REVIEWS: Cathedral – Character Revelation

It seems I can’t read through two pages–or often just a single one–without finding something…

The narrator finds himself woefully unable to describe the cathedral to Robert.  In his attempts, he brings in religion:

"They’re really big," I said.  They’re massive. They’re built of stone.  Marble, too, sometimes.  In those olden days, when they guilt cathedrals, men wanted to be close to God.  God was an important part of everyone’s life.  You could tell this from their cathedral-building."

This is Carver’s method of bringing in something to learn about the narrator via cathedral to religion to reality. This opens the dialogue between the two men in new areas of awareness.  Robert asks about the narrator’s beliefs.  And here’s what Carver has the narrator admit of his own self-awareness:

I shook my head.  He couldn’t see that, though.  A wink is the same as a nod to a blind man. "I guess I don’t believe in it.  In anything.  Sometimes it’s hard.  You know what I’m saying?"
"Sure, I do", he said.
"Right," I said.

Carver has left us some information here.  The narrator is questioning belief in spiritual matters, perhaps in life purpose as well.  Maybe this is why he sits up nights smoking dope.  Robert’s reply can mean anything, can be a comment on the humanness that we all share, or it can simply be a gracious guest’s reply.  The narrator takes it (it seems) as Robert’s state of living with blindness.

Carver also skillfully reminds us that someone else is in the room, actually between the two speakers:

The Englishman was still holding forth.  My wife sighed in her sleep.  She drew a long breath and went on with her sleeping.

With those three sentences, Carver reestablishes setting: the three are on the couch, the wife is asleep, the TV is still on.  He can then continue with the focus of the story.

There’s one more thing here that catches my mind:

It was then that the blind man cleared his throat.  He brought something up.  He took a handkerchief from his back pocket.

While it may mean nothing at all, Carver is too adept at giving us just what we need to not consider the possibility that Robert is ill, perhaps this is another reason for his visit.

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