“Cathedral” by Raymond Carver

“Cathedral” by Raymond Carver

Raymond Carver is considered to be one of the prominent writers of the late 20th centuries, whose works are renowned by ordinary readers as well as by critics (McGrath, 2007). Basically, his professional career was closely interrelated with his personal growth and development and his literary works, especially early ones were consistently affected by works of other authors who produced a significant impact on views and writing style of Raymond Carver. Nevertheless, in his later works, it is possible to trace an original and highly individual style of Raymond Carver. In this respect, his short stories are particularly noteworthy since he had managed to convey his ideas to the audience in the form of short stories, where he had to convey very complex ideas into a brief story, such as “Cathedral”, which is considered to be one of the most popular short stories written by Raymond Carver. At the same time, the analysis of his literary works, especially his short stories, will help better understand his own view and ideas as well as get acquainted with his original style and manner of writing.
However, before discussing his work, it is necessary to dwell upon the life of Raymond Carver because his personal and professional life produce a profound impact on his literary works and it is even possible to estimate that his personal experience, to a significant extent, defined the essence of his literary works (McGrath, 2007). In actuality, Raymond Carver led quite a difficult life and he had to pass through numerous hardships which definitely hardened his writing style and affected his philosophy and his perception of the surrounding world. First of all, it should be said that he was born in a turbulent epoch in 1938. It was the period when World War II was about to start, while his formative years coincided with a post-war period in the history of the US, when the entire nation, being tired of the war, started a new life and when a considerable shift in the traditional system of values of Americans occurred. To put it more precisely, the late 1940s and the 1950s were the period of the gradual decline of traditional values and the ground for the revolutionary 1960s was formed. Being originally a very progressive person, Raymond Carver readily accepted the most advanced and liberal ideas as well as he was susceptible to influence of the modern trends.
At the same time, he had to develop his talent of a writer on his own and he had to make considerably efforts to succeed in writing. In fact, he started to write at the early age, but in addition, he had to work, being employed in different jobs. In this respect, his early marriage at the age of 19 with a 16 year old Maryann Burk was probably the major reason for his hard work in fields which were not related to literature. For instance, he worked as a nigh custodian at Mercy Hospital because he really needed money to support his family. Nevertheless, literature had always remained his priority and he was extremely interested in literature and writing. In this respect, it should be said that he became particularly interested in writing in California, where he had moved with his family and attended a creative-writing course taught by the novelist John Gardner, who became his mentor and had a major influence on Carver’s life and career (Carver, 2006). The first book of poems by Raymond Carver, “Near Klamath” was published in 1968 and he was quite successful in writing short stories. Also he taught in different universities throughout the US.
However, he had a serious problem, alcoholism. His heavy drinking often resulted in his treatment in hospitals and by the late 1970s he coped with his alcoholism and started active literary work, closely cooperating with Tess Gallagher, whom he eventually married as he divorced Maryann, but within a few weeks after the wedding he died from cancer in 1988 (Nesset, 1995).
In spite of all the problems, Raymond Carver still was a very gifted writer. His short stories are very popular even in the present epoch. Among the variety of short stories written by Raymond Carver, it is possible to single out “Cathedral” , a short story which is viewed by many specialists (Stull and Gentry, 1990) as one of the major accomplishments of the writer in his artistic career. Basically, “Cathedral” convey quite an unusual story. The narrator of the story focuses reader’s attention on a blind man, whom he does not even name at the beginning. He briefly describes his life as much as he knows about it since the blind man is a friend of his wife. From the story of the life of the blind man, readers can learn that this was a very unusual person. Being blind, he still was able to lead a normal life and, moreover, he had very strong feelings and sentiments. In fact, he tends to lead a normal life, take care of his appearance and he was quite an optimistic person. No wonder the narrator was surprised when he first saw the blind man wearing a beard: “A beard on a blind man! Too much, I say” (Carver, 197). At the same time, by the end of the story the narrator better understands the blind man and even attempt to be in his shoes as he draws the cathedral, which actually helps these absolutely different persons have a common experience of creation the cathedral without even seeing or understanding what it actually is.
Basically critics highly appreciate this work since it raises a number of important problems. For instance, some critics indicate to the problem of disabled people which was raised by the author (Stull and Carroll, 1993). Raymond Carver attempts to eliminate the difference between the blind man and the narrator of the story showing that the blind man can lead a normal life. In this respect, the episode with drawing a cathedral is very symbolic because the narrator, being able to see, do not really know what a cathedral is and he cannot distinguish them from each other. In contrast, the blind man, having visual impairment, knows perfectly what a cathedral is and even suggests drawing it (Stull and Carroll, 1990). In addition, the author attempts to convey the relationships between men and women in his story revealing the fact that love is extremely important and the true love can overcome any barriers, including disability that may be seen from the story of Robert and Beulah (Stull and Carroll, 1993).
In fact, it is hardly possible to disagree with critics in regard to “Cathedral” since this short story is stylistically rich and focused on very important problems which persist till present days. For instance, even today disability is a serious problem for many people and the idea of Raymond Carver that disabled people should not be excluded from the society is very important because it shows readers how important the integration of such people. In this respect, the blind man perfectly fulfils the role of a protagonist that actually shows the way disabled people should live and behave, while the narrator, at first, plays the role of antagonist since he is very skeptical about the blind and his abilities. His attitude to the blind is quite prejudiced, biased and unjust. Apparently, the narrator was not ready to meet a blind man who can lead a normal life and do the things which he does or even more. In this respect, the author intentionally shows the abilities of the blind man and his desire to lead a normal life. For instance, his preferences to watch a color TV and his ability to distinguish a color TV from a black-and-white one is quite noteworthy and shows that, in a way, his abilities are even more developed than those of the narrator or his wife who do not have any visual impairment. In such a way, the main message of the short story is the attention to needs of disabled people and their integration into the life of society as well as their ability to get socialized and lead an active life.
At the same time, it is important to underline that the author perfectly reveals the extent to which disabled people can underestimated and, what is more, he lays emphasis on the inner, spiritual world of people, which is more important than external world. In this respect, the ending scene is very symbolic since the blind man proves to be able to have an inner vision, which he shares with the narrator, who has to close his eyes to see and feel what the blind man sees and feels.
Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that Raymond Carver made a significant contribution in the development of American literature in the late 20th century, while his works are still popular and interesting for contemporary readers. In fact, Carver managed to focus on problems and themes which persist today and which refer to basic humanistic values that makes his works still popular.


Works cited:
Carver, Maryann Burk (2006). What It Used to Be Like; A Portrait of My Marriage to Raymond Carver. St. Martin's Press.
Carver, Ray. (2002). Cathedral. New York: New Publishers.
McGrath, Charles. "I, Editor Author", Week in Review, New York Times, October 28, 2007.
Nesset, Kirk (1995). Stories Of Raymond Carver: A Critical Study. Ohio University Press.
Stull, William L. and Gentry, Marshall Bruce (editors) (1990). Conversations With Raymond Carver. University Press of Mississippi.
Stull, William L. and Carroll, Maureen P. (editors) (1993). Remembering Ray: A Composite Biography of Raymond Carver. Capra Press.