Raw emotion is at the heart of “Cathedral” by Raymond Carver, as the narrator shares his thoughts about his wife’s old friend who is coming for a visit. He has never met the man, only hearing about him through stories from his wife, but he has formed an opinion based on two things he knows about him. First, the visitor is blind, and that makes the narrator very uncomfortable. Second, there is a bond between this blind man and his wife that he does not understand.
The closeness of the blind man, Robert, and the narrator’s wife clearly bothers him. Their ability to connect on a deeper level confuses him. Through their continued trading of tapes and revealing personal stories, the two have formed closeness that the narrator seems to be unable of obtaining. In the story about the blind man touching his wife’s face, we feel an almost visceral reaction as he struggles with understanding the somewhat intimate act. There is a hint of jealousy in the narrator’s voice, though we never have the feeling that he realizes this emotion.
As the narrator focuses on the inability of Robert to see, it is the narrator’s inability to see himself that becomes the message of the story. He focuses on the visual stimulus; the blind man never being able to see his own wife, watching TV, what a cathedral looks like, that he never realizes what is going on with his life that is causing his unhappiness. When the two men are sharing some pot, the narrator mentions that this is what his usual night is like. He smokes some, stays up late, his wife is already in bed, and they live separate lives together. They don’t have that connection Robert and his wife have. He is unhappy with his job and place in life. Robert on the other hand has experienced things. He’s been places and talked to people, always connecting with just his ability to speak. Their connection finally begins when the narrator struggles to describe, in physical terms, what a cathedral looks like. He has trouble verbally expressing what he sees. He cannot connect in a way that his wife and this blind man can. Robert, much in the way he connected with the wife, uses a physical means to help connect with the narrator, and helps him “see” something about himself and the blind man.
I think this is a story of connection. One man, without the ability to see, manages to connect with people and form long lasting relationships that exist on deep levels. The other man, exists on the surface and seemingly is having trouble with his life and his place in the world. It is the ability the blind man is missing that has become the biggest barrier for the narrator to overcome. He sees and judges, which stops him from truly looking and understanding.