Calm,' 'A Small Good Thing,' and 'Cathedral': Raymond Carver and the Rediscovery of Human Worth," in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 23, No. 3, Summer, 1986, pp. 287-96.

[In the following essay, Facknitz compares "The Calm," "A Small Good Thing," and "Cathedral," arguing that these stories represent unique attempts by Carver to create acceptance, closure, and connection among his characters.]

Raymond Carver is as successful as a short story writer in America can be. The signs of his success are many: prestigious and ample grants, publication in the best literary quarterlies and national magazines, and, from all appearances, an unperturbed...

(The entire section is 4827 words.)

Eugene Goodheart (essay date 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Raymond Carver's Cathedral," in Pieces of Resistance, Cambridge University Press, 1987, pp. 162-66.

[In the following essay, Goodheart analyzes Carver's moral code, arguing that he is at his best when his characters adhere to it.]

The affectless narrative voice of a Raymond Carver story defends itself against surprise or shock or pain. The most banal situations propose inexplicable signs of menace that require, in response, a discipline of unemotional terseness. Nothing much happens at the dinner party in "Feathers," the first of the stories in Carver's latest collection, except for the weird appearance of a vulture-sized peacock, which stares at the...

(The entire section is 1892 words.)

Keith Cushman (essay date 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Blind, Intertextual Love: 'The Blind Man' and Raymond Carver's 'Cathedral'," in D. H. Lawrence's Literary Inheritors, edited by Keith Cushman and Dennis Jackson, Macmillan, 1991, pp. 155-66.

[In the following essay, which was originally published in Études lawrenciennes in 1988, Cushman states that although Carver was not influenced by D. H. Lawrence's short story "The Blind Man" when Carver wrote "Cathedral," the stories are very similar.]

Anyone who reads Raymond Carver's 'Cathedral', the title-story of his 1983 collection, with a knowledge of D. H. Lawrence's short stories might easily conclude that 'Cathedral' is a shrewd, intriguing rewriting of 'The...

(The entire section is 4521 words.)

Arthur M. Saltzman (essay date 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Cathedral," in Understanding Raymond Carver, University of South Carolina Press, 1988, pp. 124-56.

[In the following excerpt, Saltzman compares such stories as "Feathers," "Chef's House," and "The Compartment"—which reflect hopelessness and despair—with "A Small, Good Thing" and "Where I'm Calling From" in which Carver allows his characters more compassion and choice.]

"I knew I'd gone as far the other way as I could or wanted to go, cutting everything down to the marrow, not just to the bone.1 In this way Carver announces a deliberate departure from the relentless austerity of What We Talk About When We Talk About Love in favor of...

(The entire section is 8346 words.)

Adam Meyer (essay date Summer 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Now You See Him, Now You Don't, Now You Do Again: The Evolution of Raymond Carver's Minimalism," in Critique, Vol. XXX, No. 4, Summer, 1989, pp. 239-51.

[In the following essay, Meyer, a professor at Vanderbilt University, traces Carver's use of minimalist style throughout his career, arguing that Carver returns to his previous, more expansive style in Cathedral.]

At this point in his career, there can be little doubt that Raymond Carver is "as successful as a short story writer in America can be,"1 that "he is becoming an Influence."2 Still, despite (or perhaps because of) this position, Carver remains a controversial figure. Much of the debate...

(The entire section is 6905 words.)

Michael Wm. Gearhart (essay date Fall 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Breaking the Ties That Bind: Inarticulation in the Fiction of Raymond Carver," in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 26, No. 4, Fall, 1989, pp. 439-46.

[In the essay below, Gearhart traces the differences between the original story, "The Bath," and Carver's revision of the same story, "A Small, Good Thing."]

Raymond Carver has been widely acknowledged as a short story writer whose glimpses into the lives of "everyday" people have made him a master of the genre. The typical Carver character is a down-and-out blue-collar type familiar with the trauma of marital infidelity, alcoholism, and financial hardship. As critics have thoroughly noted, these characters...

(The entire section is 3854 words.)

Arthur A. Brown (essay date Winter 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Raymond Carver and Postmodern Humanism," in Critique, Vol. XXXI, No. 2, pp. 125-36.

[In the following essay, Brown—a professor at the University of California, Davis—argues that Cathedral is not a radical departure from Carver's style, but an example of his postmodern humanist writing.]

When Raymond Carver wrote "Cathedral," he recognized that it was "totally different in conception and execution from any stories that [had] come before." He goes on to say, "There was an opening up when I wrote the story. I knew I'd gone as far the other way as I could or wanted to go, cutting everything down to the marrow, not just to the bone. Any farther in that...

(The entire section is 5852 words.)

Nelson Hathcock (essay date Winter 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "'The Possibility of Resurrection': Re-vision in Carver's 'Feathers' and 'Cathedral'," in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 28, No. 1, Winter, 1991, pp. 31-9.

[In the essay below, Hathcock compares "Feathers" and "Cathedral" to illustrate the ways in which Carver allows his characters greater freedom and ability to redeem their lives.]

In two of his late stories—"Feathers" and "Cathedral"—Raymond Carver appears to have changed his estimation of the potential power in his characters, the power to reconstruct their lives through language and, in the process, arrive at some understanding or intuitive accord. Unlike earlier Carver protagonists, the...

(The entire section is 3669 words.)

Ewing Campbell (essay date 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Maturity: Cathedral," in Raymond Carver: A Study of the Short Fiction, Twayne, 1992, pp. 48-66.

[In the following excerpt, Campbell, a professor at Texas A&M University, traces the changes in Carver's writing, noting that in Cathedral he exhibits great skill in adopting a softer, more hopeful tone.]

If a great number of critics hailed the publication of What We Talk About When We Talk About Love in 1981 as the establishing event of Carver's career, it is the arrival of Cathedral three years later that confirms his place among short-story writers of the first rank. The confirmation results in part, however, not from a...

(The entire section is 7587 words.)

Randolph Paul Runyon (essay date 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Cathedral," in Reading Raymond Carver, Syracuse University Press, 1992, pp. 137-85.

[In the excerpt below, Runyon examines the connecting elements and recurring themes in the short stories from Cathedral.]


"Before and after" (14), Bud said, holding up an "old plaster-of-Paris cast of the most crooked, jaggedy teeth in the world" (12) next to his wife Olla's orthodontically straightened ones. It is one of several sights Jack and Fran have to endure on their visit to Bud and Olla's house. Another is the pet peacock that wanders into the house during dinner, is "smelly" (25), and lets out blood-curdling screams....

(The entire section is 19089 words.)

Kirk Nesset (essay date Spring 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Insularity and Self-Enlargement in Raymond Carver's Cathedral," in Essays in Literature, Vol. 21, No. 1, Spring, 1994, pp. 116-28.

[In the essay below, Nesset, a professor at Whittier college, argues that the stories in Cathedral differ from Carver's earlier work in that some of the characters are able to escape their self-imposed insularity.]

In "The Compartment," one of Raymond Carver's bleakest stories, a man passes through the French countryside in a train, en route to a rendevous with a son he has not seen for many years. "Now and then," the narrator says of the man, "Meyers saw a farmhouse and its outbuildings, everything surrounded by a...

(The entire section is 7062 words.)