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Cathedral | Study Guide

Raymond Carver

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Course Hero. "Cathedral Study Guide." October 27, 2016. Accessed June 4, 2023.


Course Hero, "Cathedral Study Guide," October 27, 2016, accessed June 4, 2023,

Cathedral | Motifs


Drugs and Alcohol

The narrator drinks alcohol throughout the story and is constantly making drinks for his wife and for Robert. The narrator admits he also smokes marijuana every night before he goes to bed. After dinner, Robert, a chain smoker of cigarettes, tries marijuana for the first time with the narrator and his wife. The casual use of drugs and alcohol is a reflection of 1970s culture. It also indicates a desire to escape from humdrum everyday life, and for the narrator, from himself. The recurring references to alcohol signal that alcoholism is—or will soon be—another threat to the narrator's marriage.


Technology, in the form of telephone and audio tape, allows Robert and the narrator's wife to converse with one another on a regular basis, and it plays an important role in maintaining their friendship. The narrator initially turns on the TV to avoid conversation, but instead, he finds himself trying to explain the TV images to his blind guest, which opens an avenue of communication between them.


The narrator's joking predinner prayer ("Pray the phone won't ring and the food doesn't get cold") is a lighthearted expression of the spiritual void in which he seems to exist. When Robert asks him if he's religious, he says no, noting with rare candor that "sometimes it's hard" not to believe in anything. The narrator's experience of his world is devoid of feeling and value—readers can see that it's not just religion the narrator lacks, but also any sense of meaning in his life. This is mirrored in his struggle to describe and explain the cathedral to Robert. The final scene serves as a turning point, in which the narrator seems to actually have a spiritual experience from learning something new, from seeing something in a way he never has, and from connecting with someone else.

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