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This is a character analysis for specific personality traits of the protagonist, the unnamed narrator in the Cathedral by Raymond Carver.
The unnamed narrator who is the protagonist of the story is an antihero because of some of his undesirable character traits. Hence, many critics have considered the narrator as an antihero when referring to him because he drinks lots of alcohol, smokes marijuana, blinded and insensitive to others. The narrator makes of fun about the blind man. Moreover, he is a mean person who is also jealous and lacks social grace.
Traditionally, writers have often included individuals with various traits in their literary works to reflect aspects of everyday life in society. In the Cathedral, Carver aims to depict a regular life of working-class individuals, who are stuck in jobs they do not like but are unable to quit because of hard economic conditions.
However, the narrator is also the story’s hero. The narrator reflects flawed character traits as he strives to survive. At the same time, one must recognize that the narrator undergoes transformation by the end of the story and acquires some desirable traits unlike other characters in the story.
From a critical point of view, one can observe the narrator’s inability to express his frustration through effective communication. This situation makes him downright mean and jealous. As a result, he becomes a character who is socially mean and cannot be happy. In this manner, the narrator is trapped in a self-destructive life. Hence, he is a blind character who is unable to see the truth and live a happy life.
Many readers may claim that the narrator lacks much love. The narrator is in a rut and fails to realize the truth. Instead, he develops wrong notions about blind persons. At this point, one may wonder whether the narrator is being honest with the readers. However, the narrator asserts that his, “idea of blindness came from the movies” (Carver 1.1), and he has, “never met, or personally known, anyone who was blind” (Carver 1.31).
Although the narrator states that jealousy is his main problem, his fascination with the blind Robert takes a center stage in the story. Therefore, readers can assert that the narrator is symbolically blind when the story begins because he cannot see the ‘real’ Robert, his own wife or see his true self. The narrator is blind to obvious opportunities and happiness of life.
The narrator changes when he meets Robert and empathizes with his blindness. There is a physical contact, which creates the positive intimacy between the two characters. All along, the narrator has been afraid to understand the relationship between Robert and his wife. During the encounter, the narrator realizes that Robert and his wife are just friends.
This encounter changes the narrator’s views about blindness and jealously. He embraces Robert and wants to prove that he loves his wife. In addition, the narrator also finds unique chance to evaluate his notion about the blind. The narrator wonders whether Robert can indeed imagine a cathedral before they start to draw it. This interaction develops a deep sense of empathy and love in the narrator.
The narrator is an extremely insensitive husband, but he seems involved with his wife. Although the narrator is in a rut and cannot derive happiness from his marriage, he does not indicate any negative traits of his wife. The narrator introduces readers to his wife earlier in the kitchen before they can meet her. From his description, the narrator likes his wife.
However, the narrator’s wife talks about Robert before he arrives, which makes the narrator jealous of Robert. Carver draws the issue of vulnerability in the blind Robert, who has just lost Beulah and how the narrator depicts his wife as vulnerable too. He notes that his wife is sensitive, loving, a poet and probably suicidal.
While the narrator gets readers to sympathize with his wife, he, on the other hand, shows the readers that he may lack desirable traits. The narrator wants readers to see his wife through his eyes. However, readers understand the narrator is jealous of the blind Robert.
The narrator uses blindness as a red herring and distracts readers from the truth about his jealousy. One can observe that the narrator has developed a general mistrust for blind people, particularly when he depicts aspects of the relationship that exist between Robert and his wife. The narrator’s assumption about blind people shows that he is insensitive.
Jealousy depicts negative aspects of a relationship. However, the narrator wants to show love to his wife in a different manner. Thus, his wife says, “If you love me, you can do this for me. If you don’t love me, okay. But if you had a friend, any friend, and the friend came to visit, I’d make him feel comfortable” (Carver 1.8).
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This statement changes the narrator. The narrator proves that he loves his wife and makes the blind Robert feel at ease. Therefore, the narrator loves his wife just like she loves him when she says, “because I love you I’d be nice to your friends” (Carver 1.8). This is a loving relationship with abound challenges, which emanate from the narrator’s insensitivity and jealousy. Initially, the narrator says, “In the poem, she talked about what she felt at the time, about what went through her mind when the blind man touched her nose and lips.
I can remember I didn’t think much of the poem” (Carver 1.4). This revelation shows that the narrator did not pay much attention to his wife’s relationship with Robert. However, this situation changed over time. Readers understand that the blind Robert is a lovable, outgoing and friendly person.
Consequently, he had a positive impression on the narrator’s wife. Perhaps, the narrator uses blindness and Robert as means of escaping his marital problems. On the other hand, the narrator’s wife assumes that the narrator does not love her when he shows contempt for anything that relates to Robert.
Robert’s blindness plays a critical role in the life of the narrator. Initially, the narrator was insensitive and lacked social grace. However, the encounter between the narrator and Robert changes him to a sensitive, compassionate and tolerant man. Robert helps the narrator to discover himself and show intimacy to him as they grow closer and work on the drawing of a cathedral together. Moreover, through interaction with the blind Robert, the narrator discovers that he can sketch a cathedral and show his artistic capabilities.
This experience marks the climax of Carver’s story. At this point, the narrator must overcome his inhibition and sketch the cathedral with Robert. This is a memorable, unique opportunity for the two men. The two men share their visions and capture vision of people who built the cathedral several centuries ago. The collaboration and understanding between them show that the narrator can change and become sensitive to others.
At the end of the story, the narrator has become a better man and a friend of Robert. He learns that Robert is compassionate and kind. He also acknowledges the friendship between Robert and his wife. The narrator experiences a change that transforms his life in several ways.
First, the narrator realizes that his wife has been right about Robert and their relationship. Second, the narrator’s wife discovers that the narrator indeed loves her. Third, the couple finds a common friend, which their relationship has lacked. Therefore, the narrator has achieved positive gains because of his physical interaction with Robert. Consequently, he may also develop a good relationship with his wife.
Carver presents a protagonist who is antihero and insensitive in the Cathedral. However, the narrator undergoes a series of transformation to become a better man when he encounters the blind Robert.
His experience may generate some critical questions for readers. For instance, one may question if the narrator’s encounter with the blind Robert will have far-reaching impacts on his life. Carver shows that men are able to change their narrow experiences about life and embrace inabilities of others in order to realize their own potential and improve their relationships. However, readers must continue to assess whether a change in the narrator’s life will have any real-life impact on his relationship with others and his world.
Carver, Raymond. Cathedral. New York, NY: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 1989. Print.