Raymond Carver’s Cathedral shows two different characters. One character narrates the story. The other character is a blind man called Robert. Both have never met before, but both know each other in some fashion through the narrator’s wife who used to work for Robert by reading to him reports and case studies. The narrator’s wife sends Robert tapes because he could not read letters. She also shares about Robert to the narrator, but it is clear in the story that their communication to each other is limited.
As the story builds up, the reader is shown that narrator has peculiar qualities. He stereotypes people. An example of this is shown when he said, ‘But he didn’t use a cane and he didn’t wear dark glasses. I’d always thought dark glasses were a must for the blind.’ (Carver 1983). He is also arrogant and self centered. He has racist tendencies as seen by his reaction when he learned that Robert’s wife was named Beulah. ‘Beulah. Beulah! That’s a name for a colored woman. Was his wife a Negro?’
The narrator is also seen to be blind, not in the physical sense but on the intellectual sense. He is closed minded, judging people before even meeting them as can be seen above. He is self centered and dismisses others including his wife’s ex husband, which he does not even name in the story.
The narrator and Robert are similar in that they have a connection to the narrator’s wife. As mentioned above, she used to work for Robert. One experience she had with Robert touched her and positively changed her outlook in life. It was the moment when he touched her face. Yet this experience is contrasted to the narrator’s experience with her. The story shows that they seem to lack communication between them.
Robert is seen to be similar to the narrator in that Robert is blind, but he is blind physically. This, however, does not stop him from seeing with an open heart, so to speak. He is very friendly to the narrator and even calls him ‘Bub’. This is in contrast to the narrator who has already judged him, and was just forced to have Robert in his house because of his wife.
Robert, unlike the narrator, is also very interested in other people. He loves sharing his life with them. An example of this can be found by his keeping in touch with the narrator’s wife. They exchanged tapes that shared each other’s lives. Robert is also seen to be similar to the narrator in that he is lonely. He just lost his wife, his constant companion for years. The narrator is also lonely, but this is in account of his attitude. His wife summed it up when she said to him, ‘You have no friends’.
The ending part of the story is very pivotal. It showcased the similarity and differences of the different kinds of blindness that Robert and the narrator had. Robert could not see the television image of a cathedral. The narrator could. It is at this scene that Robert asks the narrator to draw the cathedral for him because the narrator could not describe it in words. He tells the narrator to close his eyes as he held the narrator’s hand while the narrator drew. That was the time when the narrator shared the blindness of Robert. He could also not see what he was drawing.
Yet it was at that moment also that the narrator shared in Robert’s sight. He finally understood something. At that moment, he was free from his self imposed prison of closed mindedness.
Connie and the Grandmother
Joyce Carol Oates in her short story Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? has a distinctive character named Connie. Connie is a stereotypical 15-year-old girl, rebellious and self centered. She was attractive and has a vigorous interest on boys. It is seen later in the story that she is interested in the idea of dating them. She sees their interest as achievements, and generalized them into an idea, not even a face. Her character is described sufficiently in this sentence. ‘Everything about her had two sides to it, one for home and one for anywhere that was not home’ (Oates 1966).
She is seen to be in conflict with her mother, who keeps telling her what to do yet gives her the luxury of letting her make her own decisions. Thus she is a stage wherein she is no longer a girl but still on the way to becoming a woman.
The conflict in the story involves a man named Andrew Friend and his friend Eddie. They find Connie in the house alone because she refused to join her parents at a party. It is clear that the intentions of the two men were evil. Yet it seems that Connie is seduced and at the same time revolted by what they want. They want her to go with them in their car. She refuses to do so, but Eddie threatens her that she would kill her family if she does not go with them. In an act of sacrifice, she sheds off her selfishness, goes out of the door of their house and follows the men.
The character of Connie is contrasted with a character from Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man is Hard to Find. This character is a grandmother. Her age is in sharp contrast to Connie’s yet her selfish, rebellious, and manipulative traits are like Connie’s only more refined in their execution. The grandmother wanted to go to Tennessee for a family vacation, but the family was adamant in their decision to go to Florida.
She goes to great pains at being passive aggressive. She takes the cat with them, when she knew that her son did not want it around. She woke up early for the trip and waited for the rest of the family in the car. Furthermore, she manipulated the children so that her son would drive them to an old house that she said had secret passages. Thus she is also similar to Connie in that she has conflicts with her family.
Her manipulation of her family, like Connie’s, also led to some unforeseen and terrible circumstances. Her family had an accident, and they were faced with a murderer called the Misfit. The grandmother’s selfish response to this situation is in contrast to Connie’s self sacrifice. The grandmother desperately tried to save her own life while her family was being murdered.
Nevertheless, at the end of the story the grandmother learned redemption from her selfishness like what happened to Connie. After learning the reason of the Misfit’s misery, she realized that it was disguised hate, hypocrisy, and self righteousness that gave birth to people like the Misfit. This was qualities she had. She felt a kinship with him and called him her child, offering comfort by reaching out to touch him, but The Misfit shot her three times.
Thus both characters are similar in that both of them suffered under evil men.