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Cathedral

Raymond Carver

Plot Overview

Context

Character List

The narrator says that his wife’s blind friend, whose wife has just died, is going to spend the night at their house. He says that he isn’t happy about this visitor and the man’s blindness unsettles him. He explains that his wife met the blind man ten years ago when she worked for him as a reader to the blind in Seattle. He says that on the last day of her job there, the blind man touched her face and she wrote a poem about the experience. The narrator then describes his wife’s past. She married her childhood sweetheart and became an officer’s wife. Unhappy with her life, she tried to commit suicide one night by swallowing pills, but she survived. She and the blind man kept in touch by sending audiotapes back and forth to each other throughout her marriage, and she told everything to the blind man on tapes.

The narrator says that his wife once asked him to listen to one of the blind man’s tapes. They started to listen but were interrupted before the narrator could hear anything about himself. The narrator suggests taking the blind man bowling. His wife reminds him that the blind man’s wife, Beulah, just died and says that if he loves her, he’ll welcome the blind man into their home. The narrator asks whether Beulah was “Negro,” and his wife asks him whether he’s drunk. She then tells him more about Beulah. Beulah became the blind man’s reader after the narrator’s wife stopped working for him, and they eventually got married. After eight years, however, Beulah died from cancer. The narrator thinks how awful it must have been for Beulah to know that her husband could never look at her. He speculates that she could have worn whatever she wanted.

The narrator’s wife goes to pick up the blind man at the train station as the narrator waits at the house. When they arrive, he watches his wife laughing and talking with the blind man as she leads him by the arm to the house. The narrator is shocked to see that the blind man has a full beard. The wife introduces the narrator to the blind man, whose name is Robert. They all sit in the living room. The narrator asks what side of the train he sat on, and Robert says he sat on the right and that he hadn’t been on a train for years. The narrator says his wife looks at him but doesn’t seem to like what she sees.

The narrator says he’s never known a blind person. He describes what Robert looks like and what he’s wearing. Robert doesn’t wear dark glasses, which the narrator finds strange. He wishes Robert would wear them because his eyes look weird and turn in strange directions. He pours scotch for all three of them, and they talk about Robert’s trip.

Robert smokes several cigarettes. The narrator says he didn’t think blind people could smoke. They sit down for dinner and eat ravenously, not speaking, eating so much that they are dazed. After dinner, they go back to the living room to drink more. The wife and Robert talk about things that have happened to them in the past ten years, while the narrator occasionally tries to join in. He learns that Robert and Beulah had run an Amway distributorship and that Robert is a ham radio operator. When Robert asks the narrator questions, he makes only short responses. The narrator then turns on the television, irritating his wife.

The wife goes upstairs to change clothes and is gone a long time. The narrator offers Robert some pot, and they smoke a joint. The wife joins them when she comes back. She says she’s going to just sit with them on the couch with her eyes closed, but she immediately falls asleep. The narrator changes the channel and asks Robert if he wants to go to bed. Robert says he’ll stay up with the narrator so that they can talk some more. The narrator says he likes the company and that he and his wife never go to bed at the same time.

There is a program about the Middle Ages on television. Nothing else is on, but Robert says he likes learning things. When the TV narrator doesn’t describe what’s happening, the narrator tries to explain to Robert what’s going on. The TV narrator begins talking about cathedrals, showing different ones in different countries. The narrator asks Robert whether he has any idea what a cathedral looks like. Robert says he doesn’t and asks the narrator to describe one. The narrator tries, but he knows he doesn’t do a very good job. Robert asks him if he’s religious, and the narrator says he doesn’t believe in anything. He says he can’t describe a cathedral because cathedrals are meaningless for him.

Robert asks the narrator to find a piece of paper and pen. Then he and the narrator sit around the coffee table, and Robert tells the narrator to draw a cathedral. He puts his hand over the narrator’s hand, following the movement of the pen. The narrator draws and draws, getting wrapped up in what he’s doing. His wife wakes up and asks what’s going on, and Robert answers that they’re drawing a cathedral. The wife doesn’t understand.

Robert tells the narrator to close his eyes and keep drawing, and the narrator does so. Soon Robert tells him to open his eyes and see what he’s drawn, but the narrator doesn’t open them. He knows he’s in his own home, but he feels like he’s nowhere. With his eyes still closed, he says the drawing is “really something.”

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