The narrator in Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral” is not a particularly sensitive man. I might describe him as self-centered, superficial, and egotistical. And while his actions certainly speak to these points, it is his misunderstanding of the people and the relationships presented to him in this story which show most clearly his tragic flaw: while Robert is physically blind, it is the narrator who cannot clearly see the world around him.
In the eyes of the narrator, Robert’s blindness is his defining characteristic. The opening line of “Cathedral” reads, “This blind man, an old friend of my wife’s, he was on his way to spend the night” (1052). Clearly, the narrator cannot see past Robert’s disability; he dismisses him in the same way a white racist might dismiss a black person. In reality, any prejudice—be it based on gender, race, or disability—involves a person’s inability to look past a superficial quality. People who judge a person based on such a characteristic are only seeing the particular aspect of the person that makes them uncomfortable. They are not seeing the whole person. The narrator has unconsciously placed Robert in a category that he labels abnormal, which stops him from seeing the blind man as an individual.
The narrator’s reaction to Robert’s individuality shows his stereotypical views. The narrator assumed Robert did not do certain things, just because he was blind. When he first saw Robert his reaction was simple: “This blind man, feature this, he was wearing a full beard! A beard on a blind man! Too much, I say” (Carver 1055). When Robert smokes a cigarette, the narrator thinks, “I . . . read somewhere that the blind didn’t smoke because, as speculation had it, they c…
… middle of paper …
…nd optimistic” (Watson 114). The few critics who have written specifically about “Cathedral” tend concentrate on that optimism, seen at the end of the story with the narrator’s “esthetic experience [and] realization” (Robinson 35). In concentrating on the final “realization” experienced by the narrator, the literary community has overlooked his deep-rooted misunderstanding of everything consequential in life.
The narrator’s prejudice makes him emotionally blind. His inability to see past Robert’s disability stops him from seeing the reality of any relationship or person in the story. And while he admits some things are simply beyond his understanding, he is unaware he is so completely blind to the reality of the world.
Carver, Raymond. “Cathedral.” The Harper Anthology of Fiction. Ed. Sylvan Barnet. New York: HarperCollins, 1991. 1052-1062.
Communicating Conflict in Ernest Hemingway’s Hills Like White Elephants
Ernest Hemingway’s short story “Hills Like White Elephants” touches on an issue as ageless as time: communication problems in a relationship. He tells his story through conversations between the two main characters, the American and the girl. Conflict is created through dialogue as these characters face what most readers believe to be the obstacle of an unexpected pregnancy. Their plight is further complicated by their inability to convey their differing opinions to each other. Symbolism and the title’s meaning are other effective means of communicating conflict.
To begin, consider the main character’s point of view. Single and in his prime, he makes the most of his lifestyle by traveling and seeing new sights. The story is set on one such excursion, at a train station in Spain. Of the complications that might arise from starting a family, one is certain to him: traveling, sight-seeing, and his current lifestyle would be things of the past. These are some of his motivating thoughts as he pleads his case for terminating the pregnancy. He chooses his words advantageously, almost deceitfully, when trying to convince the girl that an abortion is easy surgery: “It’s not really an operation at all” (275). Those familiar with the abortion procedure can affirm that it is an operation, and rarely a simple one. This remark reveals how desperate he is to make the decision for the girl.
The man further complicates the discussion by contradicting himself. For each time he reassures the girl he wants what she wants, he spends at least one line identifying exactly what he wants. This is clearly seen in the following conversation: “You?ve got to realize . . . that I don?t want you to do it if you don?t want to. I?m perfectly willing …
… middle of paper …
…ing, symbolism, and the ageless dilemma of communication problems provides an excellent dialogue, giving the story an interesting twist indicative of his style
Baker, Sheridan. “Hemingway?s Two-Hearted River.” The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway: Critical Essays. Ed. Jackson, J. Benson. Durham: Duke UP, 1975. 158.
Hemingway, Ernest. “To Maxwell Perkins.” 16 Nov. 1933. Ernest Hemingway/Selected Letters, 1917-1961. Ed. Carlos Baker. New York: Charles Scribner?s Sons, 1981. 400.
—, “Hills Like White Elephants.” The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. New York: Charles Scribner?s Sons, 1953. 273-278.
Lindsey, Dr. Victor. Personal interview. 25 Sept. 1995.
Organ, Dennis, “Hemingway?s ?Hills Like White Elephants?.” Explicator. Sum. 1979: 11.
“White elephant.” Webster?s 21st Century Dictionary of the English Language. 1993 ed.