Course Hero Logo

Cathedral | Study Guide

Raymond Carver

Get the eBook on Amazon to study offline.

Buy on Amazon Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic


Course Hero. "Cathedral Study Guide." Course Hero. 27 Oct. 2016. Web. 1 June 2023. <>.

In text

(Course Hero)



Course Hero. (2016, October 27). Cathedral Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved June 1, 2023, from

In text

(Course Hero, 2016)



Course Hero. "Cathedral Study Guide." October 27, 2016. Accessed June 1, 2023.


Course Hero, "Cathedral Study Guide," October 27, 2016, accessed June 1, 2023,

Cathedral | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


In "Cathedral" why do the characters attack their dinner "like there's no tomorrow"?

Each of the characters has been nervously anticipating Robert's arrival since it was first planned. The narrator has been coping with feelings of jealousy and resentment. His wife has been worried about how Robert is dealing with the loss of his wife, and how her husband will behave during the visit. Robert is coping with his grief and is also facing an unknown situation in meeting the narrator for the first time. The action of eating is a both a release for their pent-up emotions and a way of girding themselves before they set about to get reacquainted or newly acquainted, as the case may be.

In "Cathedral" what does it suggest about the narrator that he often has nightmares and deals with them by staying up alone every night and using drugs?

The narrator says, "When I did go to sleep, I had these dreams. Sometimes I'd wake up from one of them, my heart going crazy." Stress and anxiety are commonly recognized causes of nightmares. The narrator's interactions with his wife reveal that he is stressed and anxious about the state of his marriage. The isolation he feels in his marriage is magnified because, as his wife points out, he has no friends. He tells Robert he's not happy in his job but he sees no possibility of finding more fulfilling work. Keeping these anxieties bottled up, as the narrator seems to do, would be a likely cause of nightmares. The way he deals with the nightmares, by staying up alone every night and using drugs, only increases his isolation from his wife.

In "Cathedral" what is the significance of the narrator's wife seating herself on the sofa between Robert and her husband, smoking marijuana with them, and then falling asleep?

Before the narrator's wife sits down, she gives her husband "a savage look" for giving Robert marijuana. But when Robert laughs and reassures her that he's trying it for the first time and is comfortable with it, she relaxes and joins them. She has told Robert she wants him to feel comfortable, and she wants her husband to get along with Robert. In sitting between them, she represents a bridge between her husband and her friend. When she falls asleep, it shows a certain confidence in her husband's ability to behave himself and allows Robert and the narrator to talk to each other, leading to a better understanding between them.

How does Carver portray the friendship between Robert and the narrator's wife in "Cathedral," and why is it so important to each of them?

Carver portrays the friendship between Robert and the narrator's wife as one that is characterized by openness, generosity, and affection. When the wife reaches out to Robert in her loneliness during her first marriage, he generously suggests that they keep in touch by sending audio tapes back and forth, and he's diligent about responding to her over the years. As a sounding board and mentor to the narrator's wife, Robert seems to have offered a great deal to her in the way of moral support and encouragement. In return, he gained the satisfaction of helping someone he likes and respects. Now that Robert is dealing with the grief of losing Beulah, the narrator's wife is stepping in to offer him support and affection. She's fiercely protective of Robert when she suspects her husband may be on the verge of being disrespectful to her friend, emphasizing that she wants Robert to "feel comfortable in this house" as a veiled warning to the narrator. Robert and the narrator's wife are like family; they know they can rely on each other without question.

How might the narrator of "Cathedral" benefit from taking to heart Robert's comments about learning?

Robert tells the narrator, "I'm always learning something. Learning never ends." Robert's intellectual curiosity is evident in the different types of jobs he's held, the interest he takes in making friends with people in other countries through his ham radio hobby, and his willingness to try new experiences. The narrator, on the other hand, lives a life of drab sameness. Instead of delving into the reasons for his feelings of boredom and discontent, or channeling his energy into learning new skills or developing new interests, he dulls his intellect by using drugs and alcohol. Cultivating the kind of intellectual curiosity Robert has would make life a lot more interesting for the narrator.

In "Cathedral" what is revealed about Robert when he says that the cathedral builders, who didn't live to complete their life's work, were "no different from the rest of us"?

Robert says, "The men who began their life's work on [building the cathedrals], they never lived to see the completion of their work." He philosophically suggests that most of us, when death comes, will not have completed our life's work. After he says this, he laughs and then closes his eyes and seems "to be snoozing." Given the topic, Robert's laugh is likely to be a wry laugh, rather than an expression of humor. Robert may be thinking of the recent death of his wife, which cut off their marriage after too short a time. Robert's comment shows his ability to look at the big picture by making connections between his own experience and the experiences of people who lived hundreds of years ago, and those yet to come.

Why is it surprising that Robert in "Cathedral" asks if the paintings in the cathedral are frescoes?

In asking about frescoes, Robert reveals that he knows more about art than might be expected of a blind man. In fact, he seems to know more than the narrator, who doesn't know that a fresco is a mural. He says, "I tried to remember what I could remember" and he can't remember, finally admitting that he doesn't know whether the paintings are frescoes. He should be able to tell by looking at the images on the TV screen whether the paintings are made directly on the cathedral walls. It's ironic that Robert, a blind man, is more familiar with painting techniques than the narrator, who is sighted.

Why does the narrator of "Cathedral" feel that his description of a cathedral falls short, and why is his reaction significant?

The narrator can tell from the blind man's body language that he doesn't understand the narrator's description. He's rocking back and forth and "running his fingers through his beard." It's significant that the narrator notices this, because it's the first time he picks up on and responds to feedback when he's engaged in conversation. The narrator tells Robert, "You'll have to forgive me ... But I can't tell you what a cathedral looks like. It just isn't in me to do it." The narrator's apology to Robert for failing to convey what a cathedral looks like is significant, because acknowledging his inability to communicate a simple description is a first step toward understanding that he needs to learn to communicate with his wife and others about his feelings.

In "Cathedral" why does the narrator's wife seem concerned or upset when she wakes up and sees Robert and her husband drawing?

The narrator's wife wakes up and sees Robert and her husband sitting on the floor drawing a cathedral on a paper bag spread out on the coffee table. She can't figure out what they're doing, and it worries her because she doesn't trust her husband to be respectful of her friend. She might be afraid her husband has talked Robert into doing something embarrassing just because he thinks it is humorous. She may also be feeling left out of what she can tell is a significant and intimate moment between Robert and the narrator. But Robert reassures the narrator's wife that "It's all right," and it soon becomes evident that Robert is in charge of the activity, coaching and encouraging the narrator.

Raymond Carver told a Paris Review interviewer that "Good fiction is partly a bringing of the news from one world to another." How does "Cathedral" fit that definition?

At the beginning of the story "Cathedral," the narrator seems trapped in a world of disappointed hopes, stunted expectations, and isolation. The narrator and his wife are simply going through the motions of everyday life, talking past each other and not making connections in their drab suburban lives. She tries to explain why Robert and Beulah's marriage was so special, and, unable to grasp her meaning, he goes off into an imaginary scenario about Beulah's regrets on her deathbed. The "news" that the story brings to readers is that life doesn't have to be this way. Robert's role in the story as a kind of spiritual guide shows that it's possible to learn how to take a different perspective, which can lead to new ways to find meaning in seemingly mundane places.

Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about Cathedral? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!