What is the main theme of "Cathedral" by Raymond Carver?

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The main theme of “Cathedral” is that human connection occurs in various forms and degrees. The characters illustrate that people have different ways and abilities to connect and relate to others; some are more successful than others.

Connections between spouses may be expected to be stronger than connections between non-related people, but Carver illustrates this is not necessarily and consistently true. The married couples—the narrator and his wife as well as the wife and her first husband, an officer—do not seem to have particularly strong, close relationships. The narrator cannot understand his wife’s enduring friendship with the blind man Robert, for whom she read one summer ten years ago. He doesn’t “think much of” or even seem to try to understand her poetry she wrote regarding her bond with Robert. Before Robert visits them, the narrator expresses his reluctance to host his wife’s longtime and long-distant friend. In fact, he himself doesn’t “have any friends”.

On the other hand, the narrator’s wife and Robert share a close platonic relationship that has lasted years over geographic distances. The wife confided in Robert about her unhappiness as an officer’s wife during her first marriage and even her attempted suicide. Robert revealed to her intimate details of his marriage to his wife Beulah. Interestingly, the wife and Robert’s communication sustaining their connection actually revealed their own contrasting marriages. The wife could not connect with the officer when she was married to him, but Robert and his wife Beulah were “inseparable for eight years.”

The narrator himself seems unable to connect to others. He is distant from his wife and remains untouched by his wife’s description of Robert’s devotion to Beulah when she was dying in the hospital. He can’t connect with Robert beyond eating, smoking, and sharing small talk with him. When the narrator tries to describe to Robert what a cathedral looks like, he offers a few superficial details (big, massive, carved, stone, marble) but then gives up with, “I’m sorry, but it looks like that’s the best I can do for you. I’m just no good at it.” Robert tries to bridge this gap in communication with an idea: he’ll rest his hand on the narrator’s hand sketching a cathedral. This way, Robert can learn about and feel what a cathedral is through touch in addition to the narrator’s verbal description.

Robert ultimately feels a connection with the narrator and understands the meaning of a cathedral as a place for human connection (“What’s a cathedral without people?”). He declares, “I think that’s it. I think you got it.” The narrator, however, feels nothing. He seems to realize that he cannot connect, but wants to maintain an appearance of connection out of politeness—or to save face. When Robert asks the narrator, “What do you think?” the narrator lies with, “It’s really something.”

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The main theme of the story is that intimacy involves much more than surface interaction and that it is the act of active listening which inspires understanding and devotion.

In the story, the narrator finds it perplexing that his wife is so attached to her blind friend, Robert. He is bewildered that her relationship with Robert has endured through her previous divorce and has even now encroached upon their marriage.

So, when the narrator's wife tells him that Robert is visiting, the narrator isn't especially enthused about admitting such a character into their home. After all, his wife shares an emotional intimacy with Robert that troubles him. The narrator doesn't understand why his wife finds Robert so fascinating, and it irritates him.

Awkwardly, he offers to take Robert bowling when he comes to visit, but his wife thinks that he is being patronizing. So, his offer falls flat. In fact, he and his wife seem to be at odds regarding Robert's impending visit, and this leaves him feeling helpless. The narrator decides to bide his time. When Robert arrives, the narrator is surprised when he notices how uncharacteristically cheerful his wife is in Robert's presence. Earlier in the story, the narrator tells how affected his wife was when Robert touched her face intimately all those years ago. Even now, he has no idea how the tapes his wife exchanged with Robert led to such enduring warmth and affection between the two of them.

When the narrator muses about Beulah, Robert's deceased wife, he imagines himself feeling pity for her. After all, Robert never saw what Beulah looked like, so how could he compliment her and make her feel good? The narrator is genuinely perplexed about how a blind man could have any sort of satisfying relationship with a woman under the circumstances of his disability. Here, it is clear that the narrator is oblivious to the true nature of intimacy. This brings us back to the main theme: true intimacy involves much more than surface interaction; in fact, intimacy itself is fostered by active listening and open communication. In such an atmosphere, mutual understanding is fostered.

The narrator discovers this by the end of the story when Robert guides him in drawing his personal idea of a cathedral. Before the narrator begins, Robert asks him whether he is religious. Embarrassed, the narrator admits that he is unsure about God. For his part, Robert just encourages the narrator to draw and promises that he will be there to help him. The narrator begins to draw, and he eventually becomes fascinated with the act of producing his vision of a cathedral on paper. Essentially, Robert's open acceptance of the narrator is what inspires the narrator to delve deeper into his own insecurities about faith. Robert's attentiveness to the narrator's emotions fosters an atmosphere of understanding and camaraderie, essential elements of intimacy. His ability to listen to and not to judge the narrator underlines the main theme of this short story.

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The short story "Cathedral" has several main ideas or themes. One theme in the story is the effects of loneliness and isolation on the individual. The characters in the story feel alone and cut off from others. This leads to a desperate depression.

Another theme of the story is that of the trans-formative power of art. Poetry helps the narrator to work through her isolation and change.

A third theme, directly tied to the other two, is the power of the human imagination. This power is what allows the narrator to change her life of isolation and misery. 

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What is the major theme of "Cathedral" by Raymond Carver?

In Raymond Carver's "Cathedral," a reader might find many themes, but there is one that stands out for me.

It's important to remember that a theme is a major idea or "life truth" that the author is trying to share with the reader.

It is interesting to note the kind of man the narrator is. He is resentful of the platonic relationship his wife has with a man she worked with in the past. Having lost his wife, he is traveling; they have planned to have him stay one night before moving on. If the narrator isn't already being difficult about their impending visitor, the fact that Robert is blind does not make things easier. In truth, the narrator acts very much like a child, unhappy about specific aspects of the impending visiting; specifically, he is prejudiced about Robert being blind:

I wasn't enthusiastic about his visit. He was no one I knew. And his being blind bothered me. My idea of blindness came from the movies. In the movies, the blind moved slowly and never laughed.

The speaker makes it clear that he is not happy about Robert coming; without knowing him, the narrator draws unfair conclusions about the man, and his wife makes it clear that he had better behave himself while Robert is visiting them:

"If you love me," she said, "you can do this for me. If you don't love me, okay. But if you had a friend, any friend, and the friend came to visit, I'd make him feel comfortable."

When Robert arrives, things are a little awkward, but perhaps no more than any people meeting for the first time in a social setting. The narrator's wife has pointed out to him that he has no friends. He seems comfortable in his own element, without strangers interfering with his isolation. However, as the night progresses the two men talk and eventually "watch" television, as the narrator tries to describe with words what a cathedral "looks" like. Robert suggests that if the speaker will get a large piece of paper and a pen, while the narrator draws Robert can follow the movement of his hand and mentally envision the shape of the building.

He found my hand, the hand with the pen. He closed his hand over my hand. "Go ahead, bub, draw," he said. "Draw. You'll see. I'll follow along with you. It'll be okay. Just begin now like I'm telling you. You'll see. Draw," the blind man said.

The key to the theme is in Robert's comment: "You'll see." The narrator believes that "seeing" is something he can do that Robert cannot. He thinks that Robert as a man of limitations, but the truth is that the narrator is the blind one: unable to see the value of the world and the people around them because he bases his perceptions on what can be seen. This exercise with Robert opens the narrator's mind to how blind he really is, but the reader is left with the impression that the speaker has been changed by understanding how to see as Robert does (a paradoxical development). The narrator draws with his eyes closed:

"Keep them that way," [Robert] said. He said, "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.

At the close of the story, the narrator is not interested in seeing with his eyes open, but continues to see the world with his eyes shut. The theme could be that things are not always what they seem, or one cannot know the world simply by looking at it:  one must look beyond the surface.

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What is the theme of Raymond Carver's "Cathedral"?

"Cathedral," like many of Carver's other stories, portrays individuals isolated from each other for a variety of reasons. The narrator drinks too much and seems unable to adequately communicate with his wife. The wife has earlier tried to commit suicide because of loneliness. Only the blind man, Robert, seems able to form lasting human connections. Unlike Carver's other stories, however, "Cathedral" ends with hope; although there is no proof that the narrator will overcome his isolation, for the moment, he is in communion with himself and another human being.

As enotes.com/cathedral alludes to above is that isolation and loneliness is one theme.  Both the narrator and his wife are unable to effectively communicate with one another; however, his wife communicates freely and well with the blind man.  The narrator is very resistant to getting to know this man and is resentful of his presence. Conversely, another theme would be hope for personal growth, as the narrator seems to have an epiphany of sorts at the end when he makes ther realization that he can communicate with the blind man and that doing so makes him feel very different and alive in many ways.

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Identify the themes of "Cathedral" by Raymond Carver.

One of the principle themes is that of blindness. This is shown through the character of Robert, who is literally blind. However, although Robert is the only character who is literally blind, at the same time, it is clear that the narrator is "blind" metaphorically in a number of ways. This is shown through his selfishness and also his inability to see how his actions are impacting his relationship with his wife, who is increasingly annoyed by his insensitivity and rudeness. However, it is when Robert asks the narrator to draw a cathedral for him, the narrator discovers that being blind and having to rely on your other senses can actually be a very positive and amazing experience. Note the way that when Robert urges the narrator to open his eyes and have a look at the drawing he made, the narrator doesn't:

But I had my eyes closed. I thought I'd keep them that way for a little longer. I thought it was something I ought to do.

He finds this experience incredible, as although he knew he was still inside his house, he "didn't feel like [he] was inside anything." The narrator moves from seeing blindness as a disability and making fun of Robert to actually being able to understand how blindness is something that can deepen one's perspective on life. In the same way, although the ending does not reference this, the reader gets the feeling that this visit from Robert will have changed the narrator's relationship with his wife for the better. The notion of blindness is therefore one of the key themes of the short story. 

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