From 11:00PM PDT on Friday, July 1 until 5:00AM PDT on Saturday, July 2, the Shmoop engineering elves will be making tweaks and improvements to the site. That means Shmoop will be unavailable for use during that time. Thanks for your patience!
We have changed our privacy policy. In addition, we use cookies on our website for various purposes. By continuing on our website, you consent to our use of cookies. You can learn about our practices by reading our privacy policy.
© 2016 Shmoop University, Inc. All rights reserved.



by Raymond Carver

Cathedral Part 1 Summary

  • The first paragraph of "Cathedral" presents the three main characters and their basic relationships: the narrator (an unnamed man), his wife (an unnamed woman), and her friend, a "blind man" (who will have a name soon.).
  • The blind man is a recent widower, and he's been in Connecticut, visiting his in-laws.
  • The narrator's wife hasn't seen the blind man in ten years, but they've corresponded regularly by recording the details of their respective lives on cassette tapes and exchanging them by mail.
  • Our narrator isn't thrilled that the blind man is coming "to spend the night" (1.1).
  • The blindness thing is a problem for him. (1.1).
  • The narrator admits that he's only seen blind people in movies.
  • His "idea of blindness" (1.1) comes from those movies.
  • He thinks of slow moving people who "never laughed" and "seeing eye-dogs" (1.1).
  • Now we get some history on the woman and the blind man.
  • She worked for the blind man ten years ago, one summer in Seattle.
  • At the time she was engaged to a man training to be a naval officer. They planned to marry at the end of the summer.
  • Neither the woman nor her fiancé had any money, so she answered the blind man's ad newspaper ad.
  • He hired her to read documents and help him organize his office in the "county social-service department" (1.2). They get along really well.
  • The narrator knows all this stuff because his wife told him.
  • Anyhow, "on her last day in the office" (1.2) her boss said he wanted put his hands on her face. She said, OK. So he put his hands on his face.
  • It was an unforgettable experience.
  • So unforgettable that "she tried to write a poem about it" (1.2).
  • A couple of times a years she writes poems about big events in her life.
  • The narrator has seen the poem about the blind man touching her face – she showed it to him at the beginning of their relationship.
  • It went into detail about all the parts of her face the blind man touched.
  • Though he doesn't tell the woman, he doesn't much like the poem.
  • But, he's not a big poetry guy.
  • OK, now we get even more background on his wife and the blind man.
  • She got in touch with him by phone about a year after working for him when she was living at an Alabama Air Force base.
  • He suggested the tape thing and they sent tapes back and forth for many years.
  • (Note: the following information is what the narrator's wife told the narrator she put in the tapes to the man.)
  • During those times she and her husband moved around from base to base. She didn't like being part of the military scene even though she loved her husband.
  • Moving around made her feel isolated and disconnected from all the people she met and then had to move away from.
  • She became terribly depressed and took a large amount of "pills and capsules" and drank "a bottle of gin" (1.4).
  • He husband found her sick, but alive and made sure she got to the hospital.
  • The woman ended up getting divorced and meeting the narrator, all the while reporting her activities to the blind man via tape.
  • (That's the end of the background info on the blind man and the narrator's wife.)
  • About a year ago the narrator's wife asked him if he wanted to hear the latest tape from the blind man.
  • On it, the blind man says the narrator's name and then says, "From all you've said about him, I can only conclude—" (1.5).
  • At that moment something interrupted them, and the man never finds out what the blind man concluded about him.
  • This, the narrator says, is the guy who's "coming to sleep in [his] house" (1.6).
  • Now the narrator is in the kitchen while his wife is making dinner.
  • He suggests they take the blind man bowling.
  • She's doesn't think this is funny and begs him to be nice to the blind man.
  • If the tables were turned, she'd be nice to his friend.
  • He says he has no blind friends, and she says he has no friends at all.
  • Angry, she reminds him that the blind man's "wife just died!" (10).
  • Then she sits him down and gives him some background information on the blind man.
  • The narrator gets his first drink of the night and listens.
  • His wife tells him that after she left Seattle, the blind man hired Beulah.
  • Before long they got married.
  • Eight years later she died of cancer.
  • The narrator starts to feel sorry for the blind man.
  • Then he thinks that Beulah's life was "pitiful" because "she could never see herself as she was seen in the eyes of her loved one" (1.16).
  • He thinks it must have been terrible being married to the blind man because he could never understand her facial expressions or care what she's wearing.
  • Apparently, the blind man has half a twenty peso coin (pesos are Mexican currency) the other half of which is buried with Beulah.
  • The narrator finds all this, "Pathetic" (1.16).
  • That's the end of the history on the blind man and his relationship with the woman.
  • While the woman goes to pick up the blind man from the train station the man drinks his drink and watches some TV.
  • When they return the narrator sees the blind man for the first time.
  • He can't believe it, but the blind man has a beard! He just can't imagine a blind man with a beard.
  • His wife introduces the blind man as Robert. (We will call the blind man, "Robert," from now on.)
  • In the living room, they make rather awkward small talk.
  • The narrator checks out Robert. He's nicely dressed, and pushing fifty. He looks like he carries "a great weight" on his shoulders (1.31).
  • He has no "cane," and no "dark glasses," which surprises the narrator. Actually, the narrator wishes Robert did have glasses. His eyes strike the narrator as "creepy" (1.32).
  • He offers Robert a drink, and Robert accepts.
  • All three of them have drinks and talk about Robert's journey.
  • The man asks Robert "Which side of the train" he sat on coming into New York (1.23). His wife gets mad, thinking he means something offensive by the question.
  • (Now we know where the couple lives.)
  • Robert smokes enough to fill an ashtray. This surprises the narrator because he "read somewhere that the blind didn't smoke because […] they couldn't see the smoke they exhaled" (1.43).
  • Soon they have a huge dinner of steak, potatoes, and green beans.
  • The narrator admires the way Robert eats.
  • They all eat like crazy, barely pausing before devouring "half a strawberry pie" (1.46).
  • Then they three go back to the living room and have another few drinks and talk.
  • Actually, Robert and the woman talk, and the narrator listens to them.
  • Apparently, Robert and Beulah had earned money by working for Amway.
  • Robert has done a little of everything, and is even "a ham radio operator."
  • Roberts asks the narrator about his own work, and learns he's worked at the same place for three years, that he doesn't like it, and that he doesn't see that he has any other "options" (1.45).
  • The narrator turns on the TV and his wife looks like she's about to kill him.
  • Then she learns that Robert has TVs at home and that he can hear the difference between color and black and white television.
  • Yawning, the woman says she's going upstairs to change, and she tells Robert she wants him to "be comfortable" (1.52, 54) and he says he is.

People who Shmooped this also Shmooped...