In the short story, The Cathedral, the act of looking is connected to the physical outlook, but that of seeing needs a deeper degree of engagement. The narrator depicts that he is fully able to look. He can look at his house, his wife, and even Robert. This story tells us that human connection can happen in different forms and levels. The author illustrates that people have diverse ways to connect and relate to other people but some individuals are more successful than others. In the short story, A Rose for Emily, the protagonist shows proof of a person who cannot let go of the past and move on with the present. She is a person who, at all times, lived in the shadow of her former status, and was not willing to welcome change. Both The Cathedral and A Rose for Emily use characterization and symbolism as stylistic devices to communicate the positive and negative effects of embracing transformations in society. However, the two books differ in their use of these tools.
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In Raymond’s The Cathedral, the narrator is seen to be prejudiced and stereotypical at first. Upon receiving a guest into his home, he says, “a blind man in my house was not something I looked forward to” (Carver 40). The narrator reluctantly welcomes this visitor to his home because of his condition. Therefore, the author illustrates how an introvert in his comfort zone can feel like a prisoner due to fear. However, in the end, the narrator realizes that we learn lessons from the things we least expect and befriends the blind man. On the other hand, William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily characterizes the abnormal and unhealthy interest in disturbing others. We see a woman tormented by emotional trauma but does not seek help from her family and friends. Unlike the narrator in The Cathedral whose character changes in the story, the woman remains unchanged.
The narrator is depicted as a dynamic character, whereas the woman is portrayed as unchanging. This difference can be illustrated by how the narrator’s perspective changed throughout the story. He says, “Right then, my wife filled me in with more detail than I cared to know” (Carver 88). In the beginning, the narrator shows no interest in new ideas and is not pleased to learn that a blind man is coming to live with the family for some time. He views himself as a superior being and holds a low opinion of a person living with a disability. In one instance, he says, “in the movies, the blind moved slowly and never laughed’’ (Carver 83). His knowledge is based on the information he gets from other people and not what he sees. The narrator’s socialization or social context gives him an erroneous perception of blind people. Thus, the environment and media that a person is exposed to shape his or her perception of other people and cultures.
As the narrator interacts with the blind man more, he comes to terms with reality. He observes something new in the guest that changes his perception. He says, “I watched with admiration as he used his knife and fork on meat’’ (Carver 90). He finally realizes that he shares several attributes with the blind man, as the two had common interests and vocations. Because of this realization, he begins to address the blind man as Robert and not ‘the blind man’ as he did before. When the narrator admits this man into his home irrespective of their differences, he goes through a moment of abrupt change that transforms him. Thus, the author uses the characters to depict how embracing change can be influenced by positivity. A positive mindset is needed for one to be receptive to change and avoid resistance.
On the other hand, unlike in The Cathedral, in A Rose for Emily, the main character can be described as static because she does not change throughout the story. In her early life, she refuses to admit her father’s demise to preserve her past comfort. We are told, “Miss Emily met them at the door, dressed as usual and without an iota of grief on her face” (Faulkner 158). The main character does not admit that her father died or show any difference in her typical outward character. When Emily sees her father’s remains taken away, she suffers emotional shock and stress, which makes her lose her sense of reality.
As time goes by, we see new people taking charge of the town. Emily could no longer use her father’s influence in town to evade paying taxes. She says, “See Colonel Sartoris, I have no taxes in Jefferson” (Faulkner 156). She is seen as somebody unaware that the colonel has been long dead close to ten years, which means that she has lost grip of reality. Again, Emily, at some point, is reluctant to admit that her husband is likely to leave her, which drives her into poisoning him. The narrator says, ‘’the man himself lay in bed” dead (Faulkner 170). For the second time, Emily’s ability to make a considerable conclusion is blinded by disillusionment. She sleeps next to her husband’s dead body with all that belonged to him the same way he left them. Therefore, in Emily’s life, we can conclude that she is a static character who is not receptive to change. In his book, Faulkner brings out the aspect of accepting transformation as necessary to lead a normal life, as Emily is obsessed with masculinity throughout the story (Kirchdorfer 247). Since Emily refuses to accept the truth or reality, she can be described as an insane character.
A Rose for Emily uses symbolism as a stylistic device to bring out how Emily progresses slowly but steadily from sanity to insanity and her loss of sensibility. Her hair is an accurate representation of the transition to decay in her life. The narrator tells the audience that, “when we saw Emily again, her hair was cut short, making her look like a girl, with a vague resemblance to those angels in colored church windows – sort of tragic and serene” (Faulkner 160). Emily is going through the sorrow and shock of losing her father recently; her hair reflects her inner distress. Another case of symbolism is seen in the author’s description of Emily’s later life and demise. He says, ‘’up to the day of her death at seventy-four, it was still vigorous iron-gray, like the hair of an active man’’ (Faulkner 163). Emily’s hair remains unchanged, and it depicts her as willful and determined.
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In Emily’s house, there is dust all over – a symbol of decay and disuse. The story reads, “when they sat down, a faint dust rose sluggishly about their thighs, spinning with slow motes in the single sunray’’ (Faulkner 155). Emily spends her time seating inactively in the house and unbothered with the dirt building up in the room. Emily’s house can be seen as an obstacle between her and the outside world, as she rejected any external authority (Kirchdorfer 247). She is neither aware nor concerned about what is happening around her. Therefore, Faulkner incorporates different symbols into his work to depict Emily’s ignorance and unchanging behavior because she cannot admit life changes.
In contrast, The Cathedral uses symbolism to illustrate the transformational process from ignorance to tolerance. There is an exchange of audiotapes between the narrator’s wife and the blind man. These media have very personal information, representing the nonexistent emotional intimacy or infidelity between the narrator and his wife (Mambrol par. 5). The narrator explains that ‘’in time, she put it all on a tape and sent the tape to the blind man’’ (Carver 88). The narrator is seen as a person with a relatively childish character of being envious of the blind man because of his closer relationship with the storyteller’s wife. As a result, he develops a feeling of premature belligerence towards the blind man earlier, even before he comes to stay with the family in their home.
Another instance of symbolism is seen in the blind man’s laughter. The narrator describes it as a ‘big laugh’ in a sarcastic tone. His statement means the opposite of what he says, as the narrator holds a fixed and oversimplified image of the blind man. He believes that the blind are always quiet and shy, but, as we learn, Robert is neither introverted nor less confident. Therefore, his ‘big laugh’ causes sudden shock to the narrator later in the story. As the narrative advances to the end, the narrator comes to terms with reality and agrees to help the blind man in drawing a cathedral to enable him to see the physical appearance of a person. Robert tells the audience that he is working on the project with the help of the narrator (Carver 98). The act of the two men collaborating does away with the obstacle between them that has been in place for a long time. The narrator now reaches a point where he closes his eyes to draw, and he discovers that even when his vision is blocked, he can see beyond the surface – an artistic story with sociocultural significance (Mambrol par. 8). Therefore, the author uses symbols to illustrate the transition that takes place in the main character’s life – from ignorance to understanding.
Both A Rose for Emily and The Cathedral uses similar characterization techniques and symbolism to communicate the authors’ thoughts on why willingly accepting change in a particular context is essential. Faulkner uses the symbols that represent the death of the main character because she refuses to embrace the changes taking place in her life. In contrast, Carver uses these techniques in his work to illustrate the transition that occurs in the main character from ignorance to understanding. Further, Faulkner and Carver employ characterization techniques that are similar to show the advantages and disadvantages of transformational acceptance. Both writers come to a similar conclusion that the best way to deal with unexpected changes in one’s life is by accepting change.
Carver, Raymond. Cathedral. Random House, 2016.
Faulkner, William. A Rose for Emily. Perfection Learning, 1990.
Kirchdorfer, Ulf. ““A Rose for Emily”: Will the Real Mother Please Stand Up?” ANQ: A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes and Reviews, vol. 29, no. 4, 2017, pp. 247-249.
Mambrol, Nasrullah. “Analysis of Raymond Carver’s Short Stories.” Literary Theory and Criticism. n.d. Web.