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Reader Response Essays Of Cathedral

Below you will find five outstanding thesis statements for “Cathedral” by Raymond Carver that can be used as essay starters. All five incorporate at least one of the themes found in the text and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements for Carver’s “Cathedral” offer a short summary of different elements that could be important in an essay but you are free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent paper.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1: The Psychology of “Cathedral"

Raymond Carver’s work has been called, among other things, “dirty fiction." This might be, at least in part, because he deals with profound themes by exploring the baseness and rawness of the human condition. Rather than repel the reader, however, Carver’s treatment of these issues is adept and he is able to stir up psychological dilemmas within the reader. In reading “Cathedral," for example, the reader may feel embarrassed or shocked by his or her agreement with the narrator’s initial observations about blindness and the blind man. He may similarly in this short story question the characters’ use of alcohol and drugs as a means both of escape and connection. Consider one or more of the reactions that you had to this short story, and explain how Carver manipulates the characters and his plot through raw truthfulness to provoke psychological dilemmas in the reader.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2: Casual Narration

From the first few lines of this story, the reader gets the sense that this is no ordinary tale. The narrator is extremely casual in telling his story, and this narrative style is deliberately used by the author to engage the reader. Consider the various ways in which the narration of “Cathedral" can be considered a casual narration. Include treatment of issues such as line length, candid admissions, a devil-may-care attitude at times, and word choice in your analysis. Explain how this narrative style works to capture the reader’s attention and make him or her care deeply about the characters in the story.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3: The Function of the Tapes

Early in the story, the narrator explains that his wife has maintained a correspondence with a blind man for whom she worked by sending cassette tape recordings of her voice and his voice back and forth. The narrator expresses a certain ambivalence about these tapes; he sees that they bring his wife a great deal of pleasure, yet he can’t really understand them (nor does he want to). In the tapes, his wife talks about her relationships and experiences connection and catharsis. Write an essay in which you analyze the function of the tapes for each of the three characters. Be sure to address the symbolic meaning that the tapes may hold in relationship to the theme of the story.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4: The Role of the Wife

The narrator’s wife is a principal character for at least half of the story, but then she falls asleep on the couch between the blind man and her husband. Her sudden withdrawal, which we might consider an absence of sorts, provides the possibility of the two men connecting. The wife’s centrality contrasted by her absence is a subtle yet dramatic shift that permits the rest of the story to unfold. At the end of the story, she wakes up and is curious to know what is transpiring between the two men, yet the reader gets the sense that she could not understand even if the men told her. Write an essay in which you analyze the role that the wife plays in this story. Specifically, explain this shift in the degree of her presence and determine what function it plays in the development of the plot.

Thesis Statement/Essay Topic #5: The Metaphors of Blindness

Blindness is a dominant motif in this story, and it serves multiple metaphorical functions. Perhaps the most obvious of these functions is that the friend’s literal blindness is a foil to the narrator’s and his wife’s own blindnesses, which are not physical but social and emotional. Write an essay in which you explore and explain the multiple metaphor of blindness in this story. Alternately, focus on the closing of the story, in which the blind man teaches the narrator how to draw a cathedral, even though he has never seen one.


This list of important quotations from “Cathedral” by Raymond Carver will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes from “Cathedral” listed here correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes and explanations about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned and explained. Aside from the thesis statements above, these quotes alone can act as essay questions or study questions as they are all relevant to the text in an important way. All quotes contain page numbers as well. Look at the bottom of the page to identify which edition of the text they are referring to.

“My idea of blindness came from the movies. In the movies, the blind moved slowly and never laughed. Sometimes they were led by seeing-eye dogs. A blind man in my house was not something I looked forward to." (2533).

“On her last day in the office, the blind man asked if he could touch her face. She agreed to this. She told me he touched his fingers to every part of her face, her nose—even her neck! She never forgot it." (2534)

“Over the years, she put all kinds of stuff on tapes and sent the tapes off lickety-split. Next to writing a poem every year, I think it was her chief means of recreation." (2534)

“They’d married, lived and worked together, slept together—had sex, sure—and then the blind man had to bury her. All this without his having ever seen what the goddamned woman looked like. It was beyond my understanding." (2535)

“Imagine a woman who could never see herself as she was seen in the eyes of her loved one. A woman who could go on day after day and never receive the smallest compliment from her beloved." (2535)

“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." (2537)

“They talked of things that had happened to them—to them!—these past ten years. I waited in vain to hear my name on my wife’s sweet lips….But I heard nothing of the sort." (2538)

“I’ve had a real nice time. This beats tapes, doesn’t it?" (2539)

“She’d turned so that her robe had slipped away from her legs, exposing a juicy thigh. I reached to draw her robe back over her, and it was then that I glanced at the blind man. What the hell! I flipped the robe open again." (2540)

“I stared hard at the shot of the cathedral on the TV. How could I even begin to describe it? But say my life depended on it." (2541)

Reference: Carver, Raymond. “Cathedral." In The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Nina Baym. 2532-2543. New York: W.W. Norton, 2003.

The title story of Carver’s third collection is typical of how his technique and thematic concerns changed after his personal life became more stable. The story contains much more exposition and discussion, more background and efforts at clarification, than the stories in Carver’s first two cryptic collections. “Cathedral” is told by a first-person narrator, a young man who resents the visit of an old friend of his wife—a blind man for whom the wife once read.

Unlike Carver’s earlier stories, which focus primarily on the immediate situation detached from its background, the first quarter of “Cathedral” recounts the narrator’s knowledge of his wife’s previous married life, her friendship with the blind man (especially the fact that they have sent audiotapes back and forth to each other), and even of the blind man’s wife, Beulah, who has recently died. Although the relevance of all this information to the final, epiphanic revelation of the story is not made clear, it does reveal the cynicism of the narrator, who obviously resents his wife’s relationship with the blind man. It also reveals him as an insensitive character who has prejudiced notions about a variety of subjects. For example, his only notion of blind people comes from films, and he asks if the blind man’s wife was “a Negro” only because her name was Beulah.

The conversation among the narrator, his wife, and the blind man that makes up the center of the story is inconclusive, mainly devoted to the blind man’s dispelling many of the prejudiced expectations the narrator has about the blind. The climax toward which the story moves—a confrontation between the narrator and the blind man—begins when the wife goes to sleep and the two men drink and smoke marijuana together. The encounter is triggered by a program on television about Christianity in the Middle Ages—which the narrator watches because there is nothing else on. When the program features a cathedral, the narrator asks the blind man if he knows what a cathedral is. The blind man says he has no real idea and asks the narrator to describe a cathedral to him. When the narrator fails, the blind man asks him if he is religious, to which the narrator says he does not believe in anything.

The blind man then asks the narrator to find some paper and a pen so that they can draw a cathedral together. The blind man puts his hand over the hand of the narrator and tells him to draw, with the blind man’s hand following along with him. The blind man even asks the narrator to close his eyes as they continue drawing. When they finish, the blind man asks him to look at the drawing and tell him what he thinks; the narrator keeps his eyes closed. He knows that he is in his house, but he says that he does not feel like he is inside anything. His final statement is typical Carver inconclusiveness: “It’s really something.”

“Cathedral” is a much-admired Carver story, often finding its way into literature anthologies for college classes; however, it is less experimental and innovative, more explicit, and more conventionally optimistic and moral than his earlier stories. The narrator has obviously reached some sort of traditional epiphany at the end. Ironically, whereas he had been morally blind before, now he is able to see. The story is about his ultimate ability to identify with the blind man, about the two men blending together into one entity. The narrator’s experience is a religious experience in the broadest sense; the fact that a cathedral brings the two men together makes that clear enough.

The story is much more “talky” than Carver’s earlier stories, partially because it is a first-person narrative in which the personality of the narrator is the very thematic heart of the story itself, but also because Carver seems to believe he has an explanation for things that he did not try to account for previously. The tendency toward explanation moved his later work closer to the kind of moral fiction of which his first mentor, Gardner, would have approved.

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