by Raymond Carver
Cathedral Part 3 Summary
- At first, Robert and the narrator don't talk. The TV is still on, and the narrator is made uneasy by the way Robert trains his ear toward the set.
- Then Robert seems on the verge of falling asleep and the narrator is made uneasy by the way his eyes open and close.
- The documentary continues. Now it's focusing on an annual pageant in Spain. Part of the pageant is a procession with "men wearing cowls" (cowls are hoods), being tortured by "men dressed in skeleton costumes and men dressed as devils" (3.2).
- (The narrator is describing Semana Santa or Holy Week, in Spain (though Semana Santa isn't only celebrated in Spain).
- The narrator tries to describe the scenes for Robert.
- Now the documentary moves to cathedrals, and specifically to a Paris cathedral, an Italian cathedral, and a cathedral in Lisbon, Portugal.
- The narrator has a sudden thought. He wonders if Robert can understand what a cathedral is, if he can visualize one.
- He asks Robert, and Robert tells the narrator what he's heard about the cathedrals from the documentary they've be hearing/watching:
- It took hundreds of laborers over a century to build a cathedral. "Generations of the same families worked on a cathedral" (3.9).
- Robert is smoking a cigarette and might be falling asleep.
- Now he sits up and admits that he can't see a cathedral in his head and he asks the narrator to try to clue him in.
- The cathedral documentary finishes and the narrator finds himself at a loss to describe the cathedral.
- He tries imagining that his "life depended on it" (3.10) but it doesn't work. He can't get past "big" and "tall" (3.11).
- Robert appears to be interested, so the narrator keeps trying, explaining that cathedrals are made of stone and marble.
- He tells Robert that cathedrals are so tall because "In the olden days, when they built cathedrals, men wanted to be closer to God" (3.14).
- Then he gives up trying to describe a cathedral.
- Robert asks him if he believes in God.
- The narrator says he doesn't believe in anything.
- Robert says he understands.
- The woman is asleep on the couch.
- After the narrator repeats that he's given up trying to describe a cathedral, Robert gets a bright idea. He tells the narrator to go get "a pen and some heavy paper" (3.24).
- Racing, the narrator finds pens and a paper grocery bag and brings them back to Robert.
- Robert and the narrator sit on the carpet together with the paper in front of them.
- The pen is already in the narrator's hand, and Robert puts his hand over the narrator's and tells him to start drawing a cathedral.
- So he does.
- He starts with a simple square then he starts adding the details that cathedrals have, like "arched windows" and "flying buttresses" (supports).
- The narrator goes for a long time and then finally stops.
- Robert feels the drawing and he says, "Doing fine."
- They start again.
- The woman wakes up, confused, and wants to know what they're doing.
- Her husband keeps drawing, and Robert tells her they're drawing a cathedral together.
- Robert tells the narrator to close his eyes. He does it, and keeps drawing.
- The experience is extraordinary.
- When they finish, Robert tells him to open his eyes and look, but he doesn't.
- He knows he's at home, but doesn't feel like he's "inside anything" (3.49).
- "It's really something" (3.50) is the final line of the story.
- Head on over to "What's Up With the Ending?" if you want to read more about the ending of the story.
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