Raymond Carver is now viewed by many literary critiques and scholars as one of the most prominent American short-story writers. Among his most famous works, it is possible to single out the following ones: Neighbors, The Student’s Life, Elephant, and many others.
His novella Cathedral can be analyzed from different standpoints, for instance, the symbolism or themes, which the author explores. Yet, one of the most interesting aspects is the role of narrator, and perspective from, which the reader is witnessing the action.
Prior to advancing any hypothesis about this issue, it is crucially important to understand the functions of the story-teller in any work of literature and discuss the personality of the narrator, who embodies certain stereotypes and prejudices of the modern American society; it seems that Raymond Carver makes the reader to look through the eyes of this particular character because he wants to show how superficial, ignorant and even cruel a person may be in his or her judgment. The best way to do it is the first-person narrative.
First, it should be pointed out that through out the text, Raymond Carver cover never names the story-teller. The question arises why he chooses to treat the protagonist in such a way. Certainly, it was not very difficult for him to give a name to the main character.
It seems that the main point, which the author wants to emphasize, is that there are a great number of people, who bear strong resemblance to him. The qualities, which he possesses, such as for instance, prejudice or superficiality, are very widespread. The narrator is an archetype, which means that people like him can be found almost everywhere.
In this respect, it is worth mentioning that the narrative mode is mostly determined by the task, which the writer sets. If he or she wants to remain objective and impartial, the most likely variant is the third-person narrative. As regards first-person, we may say that the author tries to give deeper insights into the inner world of the person, or the story-teller. In the overwhelming majority of cases, he or she is the protagonist.
It is quite possible to say that in Cathedral, Raymond Carver constantly contrasts the narrator and Robert. Certainly, the author does not attract the reader’s attention to this particular, yet it can be observed that he compares these characters, their beliefs, attitude towards other people, ability to appreciate beauty, and naturally the way the way they perceive reality.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that the story-teller is utterly unable to form his own conclusions about other people without someone else`s prompt. His judgment is mostly based on stereotypes, which the mass media offer to him. For instance, at the very beginning, he says, “My idea of blindness came from the movies.
In the movies, the blind moved slowly and never laughed” (Carver, 256). It seems that he often receives a distorted image of other people; moreover, he cannot question it. As the story progresses, the narrator becomes more tolerant to Robert, but the stereotypical patterns of thinking are still deep-rooted in him.
Additionally, his superficiality can be observed in his attitude towards marriage life and family relations. May be it is a far-fetched argument, but it seems that the narrator attaches primary importance only to the physical aspect of this issue but not to the spiritual one. For example, he feels some compassion for Robert and his deceased wife. He says, “They’d married, lived and worked together, slept together…All this without his having ever seen what the goddamned woman looked like.
It was beyond my understanding.” (Carver, 258) He cannot understand that love is primarily spiritual affection. The story-teller feels some pity for Robert, in his opinion; he is superior to this “blind man”, yet one may easily see that Robert possesses some qualities, which the narrator cannot even dream of, for instance, true compassion and ability to see below the surface.
Despite the fact, that the author does not pay extra attention to this aspect, one may also notice that his relations with his wife leave very much to be desired. When Robert arrives, the narrator feels that he is virtually “left out” (Carver, 256). In fact, he has given very little though to the inner world of his wife. It is incomprehensible to him that a blind man and his wife can have so much in common.
The most recurrent motif in this novella is the concept of blindness, physical and spiritual. The narrator is an example of a spiritually blind person, who is incapable to appreciate inner beauty of other people. This is why he is utterly unable to understand Robert`s relations with his wife.
He is firmly convinced that appearance plays the key role in marriage life. His “blindness” can be observed even in the way he treats unpleasant situations. When the main character faces some problem, he is most likely to resort to drugs, which serve as a shield for him. It is more convenient for him to remain ignorant of his follies. It would not be an exaggeration to say that a great number of people try to follow his example. Thus, one may easily call him an archetypical character.
One has to admit that the narrator should not be regarded only as some negative character. To a certain degree, he is honest (at least to himself) and he finally realizes that his life is very far from being ideal. If he had been entirely depraved, he would have never changed his attitude towards Robert. At the end of the story, Carver gives certain clues, indicating that something has radically changed in the narrator, for example his attitude towards beauty.
When Robert asks him to describe a cathedral, the protagonist finally realizes how limited he is, because he is at complete loss for words. Only when the story-teller closes his eyes, he is finally able to see the beauty of cathedral, the main symbol of the story. Although Raymond Carver does not openly state it but it seems that the narrator has finally seen how shallow he has been all these years.
Thus, it is possible to arrive at the conclusion that Raymond Carver employs the first-person narrative and makes the reader look through the eyes of this particular character, because he intends to prove that a person who is convinced of ones superiority is most probably ignorant, selfish and cruel.
Such form of story-telling only intensifies the effect which the author wants to achieve. Throughout the text, Carver contrasts the narrator and Robert. He distinguishes two types of blindness: physical (Robert) and spiritual (the narrator). Raymond Carver describes the narrow-mindedness of a spiritually-blind person.
Arthur A. Brown. Raymond Carver and Postmodern Humanism. “Critique” (31), 2, p 126-138, 1990.
John Powell. The Stories of Raymond Carver: The Menace of Perpetual Uncertainty. “Studies in Short Fiction”, (31), p 4, 647-651, 1994.
Robert DiYanni “Literature: Approaches to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama” McGraw-Hill, 2006.