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“The Cathedral” March 3, 2011

March 3rd, 2011 by Patricia Nichtern

In Raymond Carver’s, “The Cathedral”, the main character Raymond is a blind middle-aged man.  He seems to welcome unfamiliar places and experiences on his own.  He traveled, alone, taking a cross-continental flight and a 5 hour train ride.  He does not use a cane or a seeing-eye dog, rather he relies on his other more heightened senses; hearing, touching and smelling.  As Tuan states his “experience thus implies the ability to learn from what (he) has undergone.  To experience is to learn; it means acting on the given and creating out of the given” (9).  He learns to deal with his blindness by experiencing with his other senses.  He feels around people’s faces to get an idea of what they look like.  He listens to descriptions of where obstacles are around him and adjusts accordingly.  He has mastered eating with a fork a knife and knowing exactly where the food is around him.  Through experience, he can identify food not by seeing it, but by its smell.  This, I’m sure, did not happen without experimentation and practice.  Tuan states “to experience in the active sense requires that one venture forth into the unfamiliar and experiment with the elusive and uncertain (9).  This is how Robert constructs ideas of space.  Robert is not “bound by what he sees and feels in his home and local neighborhood” (Tuan 31).  Like a child, Robert probably does not attack significance with places.  He has no concept of what a cathedral is.  He uses his imagination and feels the man’s hand as it draws over the paper.  He feels the indentations on the paper to familiarize himself with the strokes and to try to make sense of it.  Just as Tuan states he was using his “mind to formulate spatial concepts (to) further enhance (his) spatial ability (75).  At the end of the short story, the husband had his eyes closed and describes how he felt:  “I was in my house.  I knew that.  But I didn’t feel like I was inside anything” (Carver 103).   The husband is used to relying on his sight to formulate spatial values.  Without that he could imagine he is anywhere, or nowhere.

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