Compare and Contrast Raymond Carver's Cathedral and Careful Term Paper

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¶ … Raymond Carver's "Cathedral" and "Careful"

Attention K-Mart Shoppers": Raymond Carver will be chronicling your lives.

Raymond Carver is often called the founder of the so-called K-mart school of realism. Although, geographically, some of Carver's most famous stories like "Cathedral" and "Careful" do not take place in actual K-Marts, his style of writing is given this label because of his spare style, and the socioeconomic class of most of his protagonists. His protagonists are frequently down on their luck, often drink far too much, and have an air of despair about them, for definable or indefinable reasons. Carver's women and men struggle to communicate, and fail in their marriages. They seem to quietly rage with a sense of powerlessness against the world. This frequently becomes a source of anger for men, turned inward or outward. However, sometimes even Carver's protagonists are still able to find hope and a reason to live, overcoming both physical and mental difficulties. This paper will suggest that instead of stressing the importance of class in Carver's works, the literal and metaphorical significance of the human body, namely its ability to be destroyed by either addiction or illness, and its ability to be rehabilitated is the most important theme of "Cathedral" and "Careful."Buy full Download Microsoft Word File paper
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Term Paper on Compare and Contrast Raymond Carver's Cathedral and Careful Assignment

Carver's stylistic and narrative minimalism echoes that of the Russian short story author Anton Chekhov, Carver's idol. It is true Chekhov was the son of former serfs and poor and Carver grew up a child of the Great Depression. However, unlike the industrious Chekhov (a full-time doctor) Carver's youth, by his own admission was largely wasted in "the backwaters of Washington and Northern California," and spent engaging in "full-time drinking as a serious pursuit" interwoven with marriage, fatherhood, and "crap jobs" as well as writing (Knoll, 2007). Carver said that necessity, rather than a conscious desire to create spare works of prose determined the path his art took "I needed to write something I could get some kind of payment from immediately...Hence, poems and stories" (Knoll, 2007). He admitted: "toward the end of my drinking career I was completely out of control and in a very grave place," but unlike some of his protagonists he was able to emerge from alcoholism, and rebuild his life (Knoll, 2007). Carver remarried again, but was eventually diagnosed with the cancer that brought about his death. He was overcome by the cruelties of physical reality like some of the figures of "Careful" and "Cathedral."

Carver grew up in Washington and California, but his stories do not have any particular geographical setting. They seem to take place vaguely in the heartland of the nation, but usually lack any specific ties to a state or area. They are universal in nature, the only commonality being the simplicity of their language, the relative brevity of the tales, and the tendency of the often physically incapacitated characters to use either alcohol as a coping mechanism.

Both the short stories "Careful" and "Cathedral" revolve around the struggles of a couple. In "Careful," the husband and wife Lloyd and Inez have decided to undergo a marital separation, driving Lloyd into a tiny apartment within another woman's home. In "Cathedral" the unnamed narrator and his wife are in conflict over the wife's decision to invite a blind man to dinner. In both "Careful" and "Cathedral" the husband is hostile to the wife for unfair reasons. Lloyd has a drinking problem, and seems immune to the suffering this causes his wife. The husband of "Cathedral" finds the presence of the blind man his wife invites distasteful, either out of hostility towards her or prejudice against a physically disabled man. However, the couple's relationship of "Cathedral" is less threatened than the relationship of "Careful" because of the ability of the two men to form a friendship.

Alcohol is portrayed in a more positive light in "Cathedral," indicating Carver's mixed feelings about the drug that came to define most of the first phase of his life. The beginning of the tale "Careful" is a chronicle of the Spartan and uncomfortable nature of Lloyd's accommodations, brought about by his separation and addiction. He can barely feed himself, first buying some poor food with his champagne as he quickly slips back into the grips of full-blown alcoholism. In "Cathedral," however, alcohol creates a kind of commonality between the blind man and the husband. The two begin to loosen up under its influence, and because the blind man is not shocked by the husband's consumption of alcoholic beverages, the husband begins to approve of the blind man.

This comparison of the two stories indicates how Carver's ambivalence to alcoholism as a means of facilitating or sundering communication and its use as a way of overcoming physical incapacitation wavered over the course of his storytelling career. But ultimately "Carver's...stories are about discourse itself, ways people communicate or fail to communicate, demonstrating consequences of various modes of discourse" (Champion, 1997, p.1). In "Cathedral," alcohol is a positive mode of discourse and enables two men to transcend physical limitations, in "Careful," alcohol cuts off communication between Inez and Lloyd, despite the woman's affection for the man and the tenderness she shows to him when he cannot hear.

Physical disability also defines the two stories of "Cathedral" and "Careful." "Cathedral" depicts the disability of blindness, while in "Careful," Lloyd temporarily goes deaf as wax begins to build up in his ear. Yet, through simple human gestures of compassion, these disabilities are overcome, at least temporarily. Lloyd's wife returns to help him, cleaning the wax from his ear with a nail file and baby oil. The husband, at first trying to alienate the blind man by turning on the television set to a documentary about cathedrals, eventually helps his wife's guest 'see' a cathedral, by guiding his hand on a page. By striving to overcome a physical limitation, greater communication is achieved. Lloyd has been deaf to his wife's real concerns because of his alcoholism. He has long been figuratively deaf because of drinking, before he became literally deaf because of his neglect of personal hygiene.

In "Cathedral," the blind man overcomes the barrier put in place by the husband, namely the entirely visual presence of the television set. The two must touch one another and find a way to connect, to show the blind man what a cathedral really is -- and in doing so, the husband experiences a kind of mystical insight and accesses the cathedral's holiness in a way that would not have been possible had he simply used his vision to stare at the television documentary. "His fingers rode my fingers as my hand went over the paper. It was like nothing in my life up to now (Carver, 1989, p. 374). The husband of "Cathedral" seems to have some sense of the profound insight into communication he has experienced, but Lloyd still drinks his champagne sitting around in the middle of the day, watching television to shut out the world. Lloyd is happy that his hearing has returned in a vague way, just as he was only vaguely aware that his hearing was impaired. It is Inez who is aware that he sounds like he is deaf, as he has been deaf to her entreaties to stop drinking even though she is aware of the harm that it has caused him.

The build-up of wax in Lloyd's ear is thus significant on a literal and a symbolic level. On one hand, it is true he has been deaf to his wife's entreaties not to drink, and literally cannot hear how he sounds to others anymore. It shows how far he has sunk in terms of being able to care for himself, that he does not even notice that he cannot hear, and cannot remember to clear the wax from… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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Compare and Contrast Raymond Carver's Cathedral and Careful.  (2007, August 10).  Retrieved July 13, 2020, from

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"Compare and Contrast Raymond Carver's Cathedral and Careful."  August 10, 2007.  Accessed July 13, 2020.