REVIEWS: Cathedral – Character Prejudice & Empathy

Even as I believe the basic character flaw–and that which is to be overcome to form story–is not so much bias against the blind man but rather the narrator’s feelings of exclusion from a portion of his wife’s life (and here there’s so much more to question: does she give him reason to feel this way [I would say, no]?)–there is another personality trait here of bias that may work in conjunction with his feelings of isolation. 

In a dialogue between the narrator and his wife about Robert’s forthcoming visit, we get some sense of the interaction of the marriage (remember, he didn’t want to tell her he didn’t like poetry), and we get a taste of racial bias:

I didn’t answer.  She’d told me a little about the blind man’s wife.  Her name was Beulah.  Beulah!  That’s a name for a colored woman.

"Was his wife a Negro?" I asked?

The funny part is is that this is the first instance where the narrator has told us a character’s name.  There is something here.  Perhaps because he feels she has not taken a part of his wife from him.  Perhaps he feels an empathy because she too was, just like him, an outsider to the relationship between the blind man and the narrator’s wife. 

There is a softening here towards Robert–though only for a millisecond before he switches it over to Beulah.  And this is one of my favorite lines:

They’d married, lived and worked together, slept together, had sex, sure–and then the blind man had to bury her.   All this without his having ever seen what the goddamned woman looked like.

What’s the narrator telling us about his view of this marriage between Robert and Beulah?  What is it telling the reader about his own?

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