Cathedral

by

Raymond Carver

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The Narrator’s Wife Character Analysis

Most of what is known about the narrator’s wife comes from the narrator’s interior monologue, so it reflects his somewhat warped notions of her and her life. She was married previously to a military man and became so lonely in that relationship that she attempted to commit suicide. The attempt was unsuccessful and she soon divorced her first husband. She later met and married the narrator, whom she seems to love, although she is often frustrated by his entrenched cynicism and insensitivity. Through all of this, she has maintained a friendship with Robert, the blind social worker for whom she worked one summer in Seattle. Exchanging audio tapes with Robert and writing poetry are, according to the narrator, her two major hobbies. There is a notable difference between the tenor of her relationship with Robert and her relationship with her husband. With Robert, she does her utmost to be accommodating and seems to genuinely enjoy his presence. With her husband, however, the narrator’s wife is standoffish and sometimes even prickly. It seems that the narrator’s inability to understand his wife’s values and emotions leads to strain in their relationship, whereas the narrator’s wife feels understood by Robert, who is a good friend and a careful listener.

The Narrator’s Wife Quotes in Cathedral

The Cathedral quotes below are all either spoken by The Narrator’s Wife or refer to The Narrator’s Wife. 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:

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:

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:

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:
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The Narrator’s Wife Character Timeline in Cathedral

The timeline below shows where the character The Narrator’s Wife appears in Cathedral. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Cathedral
Vision Theme Icon
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... (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... (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... (full context)
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A year into her first marriage, once the narrator’s wife and her husband had moved away to an Air Force base, the narrator’s wife called... (full context)
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Finally, feeling lonely from her nomadic lifestyle, the narrator’s wife attempted suicide, though the pills she took just made her sick instead. She told Robert... (full context)
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Intimacy and Isolation  Theme Icon
Eventually, the narrator’s wife got a divorce and married the narrator, all the while continuing her audio-tape exchange with... (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... (full context)
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Robert and the narrator’s wife arrive back at the house, and the narrator immediately betrays his reluctance about having Robert... (full context)
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...just a splash of water, and the narrator makes the same drink for himself and his wife . They talk for a little while more about Robert’s travel from the West Coast... (full context)
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Intimacy and Isolation  Theme Icon
The Secular and the Sacred  Theme Icon
...down to eat a large dinner, comprising steak, potatoes, green beans, and pie prepared by the narrator’s wife . Before the three begin to eat, though, the narrator jokingly says “Now let us... (full context)
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...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 each other 10 years... (full context)
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...turns on the television in an attempt to ignore and exclude Robert. This move irritates the narrator’s wife , but Robert handles it with unfailing good humor and is able to correctly identify... (full context)
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The narrator’s wife leaves the room to change into bed clothes. Before she does, she asks Robert if... (full context)
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Intimacy and Isolation  Theme Icon
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... (full context)
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Empathy and Listening  Theme Icon
Intimacy and Isolation  Theme Icon
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... (full context)