What does the "Cathedral" narrator learn from Robert, and is the ending convincing?

Quick answer:

The narrator learns from Robert that it is possible to be able to see without understanding and to understand without seeing. Robert has never seen the narrator's wife, but he knows all about her thoughts and feelings, which the narrator doesn't. Robert has never seen a cathedral, but it is he who shows the narrator how to actually experience what he encounters in life. Robert teaches the narrator insight, and it does feel like an epiphany.

Expert Answers

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The narrator at the end of this story experiences an epiphany which does seem, despite the unemotional tone of Carver's text, to indicate that his outlook on life might be different from this moment on. For the majority of this short story, the narrator does not seem to recognize that there can be value in life without being able to see, or that being able to see is not, in and of itself, rewarding. He knows that he dislikes the tapes his wife sends to Robert, the blind man, but he doesn't understand why. He doesn't realize that although he, the narrator, can see and Robert cannot, this does not make him a better person. On the contrary, Robert has insight into the narrator's wife's inner life which the narrator himself does not, because the couple barely talk. The narrator sees the world around him, but he does not properly experience it.

What he learns from Robert at the end of the story, then, is how to gain insight into the world around him, and to properly understand what he sees. He does this by closing his eyes and going inside himself, to a place where his vision is as limited as Robert's is. He learns to understand things by feel, pressing hard on the paper as he draws the cathedral and listening to Robert's voice. This experience is "like nothing else in [his] life" up until now, which underlines the sheer enormity of it in terms of changing how the narrator understands the world.

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