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Five Basic Human Senses

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As humans, we have our five basic senses. We are able to hear, smell, taste, touch and see. Missing one of these senses can make our lives difficult and depending on which one is lost, it may be overwhelming and make us appear different to the world. Regardless of our disabilities, race, language, or whatever makes us vary from the rest, it does not define our nature. At the end of the day, we all share the same DNA, breathe in the same air but most importantly, we are all human. In Raymond Carver’s short story ‘Cathedral,’ we learn about the narrator’s wife’s friend of ten years who happens to be blind. He spends a night in the narrator’s home after the death of his wife. Before meeting the blind man, the narrator is oblivious and quick to criticize the man without getting to know him. The narrator then goes on to say, “He was no one I knew. And his being blind bothered me”. His mentality of the blind came from movies where he continues to go on and say “the blind moved slowly and never laughed”. The wife tries to alter the perception of the blind man to her husband by playing an audio tape between her and the blind man.

Upon listening to one of the tapes, the narrator and his wife were interrupted by a knock at the door. Hence, the narrator never got to genuinely hear the blind man speak so he proceeds to meet the blind man with a tainted perception. The wife desperately wants them to become friends or at least make the blind man feel comfortable. The narrator is aware of his wife’s desperation and suggests “Maybe I take him bowling”. This remark can be seen as snarky rather than genuine. This event is surprising to the wife since she just told her husband his wife died. At bare minimum, she at least expected her husband to have some sympathy for the man. The reader can infer his remark was snarky because of how his wife reacted to it. She then lashes out on the narrator by saying “goddamn it, his wife’s just died! Don’t you understand that? The man’s lost his wife”.

After this dialogue within this short story, the reader then becomes aware of the protagonist’s awareness of life. We can infer the narrator has his 20/20 vision especially since nothing is mentioned about glasses but is he really seeing? In continuation to this, is the antagonist, who is actually blind, more knowledgeable in comparison to the narrator who can see? The blind man who is now identified as Robert enters their home with the assistance of the narrator’s wife. After settling in, the trio then begins to sit down in hopes of easing the awkwardness that was brought by the narrator’s arrogance towards the blind man. Being the dunce the narrator is, he then asks the blind man “Which side of the train did you sit on?” The wife is immediately bothered and aware of her husband’s nuisance and replies “What’s it matter which side”. After this question, it appears that Robert is also aware of the narrator’s perspective towards him and in a way, continues to understand his oblivious mentality. He proceeds to answer the question by saying “right side” and even provides a backstory where he admits that he’s “nearly forgotten the sensation” of being on a train.

After meeting Robert, the reader is aware of the narrator’s incompetence to fully grasp the thought of a blind man having the abilities to do something properly. Furthermore, the point of view that the author decided to use is crucial in this short story. Without this, we wouldn’t understand why the narrator is acting in this manner towards Robert. Since this story is told in the first-person point of view, the reader gets an insight on how the narrator views Robert’s abilities as a human being. The narrator then says to himself, “I remembered having read somewhere that the blind didn’t smoke because, as speculation had it, they couldn’t see the smoke they exhaled. I thought I knew that much and that much only about blind people”. This quote shows that the narrator probably viewed himself as superior to Robert and also that he is surprised by Robert’s capabilities. The wife and Robert continue to discuss their past and when Robert tries inviting the narrator to the conversation he tends to stick to small talk responses which inevitably upsets his wife. Later on, the wife decides to join them on the couch but ends up falling asleep. This leaves the narrator and Robert to be indirectly forced to talk in order to ease the awkward quietness in the room. The two men end up watching a TV program which had something about churches and Middle Ages.

The TV program then goes on to show cathedrals and the distinguishing features about them. The narrator then asks Robert, “Do you have any idea what a cathedral is? What they look like, that is”. Robert then goes on to say he only knows just about what was being said on the TV and asks if the narrator could describe one to him. After this unexpected flow of conversation, the narrator then goes on to describe what a cathedral looks like based off the TV program and decides to give Robert a pen and paper so he can attempt to draw it. Suddenly, Robert goes on to ask the narrator if he is religious. At last, the narrator and Robert finally have something in common, they both do not believe in anything. The narrator begins to realize that he isn’t doing Robert any justice by describing the cathedral. Robert then decides to come up with a plan to have him and the narrator draw at the same time so that way Robert can naturally follow the narrator. After they both have pen and paper, Robert goes to the narrator and tells him to close his eyes and keep drawing. Robert lies his hand over the narrator’s hand and when they’re done, Robert asks the narrator to open his eyes. Surprisingly, the narrator keeps his eyes closed and goes on to say “My eyes were still closed. I was in my house.

I knew that. But I didn’t feel like I was inside anything” This line shows that the narrator probably just came to the conclusion that his perception of the blind man was probably not the best fit for him. His awareness of life, especially how he perceived a person with a disability, altered when he finally put himself in the position of the blind man. In the start of this short story, the narrator was sure that Robert could not suffice to the standards of a human being. The narrator saw himself as superior to the man until he genuinely got to know him. In the short story “Cathedral,” Carver uses the point of view to get the reader to understand that just because someone is disabled it doesn’t make them any less human than a person who is not. One may be physically superior but it is nothing in comparison to what lies underneath. The narrator obtained a new awareness of life from the man he criticized even before the moment he entered his home. Robert is as blind as can be and the narrator can look at everything perfectly fine but in reality, he was not genuinely seeing.

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