"Cathedral" looks at the unstable nature of reality. For example, the unnamed narrator's reality, or his vision of Robert, a blind man, is based on images from the movies about blind people, his wife's descriptions, and Robert's voice on tape. When the narrator meets Robert for the first time, the reality of Robert, for the narrator, changes. This reality continues to change throughout the night as they get to know each other better. The story's ending suggests that by the end of the night, the narrator has learned that nothing was quite as he thought. His experience with Robert, and attempting to experience the world from Robert's perspective, opens up a whole new way of looking at the world. This is complicated by the fact that narrator's big experience happens when he is under the influences of alcohol and marijuana. Does this change the experience? This is just one of the questions provoked by Raymond Carver's most famous story.
Questions About Versions of Reality
How would you describe the narrator's outlook at the beginning of the story? How does he see his life?
Does the narrator's "idea of blindness" (1.1) change over the course of the story? Why or why not? How do you know?
Does knowledge of the woman's suicide attempt give us clues to her present reality?
What is Robert's outlook on life? If you didn't know his wife had just died, would you be able to detect his grief from the information given?
Can we trust the narrator's version of events considering that he was intoxicated for most of the night he describes?
Why doesn't the narrator open his eyes at the end of the story? What will he see when he does open them?
Chew on This
Robert gains a more positive version of reality as a result of his encounter with the narrator.
"Cathedral" stresses that assumptions hinder our ability to accurately perceive reality.