What themes are present in "Cathedral" and "A Wall of Fire Rising", and how do their structures relate to these themes?

Quick answer:

In “Cathedral,” the narrator's prejudices are challenged, and he discovers many things about blindness. In “A Wall of Fire Rising,” Guy faces a wall of fire that is rising in his own mind.

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Cathedral” by Raymond Carver focuses on prejudices and discovery, while “A Wall of Fire Rising” by Edwidge Danticat revolves around the themes of poverty and crushed hopes. The forms of both short stories contribute to the development of these themes.

In “Cathedral,” the narrator, who speaks in the first person, carries a whole range of prejudices against the blind man, Robert, who comes to visit his wife. The narrator goes into great detail about his thoughts, feelings, and memories. But to his great surprise, the narrator ends up bonding with Robert over a television program about cathedrals.

The plot of this story is minimal and almost trivial, yet it allows the narrator to discover things about blindness that he never knew and never could have known otherwise, and we hear about it from his own perspective. The author also gives us plenty of conversation between the narrator and Robert that allows us to see the discoveries in real time. In the end, the narrator closes his eyes and tries to experience what it might be like to be blind.

In “A Wall of Fire Rising,” a third-person narrator tells the story of Guy, Lili, and Little Guy, and we see them from a bit of a distance through the narrator's descriptions. We notice their poverty, for this family lives in a little shack. Guy has just gotten a job cleaning the latrines at the sugar mill. Little Guy comes home all excited, having gotten the part of a Haitian revolutionary leader in the school play. This looks like a nice, normal family but for their extreme poverty, and we soon realize that Guy is on the verge of despair.

Guy's dream is to fly his boss's hot air balloon. The balloon becomes a symbol of his hopes and dreams for a better life. He wants to soar up out of the shack like the balloon soars into the air, yet it seems impossible. In the end, Guy flies the balloon, but he seems to realize that it is just a symbol and that his life will never soar in that way. He jumps from the balloon, ending his own life in a fit of despair.

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