Both stories have a first-person narrator, but they are different people. The husband is the narrator in Carverâs story while the wife is the narrator in Gallagherâs version. The narrator in âCathedralâ makes his ill-feeling towards the blind man made quite obvious to the reader by saying âhis being blind bothered meâ (Carver pg. 20) and âA blind man in my house was not something I was looking forward toâ (pg. 21). The narrator had never known a blind person before, and his âidea of blindness came from the moviesâ (pg. 20), where they are normally portrayed as weak, slow and a burden. So the narratorâs views of a blind person are how society and the media have depicted them, and so this is how most people who havenât met a blind person would think of them. But as the story goes on the narrator finds himself to be quite comfortable with this man and in the end, they draw a picture together. This is evident when the narrator says âHis fingers rode my fingers as my hand went over the paperâ (pg. 30). The narrator who had previously referred to this manâs eyes as âCreepyâ (pg. 24) was now embracing him and holding hands as they draw a picture together. In Gallagherâs story, the narrator has a much stronger connection to the blind man and recounts some of her past with him and gives us more insight into their relationship and how they âedged into friendshipâ (Gallagher pg. 160). Though Gallagherâs narrator doesnât touch as much on the prejudices about the blind man, it does mention how her husband âwas not thrilled to have a blind man in his houseâ (pg. 165). The narrator is more concerned with the blind manâs feelings in Gallagherâs version of the story than the issue of her husbandâs preconceived notion about the blind man. Furthermore, the way that the blind man is portrayed in the story as constantly needing help from the narrator or other characters substantiates the view of blind people as being helpless.
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The plot in both stories is similar but they do differ as Carver decided to leave out or change certain details that were not as pertinent to the overall meaning of his story. The parts that Gallagher decides to share add more to her telling of the story and the interaction between her and the blind man but add nothing to the main theme that Carverâs version creates.
The majority of both stories take place in the narrator's home with the exception of the flashbacks in both stories and the train station and a dinner party in Gallagherâs rendition. Gallagher adds a part where they travel together to a co-workerâs house for a dinner party and the blind man interacts with some of the characters there. The interaction between the blind man and these characters at the dinner adds to the emotional involvement but still does not build on the theme in Carverâs story. Carver manages to leave out these other characters and the entire event of the dinner party but still accomplishes to get his theme across to the reader.
Within both stories, the blind man is a major character and has a profound effect on the narrator in either story. There is an intersection between the narrator and the blind man. He acts as a sort of catalyst in both stories to bring different reactions from the different narrators. In Gallagherâs story, the narrator has a very powerful bond with the blind man- she is his helper. Through her account of the visit from her blind friend, we can see the exceptionally spiritual and solacing exchange that they share. These prevailing feelings that Gallagherâs narrator has while she interacts with the blind man are the main focus of this story and even though it is compassionate, the theme in âCathedralâ makes for a more powerful message and can reach a greater audience. In Carverâs recounting of his experience, the narrator manages to completely reverse his views of the blind man. He goes as far as to say, âIt was like nothing else in my life up to nowâ (Carver pg. 30). The narrator who began the story seeing this blind man as more of a burden than someone he could learn something new from has an epiphany and realizes the error of his ways. By working together with the blind man on something as simple as a drawing of a cathedral the narrator overcomes his prejudice and his eyes are opened. The blind man says, âYouâll see. Iâll follow along with you. Itâll be okay.â (pg. 29). The theme in Carverâs âCathedralâ is so prominent and important, the ability to overcome prejudice by working together reaches many more people and carries such a stronger meaning then Gallagherâs âRain Flooding you Campfireâ.
The blind man is portrayed very differently by the end of both stories. At the beginning of both stories, the narrators see him as someone who needs their help, just how most of society sees blind people. Gallagher demonstrates this by the way she tells the reader all the things she does to help him. She also adds the fact that the blind man manages to show up a day early. The narrator says âYouâre a day ahead of me, Norman.â (Gallagher pg. 161) and then drops everything and runs out to help the blind man. The narrator refers to his actions as âfumbledâ (pg. 163) when he reaches for her face, and then once they reach her house she has to guide him up the stairs âgrippingâ (pg. 164) his arm as he almost trips. The narrator again infers to the blind manâs weakness when she must rush outside at the end of the story to bring him into bed. Throughout Gallagherâs story, the blind man is portrayed as helpless and the narrator always runs to the rescue to help him. This portrayal of the handicapped as weak just reiterates the stereotypes the media and society already have. Carverâs narrator starts out with a similar view to what the blind man will be like. But even as the blind man first appears in âCathedralâ he turns out to not be what the narrator expected at all. When the car arrives, the narrator watches from the window as the blind man starts getting out of the car by himself and gets his own bag from the back. The blind man continues to surprise the narrator by not looking like what he had expected. He had a large beard and didnât have the stereotypical black glasses and cane, and the narrator refers to his dressing as âSpiffyâ (Carver pg. 24). When the blind man and the narrator start to make the drawing of the cathedral, the narratorâs perception of the blind man really starts to change and he recognizes it as the blind man says, âSure. You got it, bub. I can tell. You didnât think you could. But you can, canât you?â (pg. 30). As the narrator starts to truly understand what the blind man was trying to teach him he keeps his physical eyes closed but opens his mindâs eye to the possibility that this blind man can actually teach him something. Carverâs portrayal of the blind man as a strong character who isnât helpless and manages to teach the narrator something new is an exceptionally important and powerful theme.
Raymond Carverâs âCathedralâ and Tess Gallagherâs âRain Flooding Your Campfireâ are two stories about the same experience, yet they manage to develop very different themes. Gallagherâs reassuring relationship between two long-separated friends is touching and a good read, but Carverâs story of a blind man teaching a prejudiced man that being blind doesnât make him handicapped in every way is more meaningful. Therefore, âCathedralâ is a better story because of its theme and overall meaning being more progressive and influential.