Cathedral By Raymond Carvers “For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then I shall know even as I am known” (1 Corinthians 13). The narrator of Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral” is a man living a life of monotony, continuously feeding the cold and bigoted mind that we witness for the first part of the story. The process of guiding Robert through the drawing of the cathedral, removes the narrator from that dark looking glass and initiates a tranformation in which he is compelled to meet himself face to face; this awakening stirs the narrator’s humility, imagination, and faith. It is human nature to embrace preconceptions regarding the facets of daily life, from politics to people. It is, as well, innate to consider oneself better than another. An awakening such as the narrator’s, however, ruptures the protective shield that surrounding steadfast biases, and forces the person to assess their position in the greater schema of humankind.
A bias that surfaces early on, is the mention of Robert’s wife, “Beulah!” The narrator exclaims, “That’s a name for a colored woman.” (Carver, “Cathedral,” 182) Here, by attaching a stereotype to a simple name, he exhibits the precise indiscretion of a closed-minded bigot, and then eventually reaches humility through his awakening. The narrator possesses several other prejudices that also hinder his humility. Later on, for example, the narrator sees Robert for the first time and the man’s appearance startles him: “This blind man, feature this,” he says, “he was wearing a full beard! A beard on a blind man!” (183) Later still, the narrator reinforces his portrayal of an ignorant, presumptuous man when he notices that Robert doesn’t “use a cane and he [doesn’t] wear dark glasses, [having] always thought dark glasses were a must for the blind.” (183) However, the narrator sheds these stereotypes once he engages in the ‘cathedral’ conversation with Robert; the two begin to compare how well each of them envisions a cathedral. For instance, Robert gives facts that he has just heard off the television, demonstrating his limited knowledge. The narrator then attempts a description of a Cathedral, “they’re really big,” the narrator explains, “they’re massive;” (188), and subsequently realizes just how little he knows as well.
The narrator realizes that with the gift of sight he can really see little more than a blind man . . . And it is here that the narrator awakens to his newly humbled — equal — position alongside Robert. Up to this point, the narrator fancied himself a superior person because of his sight. Suddenly, with this moment of awakening, down came that shield protecting his closed-minded presumptions. By engaging in the same action that helped him realize his humbleness, the narrator retrieves his imagination.
For so long he had been stifling his innate creativity, choosing instead to allow outside forces create images and art for him. Robert coerces the narrator into sketching a cathedral, unlocking the door behind which the narrator had been keeping his imagination. This brings to light just how important and self-fulfilling that imagination had once been to him and could be again: “So I began. First I drew a box that looked like a house. It could the house I lived in.
Then I put a roof on it. at wither end of the roof, I drew spires. Crazy . . .
I put in windows with arches. I drew flying buttresses. I hung great doors. I couldn’t stop.” (189/190) This sketch has initiated another awakening. That is, the narrator placed in perspective what a steady diet of television and drinking had been holding him back from; here he is reacquainted with his estranged imagination, not able to stop drawing because with the sketch comes a flood of new spiritual enlightenment.
The narrator doesn’t rest here for long, however, forced to stretch his imagination even farther when the television goes off the air. Now the narrator is forced to use his imagination in its purity. “‘Close you eyes now,’ the blind man said to me. I did it. I closed them just like he said.
. . ‘Keep them that way,’ he said. He said, ‘Don’t stop now. Draw.'” (190) The narrator completes his drawing and, without even opening his eyes, knows and feels its beauty because he was compelled to draw by his own mind, unaided by external imaginations.
“My eyes were still closed. I was in my house. I knew that. But I didn’t feel like I was inside anything.” (190) The narrator’s awakening has given him a freedom — he is no longer “inside something,” limited by the bounds of a television governed, vegetative state. Moreover, he has awakened to a refreshed faith in himself and the world around him. Earlier, Robert explained the idea that several generations of people and families carry on a legacy of faith required to construct these great cathedrals, most without the reward of witnessing the finished product.
Here again the narrator undergoes an awakening; true faith, he comes to realize, is a test of wholehearted perseverance — a measure of love and undaunted determination. “The men who begin their life’s work on them, they never lived to see the completion of their work. In that wise, bub, they’re no different than the rest of us, right?” (188) Wrong. Robert’s words force the narrator to realize that he, himself, has never begun anything of which the completion would extend beyond his life. In this sense, the building of a cathedral becomes a symbol for the narrator; among his days of getting stoned and enslaving himself to the television, he has done nothing so prolific that it makes such a profound impact on his life or the lives of others . . . For he has never possessed the faith to do so. Now, however, he has awakened to the reality that he can make a difference by adopting the same faith that comes so easily to the generations building those cathedrals; living a life of faith would stir the narrator’s happiness and contentment with himself because he will be living a life of meaning.
Additionally, the moment at which the narrator has his multiple awakening — the sketching of the cathedral — while determining his true humbleness and releasing his stifled imagination, also solidifies his faith. That is, in recovering his lost imagination, the narrator accentuates a heartfelt and faith-driven perseverance. “My eyes were still closed. I was in my house. I knew that. But I didn’t feel like I was inside anything.
‘It’s really something,’ I said.” (190) Here he has allowed himself to persevere to the point where he draws an entire cathedral with closed eyes. The narrator undergoes that rebirth of faith. He knows, through faith, that his sketch is a piece of art, and a symbol of his faith. The cathedral encompasses the concept of vision — the awakening of humbleness, imagination, and faith. On the whole, the narrator has transformed as a result awakenings; he has moved beyond the dark looking glass, to a place in which he sees himself clearly, face to face, knowing as he is known.
The blind is a catalyst for the narrator’s transformation; his presence provokes the narrator’s prejudices, and thus makes visible the narrator’s shortcomings of character such as lack of imagination and lack of faith. Later, Robert maintains his catalyst purpose and provokes the narrator’s awakenings, initiating the narrator’s 180o turn into a humble, imaginative and faithful human being.