Cathedral by Raymond Carver, 1982
The magic trick:
Winning the reader to the narrator’s point of view with a simple but effective narrative voice
Yesterday’s SSMT feature, “The Blind Man,” showcased a man made uncomfortable when visiting a friend and her blind husband. Today’s story features a man being made uncomfortable by the visit of his wife’s blind friend.
So much prejudice. So much metaphor.
To be honest, I’m not sure I really see (pardon the pun) what the big deal is about this story. It’s pretty much part of the American short story canon now, but it doesn’t really do it for me.
I do like the narrative voice an awful lot. It’s not dissimilar to a lot of Carver’s narrators. Hey, look, the narrator seems to be saying, I’m just a regular joe like you and I’m gonna tell you about this thing that just happened to me. It’s a great way of winning the reader to a particular point of view, and Carver is a master of such a character.
The redemption in the end isn’t really redemption at all as far as I can tell. True, the narrator has gotten out of his own head and allowed himself to see the world from someone else’s perspective. But I don’t have any reason to think he truly has learned anything or changed. So he draws a cathedral for 10 minutes with a blind man one night? Now he suddenly strips away his obviously deep-rooted misogyny and learns how to function happily and generously in his marriage? Yeah, I’m not convinced. And maybe that’s because the story’s use of a blind man is shallow and unoriginal.
There’s no knocking that narrative voice though. Whether you believe in this narrator’s redemption or not, there’s no doubt that you’re going to stick along to hear about it. And that’s quite a trick on Carver’s part.
Now this same blind man was coming to sleep in my house.
“Maybe I could take him bowling,” I said to my wife. She was the draining board doing scalloped potatoes. She put down the knife she was using and turned around.
“If you love me, she said, “you can do this for me. If you don’t love me, okay. But if you had a friend, any friend, and the friend came to visit, I’d make him feel comfortable.” She wiped her hands with the dish towel.
“I don’t have any blind friends,” I said.
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