The Blind Man
The narrator in Raymond Carvers Cathedral is not a particularly sensitive man.I might describe him as self-centered, superficial and egotistical.And while his actions certainly speak to these points, it is his misunderstanding of the people and the relationships presented to him in this story which show most clearly his tragic flaw: while Robert is physically blind, it is the narrator that cannot clearly see the world around him.
In the eyes of the narrator, Roberts blindness is his defining characteristic.The opening line of Cathedral reads, “This blind man, an old friend of my wifes, he was on his way to spend the night.” (Carver 1052) Clearly, the narrator can not see past Roberts disability; he dismisses him in the same way a racist might dismiss a black man.In reality, any prejudice be it based on gender, race or disability involves one persons inability to look past a superficial quality.If someone judges a person based on such a characteristic, they are only seeing the aspect of the person which makes them uncomfortable.The narrator has unconsciously placed Robert in a
category that he labels abnormal, which stops him from seeing the blind man as an individual.
The narrators reaction to Roberts individuality shows his stereotypical views.The narrator assumed Robert did not do certain things, just because he was blind.When he first saw Robert his reaction was simple: “This blind man, feature this, he was wearing a full beard!A beard on a blind man!Too much, I say.”When Robert sat down on the couch, he thinks, “Iread somewhere that the blind didnt smoke because, as speculation had it, they couldnt see the smoke they exhaledBut this blind man smoked his cigarette down to the nubbin and then lit another one.”The narrators naivete leaves him amazed by Robert, who does things which the narrator would view as atypical of the blind.This reinforces the idea that the narrator is blind to the reality of the world.
The narrators blindness is certainly not limited to Robert he no better understands the relationship between his wife and the blind man:
Theyd become good friends, my wife and the blind manOn her last day in the office, the blind man asked if he could touch her faceShe told me he touched his fingers to every part of her
faceShe never forgot it.She even tried to write a poem about itShe wrote a poem or two every year, usually after something really important had happened to her.When we first started going out together, she showed me the poemI can remember I didnt think much of the poemMaybe I just dont understand poetry. (Carver 1053)
While the narrator realizes that his wifes relationship with Robert is important to her, he cannot understand why.Under other circumstances, the narrators wifes descriptions of experiences that summer and Roberts friendship and advice through her marriages might have left him enlightened as to the depth of their relationship.But here, despite all evidence to the contrary, the narrator (ultimately because of his prejudice) has ruled out Robert as a thoughtful, consequential person.He cannot comprehend that a blind man is capable of touching his wifes.Instead, he arrogantly assumes that he was the most important person to come into his wifes life.This delusion is obvious, when the narrator relates surprise that his wife never mentions him in her conversation with Robert that night:
They talked of things that had happened to them to them! these past ten years.I waited in vain to hear my name on my
wifes sweet lips: “And then my dear husband came into my life”something like that.But I heard nothing of the sort.
This only reaffirms that once again, the narrator completely misreads the si…..tuations in the world around him.
Notwithstanding, the narrators emotional blindness can be seen most clearly in his inability to comprehend Robert and Beulahs relationship.The narrator muses, “Theyd married, lived and worked together, slept togetherand then the blind man had to bury her.All this without his having ever seen what the goddamned woman looked like.” (Carver 1054) Here, the narrators preoccupation with physical appearance is evident.Therefore, it is not surprising that he cannot understand Roberts marriage, which was entirely based on the emotional and intellectual aspect of a relationship.The narrator openly admits their marriage was “beyond his understanding.”His inability to imagine or even appreciate such a seemingly wonderful marriage further illustrates his blindness.
In addition, the narrators prejudice again plays a part in his naivete.The narrator cannot believe that Robert could possibly understand his late wife’s emotions: “A woman whose husband could never read the expression on her face, be it misery or something better.” (Carver 1055)This statement shows that the narrator believes Robert, because of his
disability, would be an inadequate husband.The narrators belief Roberts physical blindness resulted in an inadequacy in his marriage shows he again has dismissed Robert on the basis of his disability.He is blind to the possibility that Robert can see, where the narrator cannot.
But perhaps the best example of the narrators blindness can be seen in a reference to Beulah:
I found myself thinking what a pitiful life this woman must have led.Imagine a woman who could never see herself as she was seen in the eyes of her loved one.A woman who could go on day after day and never receive the smallest compliment from her beloved.A woman whose husband could never read the expression on her face, be it misery or something betterthen to slip off into death, the blind mans hand on her hand, his blind eyes streaming tearsher last thought this: that he never even knew what she looked like, and she on an express to the grave. (Carver 1055)
The idea that Beulah continually felt an inadequacy in her marriage based on Roberts disability is undoubtedly a ridiculous claim, which shows an intense misunderstanding of love and life on the part of that narrator.Roberts marriage was most likely very intimate, and completely unhindered by his
disability.The narrators wife even commented that Robert and Beulah “had been inseparable for eight years.”But such a love is beyond the comprehensive abilities of the narrator, who cannot seem to recognize the most important things in life.
While a lot has been written about Raymond Carver, little has been written about Cathedral.Contributing writer Charles E. May in the Reference Guide to Short Fiction sites a change in Carvers writing style beginning with the stories contained in the same anthology as Cathedral: “Whereas his early stories are minimalist and bleak, his later stories are more discursive and optimistic.” (Watson 114) The few critics who have written specifically about Cathedral tend concentrate on that optimism, seen at the end of the story with the narrators “esthetic experience and realization.” (Robinson 35) In concentrating on the final realization experienced by the narrator, I believe the literary community has overlooked his deep-rooted misunderstanding of everything consequential in life.
The narrators prejudice makes him emotionally blind.His inability to see past Roberts disability stops him from seeing the reality of any relationship or person in the story.And while he admits some things are
simply beyond his understanding, he is unaware he is so completely blind to the reality of the world.