Cathedral

by

Raymond Carver

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Robert is a friend of the narrator’s wife who comes to stay at their home after visiting his recently deceased wife’s family. Since the long-ago summer when the narrator’s wife worked for Robert (who is a social worker), the narrator’s wife and Robert have exchanged audio recordings in which they recount their thoughts and experiences. Robert’s unfailing kindness and empathy, as well as his patience and his ability to listen conscientiously to others, allow him to form a close friendship with the narrator’s wife, who seems emotionally closer to Robert than to the narrator, with whom she does not always share her thoughts. For the narrator’s wife, her friendship with Robert seems unique, but it seems like Robert has a great many friends he values. He says, for instance, that as an amateur radio operator, he made friends who come from everywhere from Alaska to Tahiti. The narrator of the story does not seem like he wants to be Robert’s friend, at least at first. But despite the narrator’s mocking and exclusion of Robert, Robert remains kind to the narrator and ultimately wins him over, facilitating the narrator’s spiritual transformation by encouraging him to draw a cathedral.

Robert Quotes in Cathedral

The Cathedral quotes below are all either spoken by Robert or refer to Robert. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Vision Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of Cathedral published in 1989.
Cathedral Quotes

But she and the blind man had kept in touch. They made tapes and mailed them back and forth. I wasn’t enthusiastic about his visit. 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. Sometimes they were led by seeing eye dogs. A blind man in my house was not something I looked forward to.

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker), Robert, The Narrator’s Wife
Related Symbols: Blindness
Page Number: 209
Explanation and Analysis:

Once she asked me if I’d like to hear the latest tape from the blind man. This was a year ago. I was on the tape, she said. So I said okay, I’d listen to it. I got us drinks and we settled down in the living room. We made ready to listen. First she inserted the tape into the player and adjusted a couple of dials. Then she pushed a lever. The tape squeaked and someone began to talk in this loud voice. She lowered the volume. After a few minutes of harmless chitchat, I heard my own name in the mouth of this stranger, this blind man I didn’t even know! And then this: “From all you’ve said about him, I can only conclude”— But we were interrupted, a knock at the door, something, and we didn’t ever get back to the tape. Maybe it was just as well. I’d heard all I wanted to.

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker), Robert (speaker), The Narrator’s Wife
Related Symbols: Blindness
Page Number: 212
Explanation and Analysis:

A woman who could go on day after day and never receive the smallest compliment from her beloved. A woman whose husband could never read the expression on her face, be it misery or something better. Someone who could wear makeup or not—what difference to him? She could if she wanted, wear green eye-shadow around one eye, a straight pin in her nostril, yellow slacks, and purple shoes, no matter.

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker), Robert
Related Symbols: Blindness
Page Number: 213-214
Explanation and Analysis:

My wife said, “I want you to meet Robert. Robert, this is my husband. I’ve told you all about him.” She was beaming. She had this blind man by his coat sleeve. The blind man let go of his suitcase and up came his hand. I took it. He squeezed hard, held my hand, and then he let it go. “I feel like we’ve already met,” he boomed. “Likewise,” I said. I didn’t know what else to say. Then I said, “Welcome. I’ve heard a lot about you.”

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker), Robert (speaker)
Related Symbols: Blindness
Page Number: 214-215
Explanation and Analysis:

I’ve never met, or personally known, anyone who was blind. This blind man was late forties, a heavy-set, balding man with stooped shoulders, as if he carried a great weight there. He wore brown slacks, brown shoes, a light-brown shirt, a tie, a sports coat. Spiffy. He also had this full beard. But he didn’t use a cane and he didn’t wear dark glasses. I’d always thought dark glasses were a must for the blind.

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker), Robert
Related Symbols: Blindness
Page Number: 215-216
Explanation and Analysis:

When we sat down at the table for dinner, we had another drink. My wife heaped Robert’s plate with cube steak, scalloped potatoes, green beans. I buttered him up two slices of bread. I said, “Here’s bread and butter for you.” I swallowed some of my drink. “Now let us pray,” I said, and the blind man lowered his head. My wife looked at me, her mouth agape. “Pray the phone won’t ring and the food doesn’t get cold,” I said.

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker), Robert, The Narrator’s Wife
Related Symbols: Blindness
Page Number: 217
Explanation and Analysis:

From time to time, he’d turn his blind face toward me, put his hand under his beard, ask me something. How long had I been in my present position? (Three years.) Did I like my work? (I didn’t.) Was I going to stay with it? (What were the options?) Finally, when I thought he was beginning to run down, I got up and turned on the TV.

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker), Robert
Related Symbols: Blindness
Page Number: 218
Explanation and Analysis:

The news program ended. I got up and changed the channel. I sat back down on the sofa. I wished my wife hadn’t pooped out. Her head lay across the back of the sofa, her mouth open. She’d turned so that her robe had slipped away from her legs, exposing a juicy thigh. I reached to draw her robe back over her, and it was then that I glanced at the blind man. What the hell! I flipped the robe open again.

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker), Robert, The Narrator’s Wife
Related Symbols: Blindness
Page Number: 221
Explanation and Analysis:

“That’s all right,” I said. Then I said, “I’m glad for the company.”

And I guess I was. Every night I smoked dope and stayed up as long as I could before I fell asleep. My wife and I hardly ever went to bed at the same time. When I did go to sleep, I had these dreams. Sometimes I’d wake up from one of them, my heart going crazy.

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker), Robert
Page Number: 222
Explanation and Analysis:

Something about the church and the Middle Ages was on the TV. Not your run-of-the-mill TV fare. I wanted to watch something else. I turned to the other channels. But there was nothing on them, either. So I turned back to the first channel and apologized. “Bub, it’s all right,” the blind man said. “It’s fine with me. Whatever you want to watch is okay. I’m always learning something. Learning never ends. It won’t hurt me to learn something tonight. I got ears,” he said.

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker), Robert (speaker)
Related Symbols: Cathedral, Blindness
Page Number: 222
Explanation and Analysis:

There were times when the Englishman who was telling the thing would shut up, would simply let the camera move around over the cathedrals. Or else the camera would tour the countryside, men in fields walking behind oxen. I waited as long as I could. Then I felt I had to say something. I said, “They’re showing the outside of this cathedral now. Gargoyles. Little statues carved to look like monsters. Now I guess they’re in Italy. Yeah, they’re in Italy. There’s paintings on the walls of this one church.”

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker), Robert
Related Symbols: Cathedral, Blindness
Page Number: 223
Explanation and Analysis:

“That’s all right, bub,” the blind man said. “Hey, listen. I hope you don’t mind my asking you. Can I ask you something? Let me ask you a simple question, yes or no. I’m just curious and there’s no offense. You’re my host. But let me ask if you are in any way religious? You don’t mind my asking?” I shook my head. He couldn’t see that, though. A wink is the same as a nod to a blind man. “I guess I don’t believe in it. In anything. Sometimes it’s hard. You know what I’m saying?”

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker), Robert (speaker)
Related Symbols: Cathedral, Blindness
Page Number: 225
Explanation and Analysis:

So I began. First I drew a box that looked like a house. It could have been the house I lived in. Then I put a roof on it. At either end of the roof, I drew spires. Crazy. “Swell,” he said. “Terrific. You’re doing fine,” he said. “Never thought anything like this could happen in your lifetime, did you, bub? Well, it’s a strange life, we all know that. Go on now. Keep it up.”

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker), Robert (speaker)
Related Symbols: Cathedral, Blindness
Page Number: 227
Explanation and Analysis:

“Close your eyes now,” the blind man said to me.

I did it. I closed them just like he said.

“Are they closed?” he said. “Don’t fudge.”

“They’re closed,” I said.

“Keep them that way,” he said. He said, “Don’t stop now. Draw.”

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.”

Then he said, “I think that’s it. I think you got it,” he said. “Take a look. What do you think?”

But 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.

“Well?” he said. “Are you looking?”

My eyes were still closed. I was in my house. I knew that. But I didn’t feel like I was inside anything.

“It’s really something,” I said.

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker), Robert (speaker)
Related Symbols: Cathedral, Blindness
Page Number: 228
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Cathedral LitChart as a printable PDF.
Cathedral PDF

Robert Character Timeline in Cathedral

The timeline below shows where the character Robert appears in Cathedral. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Cathedral
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Empathy and Listening  Theme Icon
Intimacy and Isolation  Theme Icon
The narrator notes that his wife’s friend, a blind man named Robert, is coming to spend the night after visiting his late wife’s family in Connecticut. The... (full context)
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The narrator says that his wife met Robert when she worked for him one summer in Seattle. She was set to marry a... (full context)
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Empathy and Listening  Theme Icon
Intimacy and Isolation  Theme Icon
Over the course of the summer, the narrator’s wife and Robert became good friends, and on her last day at work he asked if he could... (full context)
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Intimacy and Isolation  Theme Icon
...and her husband had moved away to an Air Force base, the narrator’s wife called Robert and he asked her to send him a tape telling him about her life. In... (full context)
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...wife attempted suicide, though the pills she took just made her sick instead. She told Robert about this, too, since by then she told him about most everything—the narrator notes that,... (full context)
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...got a divorce and married the narrator, all the while continuing her audio-tape exchange with Robert. Once, the narrator’s wife asked him if he’d like to hear a tape where he... (full context)
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Before the narrator’s wife goes to the train station to retrieve Robert, the narrator and his wife quarrel. The narrator makes insensitive jokes about Robert’s blindness, asking... (full context)
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Intimacy and Isolation  Theme Icon
The narrator then wonders how Beulah must have felt about Robert’s blindness, saying: “I found myself thinking what a pitiful life this woman must have led.”... (full context)
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Robert and the narrator’s wife arrive back at the house, and the narrator immediately betrays his... (full context)
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The narrator then drops out of the conversation for a few moments to analyze Robert’s appearance. The narrator notices Robert’s clothing, which the narrator sarcastically calls “spiffy.” He then notices... (full context)
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Intimacy and Isolation  Theme Icon
The narrator then offers Robert a drink. Robert asks for Scotch with just a splash of water, and the narrator... (full context)
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Intimacy and Isolation  Theme Icon
The Secular and the Sacred  Theme Icon
...pray,” as if he meant to give thanks in a religious fashion before the dinner. Robert bows his head, but the narrator does not offer a religious prayer, instead saying, “Pray... (full context)
Vision Theme Icon
Empathy and Listening  Theme Icon
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...three go back to living room to unwind after a large dinner. For a while, Robert and the narrator’s wife talk together about things that have happened since they last saw... (full context)
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The narrator, uncomfortable with Robert’s questions about his life (which the narrator seems to feel are too probing), turns on... (full context)
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Intimacy and Isolation  Theme Icon
...narrator’s wife leaves the room to change into bed clothes. Before she does, she asks Robert if he is “comfortable” and firmly says that she wants Robert to feel “comfortable” at... (full context)
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The Secular and the Sacred  Theme Icon
The narrator’s wife soon dozes off, leaving the narrator to entertain to Robert. The narrator asks if Robert would like to go to sleep, but Robert responds that... (full context)
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Empathy and Listening  Theme Icon
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The Secular and the Sacred  Theme Icon
While watching the program, the narrator realizes that Robert is not able to fully understand what the cathedrals on television are, as he has... (full context)
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The Secular and the Sacred  Theme Icon
Robert wonders if it would be okay for him to ask the narrator a question, and... (full context)
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The Secular and the Sacred  Theme Icon
Robert suggests that he and the narrator draw a cathedral together so that Robert can “see”... (full context)
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The Secular and the Sacred  Theme Icon
The narrator’s wife wakes up and is confused to find the narrator and Robert drawing. Robert tells the narrator’s wife that everything is fine and encourages the narrator to... (full context)