The Cathedral

The cathedral that the narrator draws with Robert represents true sight, the ability to see beyond the surface to the true meaning that lies within. Before the narrator draws the cathedral, his world is simple: he can see, and Robert cannot. But when he attempts to describe the cathedral that’s shown on television, he realizes he doesn’t have the words to do so. More important, he decides that the reason he can’t find those words is that the cathedral has no meaning for him and tells Robert that he doesn’t believe in anything. However, when he takes the time to draw the cathedral—to really think about it and see it in his mind’s eye—he finds himself pulled in, adding details and people to make the picture complete and even drawing some of it with his eyes closed. When the drawing is finished, the narrator keeps his eyes shut, yet what he sees is greater than anything he’s ever seen with his eyes open. Carver isn’t specific about exactly what the narrator realizes, but the narrator says he “didn’t feel like he was inside anything”—he has a weightless, placeless feeling that suggests he’s reached an epiphany. Just as a cathedral offers a place for the religious to worship and find solace, the narrator’s drawing of a cathedral has opened a door for him into a deeper place in his own world, where he can see beyond what is immediately visible.


The audiotapes that Robert and the narrator’s wife send back and forth to each other represent the kind of understanding and empathy that has nothing to do with sight. The narrator believes that Robert’s wife, Beulah, must have suffered because Robert could never see her, but in his own way, the narrator has never truly seen his own wife. Robert’s relationship with the narrator’s wife is much deeper than anything the narrator can understand. When he hears a bit of Robert’s tape, he says it sounds only like “harmless chitchat,” not realizing that this sort of intimate communication is exactly what his own marriage lacks. Only when the narrator closes his eyes to finish drawing the cathedral does he approach the level of understanding that his wife and Robert have achieved through their taped correspondence.