1. And then I found myself thinking what a pitiful life this woman must have led. Imagine a woman who could never see herself as she was seen 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.
This quotation appears near the beginning of the story when the narrator ruminates on what life must have been like for Robert’s wife, Beulah, before she died. This passage reveals the extent of the narrator’s self-delusion about what kind of husband he is and what really matters in a relationship. Though he calls Beulah’s life “pitiful,” everything his wife has told him about Beulah and Robert’s relationship suggests the opposite. They were devoted to each other—“inseparable,” the wife says. They’d worked together, and Robert had stayed by her bedside until her death. The narrator’s sole criterion for deeming Beulah’s life “pitiful” is the fact that Robert never knew what she physically looked like. For the narrator, the ability to see the other’s appearance seems to be the defining element in a relationship.
The narrator tries to reflect on Beulah’s life from her own perspective: she could never see herself as Robert saw her, and she could never receive a compliment on her appearance. What’s ironic about the narrator’s observation is that he himself can see, yet he fails to make his own wife happy. The narrator assumes that he is more capable of making his own wife happy than Robert simply because he can see. This assumption reveals that the narrator isn’t aware of the difference between seeing and understanding.
2. I stared hard at the shot of the cathedral on the TV. How could I even begin to describe it? But say my life depended on it. Say my life was being threatened by an insane guy who said I had to do it or else.
This quotation appears near the end of the story when Robert asks the narrator to describe the cathedral that appears on television. Before this, the narrator has successfully described a parade in Spain in which people were dressed as devils and skeletons, but he doesn’t have any idea how to describe a cathedral. The task seems impossible for the narrator, who doesn’t have the words to describe what he sees. In a way, this is a crisis moment for the narrator, who realizes that he couldn’t describe a cathedral even if his “life depended on it.” The scenario he imagines—a crazy man forcing him to describe a cathedral—is absurd and comical but reflects his sense of panic. Even though he can see the cathedral, he can’t describe what he sees because he really doesn’t understand it. Only by drawing the cathedral with his eyes closed can the narrator bridge the gap between seeing and understanding.