Literature Essays on The Cathedral

The cathedral is given in a first-person narrative, and the reader does not get to know who the narrator is. Rather, one gets to know that the narrator is a man who is married to a woman that is an ex-wife of an officer in the military. The style that is used by the narrator is casual in nature, and this paper is concerned with expounding on the casual nature of the narration given in the Cathedral. The research question therefore is: “what aspects of Cathedral  make it a casual narrative?”

Summary of cathedral

            Cathedral is a narration given by a man whose wife has invited an old friend to visit them at their home. The old friend happens to be a blind man, whom the wife had worked for ten years earlier. The tasks that the wife had done for the blind man entailed reading materials and recording them on tapes so that the blind man could get to understand the contents of the tape. The wife is so excited about the coming of the old friend, who has recently lost his wife to cancer. The narrator however, is not that interested in having the blind man visit them. One can sense some tinge of jealousy or bitterness in the tone that the narrator uses to describe the behavior of his wife and how she lights up whenever she is talking about the blind man that is about to visit them. The narrator recalls many tales told by his wife regarding the interactions she had with Robert, the blind man. The wife usually writes poetry, and she only succeeds in doing so whenever something profound happens in her life. Interestingly, she has written a poem regarding how she felt when Robert touched her face ten years earlier. She has not yet managed to write a single poem regarding the experiences she has had with the narrator. It sounds like the narrator is resentful of the way she treats him compared to the blind man, but this changes after the visit and a meal, when the narrator and Robert establish a rapport that makes the wife a bit uncomfortable as the story draws to a close.

Contextual summary

            The setting of the story is in the era when women had not been fully granted their rights to work and could only do the works requiring soft skills such as translation of text into audio. This is historically supported by the fact that the wife in the narrative is communicating with the blind man using audio tapes. In the present, communication would have been far easier with the use of the internet or cellphones. The wife in the story also follows her former husband in the military to all his missions, it is as if she has her life dependent on what happens to him, or his decisions. The technology available in the story and the discussion that the characters in the story have regarding color television betrays the fact that this story is set in the period when color television had started to get popular. The use of the word ‘Negro’ by the narrator when inquiring about the deceased wife of the blind man is an indicator that this story is set in the 1960s, when the civil rights movement had not yet succeeded. There is also a feeling that the narrator and other characters in the story are not bound by political correctness in the interactions and conversation. This is indicative of the context of the story being in the era before liberal culture took over the western society.

Some Critical Articles on Cathedral

            Howe (1983), makes a case for Carver, the author of ‘Cathedral,’ being known to write stories on a smaller emotional scale in the past compared to this one. This one has explicated an ease of manner and feelings have been generously splashed on this writing. The earlier stories written by Raymond Carver have often been depressing, with the characters living dull lives that are often riddled with emotional calamities. This one is a bit upbeat and has a slight sense of irony and humor to it. This is shown in the way that the narrator suggests, though not overtly of the manner in which the wife treats the blind man as opposed to her lovers. She seems to offer Robert more affection than even her own husband. The narrator however, comes to understand why the wife behaves that way towards the blind man after realizing that he is a pleasant man to deal with.

Obaid (2014) states that this story is about the attitude change of the narrator regarding what he has been thinking about blind people. The narrator is at first full of sympathy for the blind persons and is sure that there is little he can do to make them comfortable. He cannot imagine living a life where one does not get to savor in the beauty of the environment and people as well. The blind man has no way of telling the differences between people by the way they look, and can only differentiate them from their voices or touching (The Sitting Bee, 2014). This is the reason for his shock when he realizes that the blind man spots a beard and is further not wearing the dark glassed that the narrator hoped to encounter. Furthermore, Robert makes a very good conversation with the narrator that makes him forget about all the resentments and misjudgments harbored earlier on.

Essay plan


The statement of the research question or thesis which is that Cathedral is a casual narrative

Casual narrative

  • Mentioning or listing in the essay the parts of the short story that expound on the idea that it is a casual narrative.
  • The narrator uses a bashful approach when talking of the events that led to the visit of the blind man
  • The narrator pays no attention to sensitivity when telling the story, and does not care about being politically correct when describing his notions about blind people.

A care free attitude

  • Having a care free attitude is one of the main features of a casual narrative
  • This attitude is further expressed by the events that took place and the actions that the narrator did together with the blind man, such as smoking marijuana together
  • The fact that the blind man was able to break ice with the narrator and have a deep conversation about cathedrals must have contributed to making this a casual narrative


A restatement of the thesis that this is a casual narrative.




PART 2: Cathedral Essay


            The story called ‘Cathedral’ by Raymond Carver is a change from the depressing stories that he is used to writing in the past. This story is written in the form of a narrative from a man who is about to get paid a visit by a blind man that happens to be a longtime friend of his wife (Campbell, 2009). It can be deduced that the narrator is a bit jealous and resentful of the excitement that is demonstrated by his wife on the impending visit. The narrator reflects on the past stories that he has heard from the wife regarding the blind man and her former husband and concludes that she held the blind man in higher esteem than she did her lover from the military. It makes the narrator a mildly annoyed that the wife wrote a poem after the blind man touched her face, but has never had the inspiration to write a poem regarding the good times they have had together. It is this annoyance and a bit of skeptical nature of narration that makes the story interesting to the reader. Mild humor and anticipation created by the narrator in going back and forth on the details and stories given to him by the wife makes for a casual narration in ‘Cathedral’ (, 2010).

Casual Narration

            A casual narration entails not telling a story in the conventional manner that readers are used to. It entails not caring about the formalities of writing or adhering to political correctness in the presentation of the story. The story is not linear and sometimes deviates into past incidents and possible future happenings. The attitude in such a story is sometimes bashful and unapologetic, and these are some of the properties exhibited by the narrator in ‘Cathedral.’ He is not afraid of insinuating that he feels a bit isolated by the affection that his wife directs to the man that is about to visit them. It makes him uncomfortable further that the visitor in question is blind, and he has never had experience in dealing with persons that have such a disability. His only source of information regarding the blind is the movies, and they have contributed in making him adopt stereotypes of blind people as wearing dark glasses all the time and having dogs to guide them in their everyday movement. His assertions reek of unintentional ignorance, and this is part and portion of the casual narratives experienced on a daily basis.

The narrator is shocked to know that the Robert, the blind man had a wife and she passed away. He is rather intrigued that a woman would be interested in marrying a man who would never be able to appreciate her on her looks. He is curious and would like to know how the deceased wife used to look like. Of course, the wife has never met the blind man’s wife and is in no position to describe the wife to the narrator. The curiosity of the narrator is left unfed by the fact that the blind man has no way of describing his deceased wife in terms of looks. The only clue that the narrator has is the name of the dead wife. The name is Beulah. He is forced to guess that the name is suggestive of the woman being colored (The sitting Bee, 2013). But that is a question that remains unanswered in the narrative and even the husband to that woman cannot answer the narrator. Probably, the blind man has no way of telling whether a woman is beautiful or otherwise. The parameters used by the blind man in determining whether a person is attractive or not in terms of physical attributes is left unknown to the reader and the narrator as well.

There is also the fact that the wife of the narrator used to work for the blind man, same as Beulah who later became his wife. This must have raised questions in the mind of the narrator wondering whether the relationship between his wife and Robert went beyond the work she was doing for him ten years earlier. He is dismissive of the former husband of the wife and this is shown in his refusal to acknowledge the name of the officer and in belittling the intensity of the relationship that she had with him “…married her childhood etc., who was now a commissioned officer…” The description of the intimate moment that the wife had when the blind man touched her face is a bit disturbing for the narrator. He mentions that she wrote a poem about that moment and how she felt as the fingers of the blind man ran across her face. This incident, which evoked her poetry abilities leaves the narrator wondering whether there is more to the story than she actually told him. The fact that Robert married the woman that came to work for him after the wife to the narrator left to marry her childhood sweetheart insinuates that the blind man could have had deeper relations with the wife. The narrator does not mention it, but the tone of the narrative and the tinge of jealousy that is radiated in the words of the narrator leave the reader with such thoughts.

A Care Free Attitude

            The narrative, from the first paragraphs depicts a person that has an abrasive attitude that is mixed with resignation. This is because he is not comfortable with having the blind man, whom he has never seen visit. Further, he is concerned about what his wife might have been telling the blind man about the narrator. She had many complaints about her form husband in the military, and he is worried that she must have also complained about their marriage to the blind man. The wife insinuates that she had never talked about the narrator in the tapes that she has been mailing the blind man to keep in touch. There is only one tape that he gets to listen to at the insistence of the wife that has been mailed by the blind. They listen to the tape together, and he does not feature anywhere in their discussion apart from the part where Robert says that the narrator seems to be a good man. The narrator is not afraid to express his discomfort to have a blind stranger visit them, but he also knows that the happiness of his wife is tied to that (Sparknotes, n.d.). She is excited at the prospect of the blind man that she has never seen for ten years visiting them and is at pains trying to persuade the narrator to be a good host once Robert arrives at their house.

The narrator expresses surprise at several aspects of Roberts appearance and behavior in a way that might appear insensitive to most people. He is almost appalled by the fact that the blind visitor has a beard that he likes to stroke a bit too much. Robert also does not wear the dark glasses that the narrator expected him to wear, which moves the narrator into inspecting how his eyes look and how strangely they move as if on their own accord (The sitting Bee, 2013). The narrator is also mildly impressed at how effortlessly the blind man eats at the table, locating each food item easily. It is as if the narrator expects Robert to require assistance in eating. The care free behavior of the narrator is not only expressed in the narration but also in his actions. After the meal, he invites the visitor for a joint. He is not concerned whether the visitor is into marijuana or otherwise. He has been ignored and isolated by the wife and Robert earlier, and he now intends to have fun his own way. The joint shared by the narrator and the blind man causes them to establish a rapport not expected, which leads to the exclusion of the wife in the discussions about how cathedrals appear. It is a perfect comeback for narrator towards his wife for having made him feel inadequate compared to Robert.


            In conclusion, the narrator has used sarcasm and slight humor in the story. He is not afraid to express his inner thoughts inclusive of the annoyance he feels due to his wife paying attention to the blind man at his expense. Some of the expressions he made and his thoughts concerning how blind people are like would be considered inappropriate. He does not mind stating such thoughts, and these are the factors that contribute to making this short story a casual narrative.


Campbell, M. (2009). What is a good thesis statment for an interpretation essay of “Cathedral” by Raymond Carver? | eNoteseNotes. Retrieved 15 November 2016, from

Howe, I. (1983). Stories of Our Retrieved 15 November 2016, from

Obaid, N. (2014). Literary Analysis of Cathedral by Raymond Retrieved 15 November 2016, from (2010). Cathedral Thesis Statements and Important QuotesPaperstarter. Retrieved 15 November 2016, from

Sparknotes. SparkNotes: Cathedral: Themes, Motifs, and Retrieved 15 November 2016, from

The sitting Bee. (2013). Cathedral by Raymond CarverThe Sitting Bee. Retrieved 15 November 2016, from


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