Study Guide for Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral”

Study Guide for Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral” (First printed in the Atlantic Monthly in 1981) – Raymond Carver (1938-1988)

Discussion Questions for “Cathedral”

Identify the narrative voice and comment on its significance for Carver’s story.

Although the blind man calls the narrator “Bub”, he is never named in the story. Why not?  The narrator’s wife is never given a name either? Why not?

What does the blind man’s train journey signify in the story?

Study the opening paragraphs of the story and discuss what the representation of the narrator reveals about his character and his relationship with his wife.

What do the opening paragraphs of the story reveal about the narrator’s wife? What do we learn about her past and her present?

Why do you think the narrator does not name his wife’s ex-husband but simply calls him “the officer”?

Why do you think the narrator’s wife’s relationships with the blind man and her ex-husband are important for our understanding of the narrator?

What is the symbolic value of the blind man’s touching the face of the narrator’s wife?

What does poetry mean to the narrator’s wife? What does it mean to the narrator?

What is the symbolic value of the tapes the narrator’s wife sends to the blind man?

What is the significance of the narrator’s imagining the blind man’s deceased wife?

What happens at the dinner? Do you see any change in the narrator?

Locate the paragraphs in which there are references to media and comment on how they function in the story.

Discuss the symbolic significance of the cathedral in the story.

Why do you think the blind man asks the narrator to close his eyes while drawing a cathedral?

How is the narrator presented in the closing paragraphs of the story? Is there any change? Justify your view with quotations from the story.

Make a list of the themes in the story.

To what extent would you describe Carver’s story as a religious story? Why? Why not?

Extension activity: Raymond Carver’s fiction and Edward Hopper’s paintings demonstrate some thematic links. Do some research about Hopper’s paintings and Carver’s fiction and identify some possible links between the two. (Hopper Bio / Hopper 1 – Video / Hopper 2 – Video / Hopper 3-Video Podcast / )

© Ali Nihat Eken, Istanbul, December 2008