A thorough analysis of Cathedral enables one to fully understand the manner in which the events of the story shape and bring to life the main characters of this piece particularly the narrator by first delineating the individual traits of the character in question and then revealing how the character's life is changed in a profound way.
The story begins with the narrator expressing his reservations about the expected visit of a blind man named Robert. He has no idea about the blind and their ways save some stereotypical notions he had gleaned from the movies and consequently he is thoroughly uncomfortable and somewhat hostile, much to his wife's displeasure. The narrator's encounter with Robert starts on an awkward note and proceeds in the same manner until Robert gradually succeeds in forging a tenuous bond between them and at that moment the narrator gains a moving insight into the life of the blind and more importantly he gains a measure of self - awareness that finally enables him to exert control over his life which had been coming apart at the seams.
Blindness, loneliness and escapism are some of the main themes of the Cathedral. At the onset, the narrator says, "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" (Carver 516). These lines reveal the innate short - sightedness of the narrator's character. He proceeds to narrate the nature of his wife's relationship with Robert, which had begun ten years ago, when his wife had been hired to read to the blind man. In time, she married and moved away but the two had continued to stay in touch using tapes. Robert is very important to the wife as he had been the constant anchor that had helped her weather the storms that had raged through her life. The narrator as opposed to Robert is blind when it comes to the feelings and needs of his wife, though the love he bears her is true. His insensitivity is apparent in his dismissive remarks about her poetry, which is clearly important to her, "I can remember I didn't think much about the poem" (Carver 517). He is jealous of the warm relationship that exists between his wife and Robert and is determined to think the worst of the blind man with his beard and his wife named Beulah. His insensitivity, jealousy and prejudice stems from his spiritual blindness that prevents him from opening his heart to others and seeking succor in the warmth that such a relationship can afford.
Initially the reader cannot help but pity the blind man who has recently lost his wife and has nothing but aching loneliness to look forward to. But gradually we realize that it is the narrator and his wife who lead lonely lives, alienated from each other. Robert is the lifeline, the wife clings to when in need. It is revealed that she had tried to commit suicide during her former marriage to a military man out of sheer despair stemming from loneliness. The narrator meanwhile has no one to cleave to. Both of them need each other but they are unable to reach out and comfort each other. It is in this dismal state of affairs that Robert makes an appearance in their lives. Thus the theme of loneliness and alienation is brought out by the events of the wife's