Exploring the Unknown

Exploring the Unknown
Representing the 99%!

Saturday, July 2, 2016

A Short Analysis of Raymond Carver's Cathedral By Christopher Guay

Raymond Carver
(1938 - 1988)
Our society today has developed certain ways to view others of their own kind. Whether some people are handicapped by some disease or a disability, we judge them through what previous experiences from outer sources tell of their appearance. However, as trust grows between one person and another, judgement from both will change as well. One will never comprehend a stranger on the streets by their look. The short story “Cathedral” by Raymond Carver demonstrates this behavior with his characters that he has used in his short story. Carver’s main idea, portrayed through the story, reflects upon society’s needs and standards with relations between people and how society shapes interactions between people based on their first impressions and appearances. The story’s structure and connections with society’s way of life allows many critical approaches to be used to analyze the story. Some of these are New Critical and Psychological.

New Critical

New Critical allows a reader to examine a story based on its elements to express the main idea(s) of an author. This method of literary analysis examines the story only, so the author’s life will be not be examined. For Raymond Carver, the elements he utilized for the story broaden his main idea. Some of these elements include point of view, characterization and symbolism. For Point of View, the husband, referenced as Bub by the blind man, perceives Robert’s visit as an inconvenience. From the moment the husband hears of Robert’s future visit, he’s against the idea. From there on, “Bub” begins judging the blind man based on past experiences that he as seen on television before he actually meets him:
“This blind man, an old friend of my wife’s, he was on his way to spend the night…” “… He was no one I knew. And his being blind bothered me. My idea of blindness came from the movies. In the movies, the blind moved slowly and never laughed…” “…A blind man in my house was not something I looked forward to.” (Coursepack, n.d., p.66) 
“Writers will be judged by what they write.”
— Raymond Carver.
For Characterization, the author shapes the main character of the short story, which is “Bub”, so he reflects the main idea of the short story. He uses the main character to express his theme by actually using Bub as a medium to show what he means. The other characters used are mediums as well but they help shape “Bub” to what the author wants to express. For Symbolism, we notice that many symbols appear throughout the length of the story. They appear at moments where bub learns more about Robert himself. He has these moment of “thought bubbles” where he speaks to himself in his thoughts, reflecting on the blind man and his interests. Although not symbols that reflect non-fictional objects or events in real life, the author’s repetition of these moments makes them a personal symbol. The symbols, on a deeper note, discuss the change in Bub’s views of the blind man:
“…the blind didn’t smoke because, as speculation had it, they couldn’t see the smoke they exhaled. I thought I knew that much and that much only about blind people. But this blind man smoked his cigarette down to the nubbin and then lit another one.” (Course pack, n.d., p.69)


This theory of literary analysis is used to examine key factors of a story, whether it be characters, events, or the author. By illustrating key factors in characters and events we can understand the characters, events, etc. better on a psychological level so we get a better understanding what an author wants to express as their main idea in his/her stories. As for Raymond Carver with “Cathedral”, he uses Bub’s human addiction to feel socially part of the rest of the population to reflect how we have grown to naturally accept what society has to say, whether it be stereotypes towards people or actions that give more social stature. For example, Bub’s addictions to certain substances like alcohol, cigarette smoking, illicit drug smoking, his pet peeves one can say, reflect what he wants people to think of him when they see him.

Photo © Raymond Carver
Carver shows through Bub’s personality that society wants the appearance to matter more than the actual grown relations that are made from interactions between people. The author, then, perceives to plot the story so Bub’s personality changes over time. Natural human values, then, become more aware to Bub. From this moment, Carver’s main idea fully develops so it becomes a belief that Carver wants people to read about, which is to judge people for who they are as a person and not what society wants them to look like. We see this in Bub at the end of the story where he fully accept Robert for who he is and not the physical disabilities that affect his social status:

“So we kept on with it. His fingers rode my fingers as my hand went over the paper. It was like nothing else in my life up to now.” (Course Pack, p.73)
Overall, the short story “Cathedral” reflects upon the social interactions of humans and how society shapes what personal image one can make. Carver discusses the fact that people have a tendency to take first impressions into consideration when the personality of a person is what matters most. To this day, the society still shapes the views we have on others, but one always has the choice to judge them by their appearance or their personality.


Carver, Raymond. (1992). Cathedral. Vintage Press.

Hacker, D., & Sommers, N. (n.d.). A writer’s reference with exercises, 7th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins.

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