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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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