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Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral” and John Updike’s “A&P”

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  • Category: Cathedral

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Point of View in Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral” and John Updike’s “A&P” Point of view and narration are effective aspects of story telling; they give the audience insight to the character’s development throughout the story. In Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral” and John Updike’s “A&P” first-person narration is used to describe to different experiences; both share an epiphany at the end of each story. The epiphanies in each story, although different, are more profound since they are told in first-person.

In Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral” the narrator is unenthusiastic about a blind man visiting his house, when he discusses blind stereotypes, he states, “He was no one I knew. And his being blind bothered me. My idea of blindness came from movies. In the movies, the blind moved slowly and never laughed. Sometimes they were led by seeing-eye dogs. A blind man in my house was not something I looked forward to” (Carver 33). Carver presents these claims in a first-person narration so that the reader gets a good image of the narrators character. The reader can infer that the narrator is apprehensive toward the blind man and seems generally closed minded. This inference of a generally close-minded narrator is important to the epiphany that occurs later in the story by it emphasizing how much the narrator develops from beginning of the story to the end by relaying a personal account.

As Carver’s “Cathedral” progresses, the use of first-person narration becomes more evidently headed for an epiphany, when the narrator declares that cathedrals are meaningless, stating that, “[T]he truth is, cathedrals don’t mean anything special to me. Nothing. Cathedrals. They’re something to look at on late-night TV. That’s all they are”(Carver 41). His confession demonstrates to the reader that the narrator is trying to begin to understand what the blind man sees, but isn’t quite sure what there is to see in cathedrals; little does he know that the blind man will soon teach him to see, not just in regards to sensory perceptions. Doing this in first-person gives the audience a sense of how the narrator has changed, thus far.

At the end of Carver’s “Cathedral” the narrator becomes severely invested and passionate about the cathedral he has been drawing with the blind man. The blind man tells the narrator to close his eyes and continue until the drawing is finished, when the narrator stops drawing, the blind man asks if he is looking, when the narrator has an epiphany and says, “[M]y eyes were still closed. I was in my house. I knew that. But I didn’t feel like I was inside anything. It’s really something” (Carver 42). Through this first-person account of an epiphany the reader gets all of the suspense associated with drawing this cathedral that only moments before meant nothing to the narrator. Confessing the story in first-person narration invites the reader to appreciate the character’s climatic development, and can adequately recognize the significance of the narrator’s epiphany. John Updike also uses first-person narration in “A&P” to effectively articulate Sammy’s experience with three girls. As Sammy describes the more attractive girl, he emphasizes a typical teenage boys perspective on teenage girls when he describes his favorite girl, Queenie, when he says, “She had on a kind on dirty pink-beige maybe, I don’t know- bathing suit with a little nubble over it and, what got me, the straps were down” (Updike 156).

This humorous account of a teenage girls attire allows the reader to interpret Sammy’s inexperienced ill-conceived description of this girl. Although Sammy’s imagery seemed nonchalant in regard to some details, he was quick to identify the detail that interested him the most, the girls dangling bikini straps. Carver’s presentation of this in first-person shows the reader that Sammy is an average teenage boy, infatuated with a particular teenage girl, this leaves room for the character growth that will lead Sammy to the epiphany in the end. In Updike’s “A&P” after Sammy quits his job he goes out to the parking lot and implies ownership to the girls, saying “I look around for my girls, but they’re gone, of course” (Updike 159). The disappointed tone of this particular passage emphasizes Sammy’s imminent epiphany. Doing so in first-person gives the reader an accurate sense of how the narrator feels at this point in the story, the reader can then sympathize with the situation.

Sammy’s epiphany occurs in Updike’s “A&P” when he realizes that life is going to be difficult. He confesses, “My stomach kind of fell as I felt how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter”(Updike 159). Here Sammy realizes that this is one of many disappointments to come in his future. The reader can relate and sympathize with Sammy as he seemed somewhat naïve and optimistic in the beginning of the story, and is now filled with disappointment upon his epiphany.

In Carver’s “Cathedral” and Updike’s “A&P” point of view is used to demonstrate the significance of an epiphany. In “Cathedral” a physically blind man teaches a mentally blind man to see, and in “A&P” a teenage boy’s disappointing experience with the opposite sex, leads him to realize how hard his future will be. Both are told in first-person to allow the reader to fully view the growth of two different characters although they grow in different ways, the delivery is the same and effectively demonstrates a significant epiphany in the end of each story.

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