For Carver in “Cathedral,” salvation lies in human contact and connection. How is this reflected in the story?
In “Cathedral”, Raymond Carver, the author, illustrates that salvation lies in human contact and connection. At the beginning of the story it was obvious that the narrator (who was also the husband) was very lonely. His relationship with his wife was poor as she questioned whether he really loved her especially when he didn’t want her to invite her friend Robert (the blind man) whom she really cared about. “‘If you love me,’ she said, ‘you can do this for me. If you don’t love me, okay.” Most likely he felt threatened by Robert especially since she told Robert about him and he never met Robert before. He also didn’t have close relationships with other people. “‘You don’t have any friends,’ she said.” (page 118)
The only names actually mentioned were of Beulah (Robert’s wife who died) and Robert. The narrator refers to himself as “I” but is never associated with a name and the wife isn’t associated with a name either. This dehumanizes both the husband and wife and the husband feels stuck in life especially with his career. This is especially shown when Robert asks him questions to make conversation. “From time to time, he’d turn his blind face toward me, put his hand under his beard, ask me something. How long have I been in my present position? (Three years.) Did I like my work? (I didn’t). Was I going to stay with it? (What were the options?)” (page 122)
The husband has many stereotypes about what blind people don’t do even though he has never met a blind person before. He found Robert a very interesting man and his good description of him shows that Robert’s prejudices are slowly melting away. “I’ve never met, or personally known, anyone who was blind. This blind man was late forties, a heavy-set, balding man with stooped shoulders, as if he carried a great weight there. He wore brown slacks, brown shoes, a light-brown shirt, a tie, a sports coat. Spiffy. He also had this full beard. But he didn’t use a cane and he didn’t wear dark glasses. I’ve always thought dark glasses were a must for the blind. Fact was, I wished he had a pair. At first glance, his eyes looked like anyone else’s eyes. But if you look close, there was something different about them. Too much white in the iris, for one thing, and the pupils seemed to move around in the sockets without his knowing it or being able to stop it. Creepy. As I stared at his face, I saw the left pupil turn in toward his nose while the other made an effort to keep in one place. But it was only an effort, for that eye was on the roam without his knowing it r wanting it to be.” (page 120). The husband overcomes his fear for those who are different from him and this is done through his interaction with Robert. In doing so, he may come to the realization that his relationship with his wife needs help and that he should try and find a job he likes even if that means moving somewhere else. Robert and the husband shared a lot of things in the story such as the prayer before dinner, dinner, the Scotch, dope, sitting in front of the TV. As they were sitting in front of the TV, Robert asked questions about the show and later had the husband get paper and ink so they could draw. Then the husband drew a picture of a cathedral on heavy paper using an ink pen. “So I began. First I drew a box that looked like a house. It could have been the house I lived in. Then I put a roof on it. At either end of the roof, I drew spies. Crazy”…’Never thought anything like this could happen in your lifetime, did you, bub? Well, it’s a strange life, we all know that. Go on now. Keep it up. I put in windows with arches. I drew flying buttresses. I hung great doors. I couldn’t stop. The TV station went off the air. I put down the pen and closed and opened my fingers. The blind man felt round over the paper. He moved the tips of his fingers over the paper, all over what I had drawn, and he nodded. ‘Doing fine,’ the blind man said.” (page 126) The narrator through drawing the cathedral learned more about human communication as well as what it’s like to be blind when he was drawing while his eyes were closed. Even though Robert and the husband are engaged in the drawing, it is interesting to note that the husband still feels compelled to refer to Robert as “the blind man” rather than by his name. “‘Close your eyes now,’ the blind man said to me. I did it. I closed them just like he said…’Don’t stop now. Draw’. (page 127)
5. What are the meanings of O’Connor’s choices of names in “Good Country People” What do these names reveal in terms of the theme of the story?
In “Good Country People”, the author, Flannery O’Connor chose the names of the characters and these names were incorporated in the theme of the story. Manley Pointer was named because “Manley” stands for manhood and “Pointer” refers to a man’s penis, which represents power. Manley Pointer, the Bible salesman, was a symbolic meaning of power. In the story, he steals Hulga’s leg and in doing so steals her power. “‘Give me my leg,’ she said. He pushed it further away with his foot. ‘Come on now, let’s begin to have us a good time,’ he said coaxingly. ‘We ain’t got to know one another good yet.” (page 550) Later on, he admits he isn’t a “good country” person and that he has been cheating people in the past. “The boy’s mouth was set angrily. ‘I hope you don’t think,’ he said in a lofty indignant tone, ‘that I believe in that crap! I may sell Bibles but I know which end is up and I wasn’t born yesterday and I know where I’m going!’…’I’ve gotten a lot of interesting things,’ he said, ‘One time I got a woman’s glass eye this way. And you needn’t think you’ll catch me because Pointer ain’t really my name. I use a different name at every house I call at and don’t stay nowhere long.'” (page 550)
The author gave cues earlier in the story that Manley was not to be trusted. When he referred to the word Christian he pronounced the name falsely just like how he was playing a false act and was really not a Christian at all even though he went door to door trying to sell Bibles. He pronounced “Christian” as “Chrustian” – and the important meaning of the word Christian is Christ not “Chrust”. “‘Lady,’ he said, ‘for a Chrustian, the word of God ought to be in every room in the house besides in his heart. I know you’re a Chrustian because I can see it in every line of your face.'”(page 541)
Manley wasn’t the only fake in the story. Mrs. Hopewell indirectly defines “good country people” as people who are friendly, outgoing, honest, and simple. However, her own daughters Glynese and Carramae were anything but good country people. “Glynese, a red-head, was eighteen and had many admirers; Carramae, a blonde, was only fifteen but already married and pregnant. She could not keep anything on her stomach.” (page 537)
Mrs. Hopewell engaged in conversation that didn’t really accomplish anything and was just mindless dribble. “Nothing is perfect. This was one of Mrs. Hopewell’s favorite sayings. Another was: that is life! And still another, the most important, was: well, other people have their opinions too. She would make these statements, usually at the table, in a tone of gentle insistence as if no one held them but her, and the large hulking Joy, whose constant outrage had obliterated every expression from her face, would stare just a little to the side of her, her eyes icy blue, with the look of someone who has achieved blindness by an act of will and means to keep it.” (pages 537-538)
She named her daughter Joy, because she wanted her daughter to be optimistic but Joy changed her name to Hulga because Joy felt that she wasn’t pretty at all and was never able to find the right guy. In addition to that, her leg was shot and she had to get a fake leg. “Mrs. Hopewell excused this attitude because of the leg (which had been shot off in a hunting accident when Joy was ten). It was hard for Mrs. Hopewell to realize that her child was thirty-two now and that for more than twenty years she had only one leg. She thought of her still as a child because it tore her heart to think instead of the poor stout girl in her thirties who had never danced a step or had any normal good times. Her name was really Joy but as soon as she was twenty-one and away from home, she had had it legally changed. Mrs. Hopewell was certain that she had thought and thought until she had hit upon the ugliest name in any language. Then she had gone and had the beautiful name, Joy changed without telling her mother until after she had done it. Her legal name was Hulga.” (page 538) Later in the story, we learn that Mrs. Hopewell “could not understand deliberate rudeness, although she lived with it, and she felt she had always to overflow with hospitality to make up for Joy’s lack of courtesy.” (page 542)
Mrs. Freeman was one of Mrs. Hopewell’s hired hands and she wore a neutral expression when she was alone but when she was with other people she wore an either forward or reverse expression and she could never admit she was wrong. “Mrs. Freeman had a special fondness for the details of secret infections, hidden deformities, assaults upon children. Of diseases, she preferred the lingering or incurable. Hulga had heard Mrs. Hopewell give her the details of the hunting accident, how the leg had been literally blasted off, how she never lost consciousness. Mrs. Freeman could listen to it any time as if it had happened an hour ago.” (page 539)