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Characterization and Symbolism in “Cathedral”

“Cathedral,” by Raymond Carver is a short story about a blind man who is staying with at a friends house. The narrator’s wife met the blind man while he was in Seattle about to marry a man. She worked with the blind man all summer and they had became good friends. Carver uses Characterization and symbolism as some literary elements to explain his story. People who have to overcome obstacles have a greater desire to understand how the world is because nothing has ever been handed to them.

Carver uses many different types of characterization to show that Robert is willing and determined to learn anything he can by being persistent. The narrator informs the readers with some background information of Robert and why he is staying with the

family. The author also gives the reader some physical descriptions of the characters (508)

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The blind man was late forties, a heavy-set, balding man with stooped shoulders, as if he carried a great weight there. He wore brown slacks, brown shoes, a light-brown shirt, a tie, a sports coat.

These physical descriptions of Robert are very important in the story as they are the main symbol. The author does give some direct information, but much of what the readers know is through the narrator, what he thinks, through events that happen in the story, dialogue, and by what the wife has to say and how she reacts. As I mentioned before, Robert had determination. This is an important aspect of the story. While Robert is determined to live as close to “normal” life as everyone else, he tries his hardest to understand. Robert is someone who will find out how something is before he ever forgets about it and moves on. The author mentions to the readers how his marriage was just like anyone else’s. The narrator tried to let the readers know how Beulah could keep on loving Robert, knowing that she was never going to be complimented on how she looked that particular day or anytime

Imagine a woman who could never see herself as she was in the eyes of her loved one. A woman who could go on day after day and never receive the smallest compliment from her beloved. Someone who could wear makeup or not-what difference to him? I’m imagining now-her last thought maybe this that he never even knew what she looked like, and she on an express to the grave.

One particular trait that the narrator shows is jealousy. The narrator is jealous that his wife had spent that whole summer with Robert ten years ago and now Robert is coming to stay with them “A blind man in my house is not something that I looked forward to; she told me that he touched his fingers to every part of her face, her nose-even her neck” (506). The wife thinks that the narrator is acting foolishly because she has known Robert for a long time. As everyone is in the living room, the narrator starts to ask questions that are foolish for a blind man to answer, and the wife becomes upset with him, “My wife finally took her eyes off the blind man and looked at me. I had the feeling she didn’t like what she saw. I shrugged” (50). Robert has to overcome these obstacles because he is being judged by his blindness.

The main point of the story begins when everyone is in the living room after dinner and the narrator turns the television on. Something about the church and the middle ages was on the television. The TV showed a cathedral in Paris with flying buttresses and its spires. Carver then gets into detail of how Robert does not know what a cathedral looks like, and now the narrator is trying to describe one to him (51). Since Robert is blind, he has more determination to want to understand how things look. Roberts is trying to visualize how a cathedral looks by asking the narrator to be more descriptive. In this part of the story is where Carver uses great description. Symbolism plays a part in here too; that even though Robert is impaired, or blind, that his strong will allows him to be persistent.

Throughout the story, Carver allows the readers to only picture the characters through either his views or the view of the narrator. Robert uses the narrator to show that Robert has overcome his obstacle of understanding how a cathedral looks by the help of the narrator. Although Robert is the character that most readers tend to sympathize with, it is not told from his point of view. At the end of the story, Carver presents to his readers that the narrator was mistaking Robert the whole time. Through the use of characterization and symbolism, Carver shows that people should not judge others because they could possibly receive the wrong idea of that person.





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