Research Paper: Raymond Carver Cathedral

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Raymond Carver Cathedral

Raymond Carver was a working class author made famous mostly for his short fiction, which was given the genre title of minimalist. His work is reflective of the lives of everyday people, including communication, miscommunication and connectivity.

Raymond Carver has often been described as a "minimalist" writer, one who renders moments of contemporary American life in a language that is spare in expression and bleak in outlook. Implicit in this labeling is the notion that his stories lack any transformative vision, that they present to us tales of alcoholics and losers as though blind, serf-destructive behaviors were matters of naturalistic fact and not subject to change through the insight stories can provide to their characters and their readers. Carver's early critics, notably James Atlas in 1981 and Madison Bell in 1986, accused him of what amounts to a flatness, not only in language, but in artistic vision; in this view, Carver leaves his characters in lives of quiet desperation (see Saltzman 1988, 178-82).

Lounsberry et al. 21)

His early life, as the son of two working class people was a constant hardship as his father's alcoholism took its toll on the family and gave Carver great insight into living in an insular fashion, day by day, subsistence life. Carver married young (19) and seemed to be traveling down the same road, with alcoholism and low wage work plaguing his young family. His interest in writing came relatively late in life and such interest also added to the families, woes as his desire to find a place where he could write and his children and wife could be happy eluded him, and his youthful marriage ended in divorce.

The beginning of his literary career was fruitless, though prolific as he traveled from one college campus to another earning several degrees and even teaching for short stints at that level. It was not until after separating from his wife that his first work was published to any acclaim (1976).

Gelfant and Graver 187-188)

Despite these accomplishments, Carver's life in the late 1960s and early 1970s was peripatetic and bitterly frustrating. As he later said, "we were just looking for a place where I could write and my wife and two children could be happy. It didn't seem like too much to ask for. But we never found it." He worked continually at odd jobs, taught briefly at three University of California campuses and at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, filed twice for bankruptcy, drank heavily, was often hospitalized for acute alcoholism, and finally separated from his wife.

Gelfant and Graver 188)

Carver's works are genuine and demonstrate the daily struggles of men and women, whose lives are not only not what they wish them to be but so insular that they dare not even wish of what they would have when young. Carver's characters have left behind their childhood wishes, relationships, career goals and life goals to settle into, "what is today." His work, Cathedral, is in fact an expression of the glimpses ordinary people might have of insight about the broader, more magical world.

The theme of Cathedral is challenging insularity through novel human connectivity. Opening up to the world makes a new perspective. Raymond Carver Uses a variety of elements to render a theme that provides the readers with a sense that the narrator is an unpleasant human being. Therefore, he needs to change. Through Carver's careful use of narration, symbols, characterizations, image, tone and etc. readers are able to understand how the narrator struggles to understand what people can see it they open themselves up to new experiences.

The work's narrator is openly closed minded, even to his loving wife, whom he doggedly wishes would look at him lovingly, admiringly, but seems to only have such looks for those who she sees as open. As the narrator is introduced to his wife's long lost blind friend Robert, he takes his appearance in, seeing him only as a balding blind man, mid forties with a long beard, yet his wife looks at the man as if he is a symbol of her past, a past which had once been open to all possibilities, "You look distinguished, Robert," she said. "Robert," she said. "Robert, it's just so good to see you." My wife finally took her eyes of the blind man and looked at me. I had the feeling she didn't like what she saw. I Shrugged." (Carver, NP) Later, the narrator again describes the situation, the masculine feeling of jealousy and the need for affirmation. (Bullock 343) "They talked of things that had happened to them -- the them!-these past ten years. I waited in vain to hear my name on my wife's sweet lips: "And then my dear husband came into my life"-something like that. But I heard nothing of the sort. More talk of Robert. Robert had done a little of everything, it seemed, a regular blind jack-of-all-trades." (Carver NP)

The narrator's rejection of Robert, which he repeatedly associates with his own discomfort with Robert being blind, is telling not only of his insular life but of his closed nature, his inability to try new things and meet new people. Early in the story his wife has to convince him that having Robert stay is something he should do, simply because he loves her, yet he does not know Robert, does not care about Robert, nor the fact that he was recently widowed, or that he at one time moved his wife to thought and even literature, as she tried to write a poem about the experience of having Robert, on the last day of her employment with him touch and memorize her face. (Carver NP) the work describes how Robert, after the narrator's wife retreats to sleep, brings to the narrator an experience of mind opening, through drawing a cathedral with him. The experience is an epiphany that equals the earlier experience his wife had, had with Robert, as he realizes the power of the connection between himself and the man, whom he has repeatedly held at bay with rejection. This agrees completely with Nesset's analysis of how collaboration with others brings individuals out of insularity through profound, yet simple rescue. (116) Nesset in fact describes, in less than minimalist terms how Cathedral is unlike Carver's other works in that it shows an epiphany of connectivity between people.

In Cathedral appear other, more extreme versions of insularity, from a husband's self-imposed confinement to a living room in "Preservation" to another's pathetic reluctance to leave an attic garret in "Careful." More strikingly in Cathedral than before, Carver's figures seal themselves off from their worlds, walling out the threatening forces in their lives even as they wall themselves in, retreating destructively into the claustrophobic inner enclosures of self. But corresponding to this new extreme of insularity, there are in several stories equally striking instances where -- pushing insularity the other way -- characters attempt to throw off their entrapping nets and, in a few instances, appear to succeed. In Cathedral, and in Cathedral only, we witness the rare moments of their comings out, a process of opening up in closed-down lives that comes across in both the subjects and events of the stories and in the process of their telling, where self-disenfranchisement is reflected even on the level of discourse, rhetorically or structurally, or both. (Nesset 116)

The work clearly strikes a cord with many, as it is an aspect of repeated literary criticism. Nesset to some degree also agrees with Facknitz who observes in three of Carver's works that human communication, experienced between characters has a healing power, a power that could ultimately change the lives of the characters. (287-296) in Cathedral, Robert becomes a guru of sorts, something that the narrator can then share with his wife, yet the story ends with only the possibility, as his wife wakes and asks what the two of them are doing and together they lull her back to sleep, as if the experience is intended only for them. "My wife said, "what's going on? Robert, what are you doing? What's going on?" "It's all right," he said to her. "Close your eyes now," the blind man said to me." (Carver NP) the reader is left with the impression that the shared experience between the two men could change the life of the narrator, and even the life he shares with his wife, possibly creating a more peaceful existence, maybe even saving them from divorce, created by the man's profound insularity and his inability to express his love for is wife. Early in the work she questions, his love for her and he says nothing, as she says nothing when she is talking with Robert about her love for the narrator or their life together. In the close of the work one could see the possibility of the new day, with the narrator waking and being able to express his love, possibly avoiding the disaster of divorce foreshadowed by… [END OF PREVIEW]

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