Two Levels of Meaning in Cathedral
The short story "Cathedral" by Raymond Carver develops characters with a dualistic depth. On the surface they have believable human attitudes and attributes, but there is also a level functioning that offers another interpretation. Carver is not only creating a realistic human picture, he uses the old story of the "deliverer" and reworks it into something unique, fresh. He takes the characters and binds them in the mind of his readers in a way that leads one to feel as though there is a deeper level to his message.
The narrator is quite obviously the character that Carver wants us to see as figuratively "blind." There is a stark contrast in the blind man and the husband from the beginning. The story starts out as the young husband anticipates the arrival of his wife's friend. The reader can sense his disgust and unwillingness to understand what it is like to be blind. He worries only for himself and how uncomfortable he will be in the situation. Mental emphasis is placed on the physical aspects of things and how the narrator cannot understand how the blind man could have a wife and never see her. "She could, if she wanted, wear green eye-shadow around one eye, a straight pin in her nostril, yellow slacks and purple shoes, no matter" (214).
This situation is beyond comprehension for him, how to be with someone, "without his having ever seen what the goddamned woman looked like" (213) Through his short, somewhat clipped description of his wife's former marriage and attempted suicide it is clear that he is not quite in tune with her emotions. The tone in which he describes her suffering leads us to believe that his connection to her memory is limited. Therefore can he really "see" his wife as well as the blind man can? His character development is negative, and it can be sensed that there is something lacking from his perception.
The wife serves as a catalyst to bring about change in this perception by welcoming her friend into their household. Carver foreshadows that this blind man, Robert, has the power of insight through the detail in which the tape recorded episodes are described. Before Robert is even introduced into the dialogue the reader's view of him is the opposite that of the narrator-- this is emphasized by their separate relation to the woman in the story. She becomes the object from which the two men illustrate their approaches to life. The blind man opens himself up to her words, thoughts, feelings and substance. The husband relies on the surface like visual clues from her and taking things at face value. The poem that she writes about her experience with Robert is dismissed by her husband, "I can remember I didn't think much of the poem" (210). When she shares the poem with its subject communication is opens up between them. However, her role is minor...