November 7, 2017
Psychological Blindness and The Human Condition
Throughout life, a plethora of people become psychologically blind, consumed by preconceived thoughts of the reality in which they reside. This results in an inconsistency not only in their everyday routine but their relationships as well. The societal pressures to achieve the ideal life results in turmoil, distress, and depression in an individual who is struggling to achieve these established goals. In Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral”, the narrator is plagued with the inevitable human condition of monotony. This plague causes him to become blind to all of the aspects of his life, leaving him to bear a rather unwelcoming reality. This theme of blindness is saturated throughout Carver’s short story, leaving the audience to question their own psychological blindness. It is when an individual looks beyond oneself and perceives reality not as a curse from God, but as a new opportunity to resurrect the latent meaning of love and acceptance in a dissociative society, then they can live an optimistic, fulfilled life.
In Carver’s “Cathedral”, the audience can conclude that the narrator is an individual who lives a monotonous existence, haunted by the looming fear that he is not sufficient enough. This is evident in his marriage. The narrator is devoted to his wife in regard to unconditional love, however, he is blind to her attempts to connect with her psychologically. He is too preoccupied with providing a stable, monotonous environment that acts as a security for him. This reoccurring theme of blindness erects tribulations that cause their dissociative relationship and fuels the insecurities that reside in the latent part of their mind. It can be assumed that this security acts as a defense mechanism against the looming depressive attributions of their marriage. Both are unhappy people, as seen when his wife tries to commit suicide in her first marriage, as seen in the quote “She got to feeling she couldn’t go it another step. She went in and swallowed all the pills and capsules in the medicine chest and washed them down with a bottle of gin But instead of dying, she got sick. She threw up.”(33). Likewise, it is also seen when the narrator makes abrupt, rude statements throughout the text, as seen in quote “I’d always thought dark glasses were a must for the blind. Fact was, I wish he had a pair.” (36). According to a psychological study, “depressed persons were found to emit a higher percentage of negative messages ended to emit more depressive behaviors, including negative mood expressions, negative statements of well-being, negative self-evaluations, and expressions of helplessness.” (Basco et al. 184, 185). This depression plagues the narrator’s marriage, leaving both husband and wife blind to each other’s wants and needs.
Likewise, the theme of blindness is evident when the narrator meets his wife’s blind friend Robert. He acts on behavior learned from society, instantly attributing blind stereotypes to this man he has never conversed with until this point. Through his demeaning comments, the audience can observe the narrator’s blindness towards Robert as a person psychologically. According to the Affective Forecasting study, it can be concluded that “how one thinks she or he may feel in response to the presence of a rival need not necessarily reflect reality.” (DeSteno et al. 627). The narrator can only see Roberts physical flaws, thus rendering him to be uncomfortable around this man and judging his every action and word. This can be seen in the quote “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.” (36). Likewise, the narrator assumes that because Robert is blind, he cannot please or satisfy any women the way she wants to be. This is seen in his statement “Then I found myself thinking what a pitiful life this woman must have led. Imagine a woman who could never see herself as she was seen in the eyes of her loved one.”(34). This demeaning behavior correlates with the narrator’s insecurities about his own life. Carver makes it known that the narrator’s wife has a flourishing psychological relationship with Robert, one that the narrator lacks. This causes him to become insecure and jealous, rendering him blind to reality and the genuine person that Robert is.
Subsequently, when Robert enters the narrators’ house, he breaks the security of monotony that he has built. This includes talking about religion and his beliefs. When Robert asks the narrator if he has any religious affiliation, he responds “I guess I don’t believe in it. In anything. Sometimes it’s hard. You know what I’m saying?” (41). This statement shows that in addition to being blind to his wife’s needs, Roberts psychological qualities, and following his own intrinsic beliefs, the narrator is also blind to the power of religion. According to a 1951 study by Brown and Lowe, their findings concluded that “lower levels of depression (and higher life satisfaction) correlated with an intrinsic orientation, and higher levels of depression (lower life satisfaction) correlated with an extrinsic orientation.” (Hodges 112). Robert lives an intrinsic life, setting and accomplishing goals that leave him satisfied internally, not blind to his self-desires. However, the narrator lives and extrinsic life that leaves him unsatisfied due to the fact that he is living a monotonous life that society has conditioned the majority of the population into believing will bring them happiness. Simply put, the narrator is blind to his own intrinsic needs and desires that would bring him closer to god and cure his insecurities. In addition, a psychological study found that “Increased religious involvement is associated with decreased psychological distress and lower levels of depression (McCullough and Larson 1999; Wink and Scott 2005) and anxiety (Tapanya et al. 1997; Van Ness and Larson 2002). Religion may play a particularly important role in protecting against depression when stressors occur (Musick et al. 1998), as well as in predicting naturalistic improvement over time in depressive symptoms.” (Paukert et al. 100). Even though Roberts wife died, he is not in despair. It can be concluded that this is because of his ability to not be blind psychologically and see past the social stigma of indefinite mourning and being withdrawn from the world. Instead, he contacts an individual who he knows brings him happiness and fills his life with optimism. This is seen in the quote “His wife had died. So he was visiting the dead wife’s relatives in Connecticut. He called my wife from his in- law’s. Arrangements were made.” (32). Robert could tell that the narrator was a broken, blind man and was determined to catalyze his religious awakening so he could see an untainted, prosperous reality. When the narrator takes Roberts hand and draws a cathedral with him, he has an intimate connection from mind to soul. It was at that point that Robert was able to obtain an insight into the narrator’s raw thought and brain function. Each line is a visual representation of a thought and image that the narrator is able to show Robert, but without visually seeing it. When the two were drawing, it shows that the two men are equal, despite Roberts visual impairment. It is here that Robert allows the narrator to send his sauntering soul to the house of God to reinvigorate his passion for life again and develop a new, intrinsic insight on life. Robert gave the narrator the opportunity to connect the mind with the soul and break the barrier of societal conditioning that caused his blindness to reality. Thus, the narrator was able to finally perceive that there were beauty and complexity in every little line, every little thing in this world.
Throughout Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral”, Robert is able to open the narrator’s mind to a new perspective so that he too could perceive the beauty and greatness in the world that encompasses him. This allowed the narrator to ultimately achieve a spiritual awakening that catalyzed a change in his everyday life, relationship with reality, and his wife. However, due to “Cathedral” not having a traditional ending, it is up to the audience to interpret how the narrator’s life will continue. This coincides with the theme of blindness. The audience was blind to the reality of the narrator and his wife until they started audience about their past experiences and current reality. Likewise, once Robert was introduced, they were able to obtain a new perspective on the way the narrator and his wife perceives individuals who are deemed different by society. It was Roberts optimistic view on life that allowed the narrator to develop a new perspective on life, thus altering the original opinion that the audience had. This coincides with the narrator’s flaw, that we are too quick to judge an individual and do not consider that an individual can change once they start to show their true personality, or once he or she hears a new perspective. It is the ending that Carver shows the tragic flaw of the human condition is to be blinded by biases and stereotypes. Only once an individual develops an open mind can they begin to perceive reality in its greatness. It is society that conditions individuals to be blind to certain aspects of their life by stating that they should act like such or achieve such in order to achieve happiness. Due to Robert being physically blind, he was able to remain unbiased and teach the narrator and his wife the true meaning and value of this fragile life that God has blessed everyone with, and that it should not be taken for granted.
Basco, Monica Ramirez, et al. “Communication and Intimacy in the Marriages of Depressed Patients.” Journal of Family Psychology, vol. 6, no. 2, Dec. 1992, pp. 184-194. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1037/0893-3188.8.131.52.
Carver, Raymond. “The Cathedral.” W.W Norton & Company, 2016.
DeSteno, David, et al. “Jealousy and the Threatened Self: Getting to the Heart of the Green-Eyed Monster.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 91, no. 4, Oct. 2006, pp. 626-641. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1037/0022-35184.108.40.2066.
Hodges, S. Journal of Adult Development (2002) 9: 109. https://doi-org.db23.linccweb.org/10.1023/A:1015733329006
Paukert, A.L., Phillips, L.L., Cully, J.A. et al. J Contemp Psychother (2011) 41: 99. https://doi-org.db23.linccweb.org/10.1007/s10879-010-9154-0