Notes on Raymond Carver’s ‘Cathedral’

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Excerpt from “Notes on Raymond Carver’s ‘Cathedral’”

First person narrators are characters who tell the story from the perspective of “I’” or “we”: here’s the story as I saw it and thought about it and felt about it. Because these are first person human perspectives, naturally they are limited with respect to how that character perceives the surrounding world, what they are able to know and see. This tends to make first person narrators somewhat unreliable as trustworthy sources for information -- not to say that you must not rely on them at all. What other choice do you have but listen to the storyteller? But you need to take what the narrator gives you and run it through a critical filter. Based on the available inputs, can you believe this narrator? Is he or she filtering the events, selecting how to see them based on the individual's character traits? In other words, it is important to treat the narrator as a full fledged character in the story.

In “Cathedral,” for instance, the nameless narrator speaks in clipped, cursory, chopped sentences. As we witness the way he sees and understands, we infer some character traits: his attitude is insecure, arrogant, insolent, out of touch, insensitive, inarticulate, lacking self-awareness. There are many examples in the story where this is borne out. This first person narrator betrays himself. His own words implicate him, revealing how biased, ignorant, and insensitive he is. Those same words also reveal how lonely, aloof and in need of human contact he is.

Work Cited

Esch, J. “Notes on Raymond Carver’s ‘Cathedral.’” Turkshead Review. 14 Feb. 2008. Turkshead Library Index. 7 Sep. 2009 .

Homework Assignment:

  1. Read the excerpt (above) from “Notes on Raymond Carver’s ‘Cathedral’.”

In “Notes,” Esch lists character traits of the narrator. However, there is no evidence given to support the inferences.

  1. Reread “Cathedral” and highlight the contextual support for Esch’s inferences.

  1. Answer these three questions in your journal (Journal #3). Your entry should be at least three paragraphs long.

    1. How would the character traits of this narrator make him “somewhat unreliable as [a] trustworthy source for information”?

    2. How might this story be different if the wife was the narrator?

    3. How might this story be different if Robert was the narrator?

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