Cathedral Essay Research Paper Blindness creates a

Cathedral Essay, Research Paper

Blindness creates a world of obscurity only to be overcome

with guidance from someone willing to become intimate with the

blind. Equally true, the perceptions of blindness can only be

overcome when the blind allow intimacy with the sighted. Raymond

Carver, with his short story Cathedral, illustrates this point

through the eyes of a man who will be spending an evening with a

blind man, Robert, for the first time. Not only does this man not

know Robert, but his being blind, “bothered” (Carver 98) him.

His, “idea of blindness came from the movies”, where, “…the

blind move slowly and never laughed” (Carver 98). These

misconceptions of blindness form barriers between the blind and

the sighted. Carver breaks down these barriers as he brings the

vastly different lives of these two men together.

Those of us with sight find it difficult to identify with

the blind. This man, like most of us, can only try to imagine

what life is like for Robert. As a result of his inability to

relate with Robert, he thinks his behaviors are odd, and is

unable to understand the relationship he has with his wife. His

wife worked for this blind man many years ago, reading him

reports and case studies, and organizing his “…little office”

(Carver 98) in the county’s social-service department. He remem?

bers a story his wife told about the last day she worked for him.

The blind man asked her if he could touch her face, and she

agreed. She told him that Robert had touched every part of her

face with his fingers, “…her nose-even her neck!” (Carver 98).

His wife wrote poetry whenever something important happened in

her life, and she “…tried” (Carver 98) to write a poem about

this unforgettable experience. He said he didn’t think much of

the poem, (although he didn’t tell her that), reasoning it was

because he didn’t understand poetry. In reality though, the act

of the blind man touching her face is what he didn’t understand.

To him this seemed a bizarre encounter. Some people, like his

wife and myself, are able to realize how meaningful this

experience is. As a child I developed a close relationship with

my blind grandmother, similar to that between his wife and

Robert. My grandmother would often run her fingers over my face,

which would make me feel awkward and uncomfortable at first. As I

became an adult though, I began to realize the importance this

act held for my grandmother, and eventually for myself. Touching,

for the blind, becomes a vital aspect of relating with the world.

To touch something is to see it with your fingers. It was my

grandmother’s way of becoming familiar with me through her hands

instead of her eyes. His wife had experienced this emotional

closeness with Robert, while he could only try to understand it

by hearing and reading about it.

Without personally knowing anyone who is blind, the

imagination takes over and preconceived ideas are formed. This

man had created a picture in his mind of what Robert would look

like, and how he would act. When Robert arrived at his house he

learned that none of his assumptions were correct. Robert didn’t

wear the typical dark glasses, or walk with a cane. Even without

the cane Robert didn’t move slowly like he thought he would. He

had read somewhere that blind people didn’t smoke, but Robert not

only smoked cigarettes, they also enjoyed some laughs together

when he introduced Robert to “dope” (Carver 104). As it turned

out, Robert wasn’t so humorless after all. He was also surprised

to see that Robert wore a full beard and was dressed well, even

looking, “spiffy” (101). When he turned the TV on, to his wife’s

irritation, they both learned that not only did Robert own two

TV’s, but he preferred to watch the color one. When he realized

that his assumptions about Robert were false, and that they

actually shared some things in common, he began to feel more

comfortable with the blind man, even being, “glad for the

company” (Carver 105).

Once the misconceptions of blindness are revealed by knowing

someone personally, a closer relationship can develop. This man

now knows Robert as more than the blind man, and he allows

himself to become vulnerable with him. While this man and Robert

are watching and listening to the TV, a program about cathedrals

comes on. The man was watching closely as the huge buildings and

countryside’s flashed across the screen. The man becomes aware

that, “There were times when the Englishman who was telling the

thing would shut up, would simply let the camera move around over

the cathedrals” (Carver 105-106). The silence in the room became

awkward for him because he realized that has long as the narrator

wasn’t speaking, Robert didn’t know what was happening. Waiting

as long as he could, he felt he had to say something. He began to

portray what was on the screen to Robert. Robert explained that

he only knew what the narrator had said, but wanted him to

describe what they looked like. Robert struggled trying to make

comparisons, and used words like big and tall. He soon gave up

though, realizing that he wasn’t getting through to Robert.

Robert had an idea and asked the man to bring a pen and some

heavy paper. He brought the items and they sat side by side in

front of the couch with the paper on the table. As the man held

the pen, Robert brought his hand over his and told him to draw.

He began with a simple square building then put in windows with

arches. “I drew flying buttresses. I hung doors. I couldn’t stop”

(Carver 108). They continued to draw even after the TV station

went off the air, even after the mans fingers began to ache.

Robert told him to draw people, so he did. “Close your eyes now”

(Carver 108), Robert said, and he did. They continued to draw,

both of them in darkness now. When they were done Robert told him

to take a look, but he left his eyes closed. “I thought I’d keep

them that way a little longer. I thought it was something I ought

to do” (Carver 108), the man said to himself. When they finished

Robert said, “Well? Are you looking?” (Carver 108). With his eyes

still closed, the man replied, “It’s really something” (Carver

108). The man had allowed himself to experience, even if just for

a few minutes, what the blind man experienced every second of his

life. This, with the same man only a few hours ago he didn’t want

in his house.

Overcoming prejudices, fears, and misconceptions is only

possible when you allow yourself to get close to a person these

feelings are directed towards. By becoming close with Robert, the

man in this story experienced what was necessary to gain an

understanding of what life is like for the blind. The man began

to draw the cathedral to try and help Robert visualize what one

looked like. What he didn’t realize at the time was that Robert

was helping him to visualize what blindness felt like.


Carver, Raymond. “Cathedral”. The Story and Its Writer by, Ann Charters. Bedford Press. 1999.


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