"Cathedral" Part Two: Marital Division, Religious Paralysis (Or "I Had The Feeling She Didn’t Like What She Saw")

For Part One, click here. Though the narrator’s not seeming to sweat it too much, […]

Ethan Richardson / 3.22.11

For Part One, click here.

Though the narrator’s not seeming to sweat it too much, it’s evident that his wife’s blind visitor comes highly regarded—immediately adding aura of oppressive expectation on his arrival. The narrator is aware of the gravity of Robert’s impression on him, but more importantly it’s his impression on Robert that matters most. We hear it in the kind of tone Carver manipulates through the husband:

“Maybe I could take him bowling,” I said to my wife. She was at the draining board doing scalloped potatoes. She put down the knife she was using and turned around.

“If you love me,” she said, “you can do this for me. If you don’t love me, okay. But if you had a friend, any friend, and the friend came to visit, I’d make him feel comfortable.”

… “I don’t have any blind friends,” I said.

When Robert comes through our narrator’s door, this kind of expectation has manifested a personal-social paralysis, an inability to speak freely, or at least to do so self-evidently. This man, through whom the narrator’s wife has had sublimely inner-personal—almost religious—episodes, has created not only a preconditioned unease with Robert’s existence, but has frozen him from any ability to be himself around him, and feel the visitor out. This, in turn, brings about the disappointment they both feared (yet foreknew). Carver paints it sparely, but beautifully.

I started to say something about the old sofa. I’d liked that old sofa. But I didn’t say anything. Then I wanted to say something else, small-talk, about the scenic ride along the Hudson. How going to New York, you should sit on the right-hand side of the train, and coming from New York, the left-hand side.

“Did you have a good train ride?” I said. “Which side of the train did you sit on, by the way?”

“What a question, which side!” my wife said. “What’s it matter which side?” she said.

“I just asked,” I said…My wife finally took her eyes off the blind man and looked at me. I had the feeling she didn’t like what she saw. I shrugged.

Of course, the expectations are really only shared by the married couple—in one’s desire to keep good impressions, the other’s resentment of his inevitable foible. Naturally, Robert isn’t weighing impressions at all. In the grace of ‘being with’ rather than ‘getting at,’ he evokes a total comfort that allows the narrator to be himself, despite the calculated (but understandable) control his wife so earnestly seeks for Robert’s acceptance.

He let his fingers touch the suitcase, which was sitting alongside the sofa. He was taking his bearings. I didn’t blame him for that.

“I’ll move that up to your room,” my wife said.

“No, that’s fine,” the blind man said loudly. “It can go up when I go up.”