Cathedral

by

Raymond Carver

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Cathedral Symbol Analysis

Cathedral Symbol Icon

Carver uses cathedrals to represent a secular spirituality in which one can find beauty and meaning in everyday life through simply noticing how miraculous things are. Cathedrals are some of the most ornate and transcendent physical expressions of spirituality, but when the narrator watches a TV program about cathedrals, he finds them unimpressive. Watching the program, the narrator seems bored by the cathedrals and he can’t think of ways to describe them because he doesn’t really notice them at all—to him, they’re just another thing on TV and they have no inherent beauty or meaning. The narrator’s reaction to cathedrals gestures towards his general inability to find meaning or beauty in his life, an attitude that changes after Robert encourages the narrator to draw a cathedral with him. The exercise makes the narrator really notice and think about cathedrals for the first time, and he finds himself moved by them—he thinks they’re “really something,” which is a complete pivot from his former attitude. This isn’t a religious conversion—neither the narrator nor Robert is religious—though the narrator does find himself converted by the cathedrals into a new way of perceiving meaning and beauty in his own life. This is a secular equivalent to spirituality, as spirituality is, for many people, a vehicle for finding meaning in their lives. 

Cathedral Quotes in Cathedral

The Cathedral quotes below all refer to the symbol of Cathedral. 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

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

Cathedral Symbol Timeline in Cathedral

The timeline below shows where the symbol Cathedral 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 Secular and the Sacred  Theme Icon
...and he switches between programs indecisively, settling on a program about “the church” and European cathedrals. He apologizes to Robert for his choice, but Robert kindly says that it’s fine with... (full context)
Vision Theme Icon
Empathy and Listening  Theme Icon
Intimacy and Isolation  Theme Icon
The Secular and the Sacred  Theme Icon
...the program, the narrator realizes that Robert is not able to fully understand what the cathedrals on television are, as he has never seen them. The narrator, who didn’t even want... (full context)
Vision Theme Icon
Empathy and Listening  Theme Icon
Intimacy and Isolation  Theme Icon
The Secular and the Sacred  Theme Icon
Robert suggests that he and the narrator draw a cathedral together so that Robert can “see” it. The narrator agrees and finds paper and a... (full context)