Carver's "Cathedral" an Analysis of Theme and Essay

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Carver's "Cathedral"

An Analysis of Theme and Plot in Carver's "Cathedral"

Raymond Carver states that by the mid-1960s he had tired of reading and writing "long narrative fiction" ("On Writing" 46). Shorter fiction, he found, was more immediate. Flannery O'Connor states a similar idea in The Habit of Being: for her, the novel was a literary medium that could bog down all of one's creative powers. Turning to a short story was a way of escape: "My novel is at an impasse. In fact it has been at one for as long as I can remember. Before Christmas I couldn't stand it any longer so I began a short story. It's like escaping from the penitentiary" (O'Connor 127). This mode of thought may help us to understand why Carver turned to composing shorter works of fiction like "Cathedral," a work that acts as a brief glimpse into how one man's physical blindness helps another man begin to overcome his own spiritual blindness. Carver's thematic plots could convey meaning at alternate depths -- both directly and indirectly. "Cathedral," for example, introduces the theme of blindness, personified by "this blind man," (Carver "Cathedral") but concludes by addressing the deeper theme of internal (or spiritual) blindness -- like Sophocles does in Oedipus Rex. While conveying meaning on a literal level, the host of the blind man in "Cathedral" presents a scene that is at once stylistically minimalist and yet tremendous in scope (if only because it lures one to the edge of something big). This paper will show how the plot and theme
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of "Cathedral" relay simultaneous levels of meaning to the reader.

It was Aristotle's view that plot was the most important part of any narrative. But many modern narratives use character or setting or style to move a tale along. Instead of ordering a "sequence of events" with a beginning, middle, and an end, modern narratives often jump back and forth between points in time or leave audiences hanging without a conclusion. Yet, plot is what essentially encourages the reader to keep reading. If the reader has no inclination to find out what happens next, there is little hope that the narrative will be continued no matter how interesting or engaging the characters, the voice, the style or the setting. In a sense, Carver makes it easy for the reader to care about what happens next: The story is short, accessible, and complete -- with a beginning, middle, and end. It is also doubly rewarding with a theme that works on two levels -- a literal and a figurative level.

"Cathedral" is the story of an irreligious man, who may represent Everyman, who learns a spiritual lesson from a blind man: "…I had my eyes closed. I thought I'd keep them that way for a little longer. I thought it was something I ought to do" (Carver "Cathedral"). Blindness, of course, tends to emphasize the internal sight over the external sight: a looking inward rather than a looking outward. Just as Oedipus learns to look inward -- learns who, in fact, he really is (literally blinding himself in the process), the loss of external sight becomes the beginning of internal sight, of knowing oneself -- which is…

Sources Used in Documents:

Works Cited

Carver, Raymond. "Cathedral." 1983. Web. 25 Sept 2012.

Carver, Raymond. "On Writing." Mississippi Review, vol. 14, no. 1/2 (Winter, 1985), pp.

46-51). Print.

O'Connor, Flannery. The Habit of Being. NY, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1979.

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