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Cathedral

Cathedral

by Raymond Carver

Analysis: Narrator Point of View

Who is the narrator, can she or he read minds, and, more importantly, can we trust her or him?

First Person (Central Narrator)

Point of view isn't complicated in "Cathedral." The narrator is describing an important experience in his life. He's leading us through the changes he undergoes over the course of a single evening. He has a say-anything sense of humor, and isn't afraid to make himself the butt of all the jokes. He's like a standup comedian, but sometimes he goes too far, and stops being funny. Some people might be offended by his blind-people jokes.

Most of the jokes are in his head, told only to the reader. (He does tell one to his wife, though. And she doesn't appreciate it; it's about taking Robert bowling.) As you read "Cathedral" and go through our Shmoop guide, think about how you would characterize the narrator's jokes. Are they funny? Offensive? Inappropriate? Or just downright rude? Read on for some more material to consider.

The narrator's jokes, like many jokes, rely on the assumption that the reader is a reasonable person, and will laugh when shown something unreasonable, like these lines: "This blind man, feature this, was wearing a full beard. A beard on a blind man! Too much, I say" (1.18). We're just surprised that the narrator didn't make a joke about how blind people can't shave. (They can.) This whole thing strikes us as very Seinfeld. (By the way, we can definitely see parallels between "Cathedral" and the "Glasses" episode. Like "Cathedral," "Glasses" plays with ideas of sight and blindness, and ends on a happy note.)

Sometimes, though, this joking can turn ugly, or even start off ugly and just get uglier. Before Robert's visit, the narrator seems dangerously close to crossing the line. The following quote features the narrator's reflections after hearing Robert's story from his wife, but before meeting him:

Hearing this I felt sorry for the blind man for a little bit. Then I found myself thinking what a pitiful life [Robert's wife] must have led. Imagine a woman who could never see herself as she was seen in the eyes of her loved one. […] A woman who could never receive the smallest compliment from her beloved […]. She could […] wear green eyeshadow around one eye, a straight pin in her nostril, yellow slacks and purple shoes, no matter. (1.16)

That technique is also known as dramatic irony, and happens when the reader knows more than the character. It also sounds like he's objectifying Beulah, treating her as object that has little or no value if she isn't being looked at and appreciated. We can't quite imagine that the narrator is serious. He's still trying to keep us entertained. Or is he?

Whether or not you think that the narrator is offensive, "Cathedral," the story, is definitely not. After all, Robert, figuratively speaking, is no more or less blind than the other characters. The story suggests that all eyesight is overrated. So, it's really very pro-blind people in spite of the narrator's jokes, and exaggerated assumptions.

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