Brief and simple in its language, Raymond Carver’s short story Cathedral is packed with imagery and themes that vividly and powerfully depict real life issues. The immediate impressions of the text were that Carver successfully uses an unlikely scenario- a casual interaction between the narrator and a blind man- to powerfully comment about racial discrimination, prejudices and stereotypes. It is surprising, therefore, that the narrator was not jealous of the close friendship between his wife and the blind man, especially after learning that they have been friends for years. Even though the narrator is visually not impaired, his prejudices symbolize his inability to “see,” metaphorically, the humanity of others, hence his uneasiness for hosting a blind man.
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The short story conveys important themes about racism and racial prejudices. The author suggests that racism and racial prejudices often arise from ignorance. This is seen from the way the narrator feels uncomfortable being around the blind visitor, and is surprised that a blind man can smoke. His unease and surprise are because he has never been around blind people to get to know them better as humans with the same human feelings and needs as himself. To establish the relationship between ignorance and prejudices and racism, the author uses the metaphor of blindness to symbolize ignorance. The blind man’s condition is a metaphor for the narrator’s ignorance about blind people and those who are different from him. However, he is transformed after he interacts with the blind man, suggesting that knowing people helps to avoid discrimination and prejudices.
It is curious that the narrator is transformed after he tries to draw a cathedral while his eyes are closed. The narrator’s closing of the eyes mimics blindness, and equally important, symbolizes the idea of putting himself in the shoes of the blind man. This is necessary not just to experience what blind people go through, but also to see things through their eyes, literally and figuratively. For a moment, the narrator becomes blind to the world around him, but this blondness allows him to concentrate on the task at hand- drawing the cathedral.
The cathedral is also symbolic because it represents sight and knowledge. When the narrator is asked to draw the cathedral, he lacks the language to do so, suggesting his blindness to the plight or condition of others. He does not see those around him as human beings just like him because despite having sight, he is blind to their needs and existence. That is why he puts the television on so that he does not have to talk to the blind man. Ironically, the blind man “sees” the narrator’s blindness and ignorance about the condition and needs of fellow human beings. He challenges the narrator to draw the cathedral as a means of helping him to overcome his ignorance.
Carver, Raymond. Cathedral.