Cathedral | Study Guide

Raymond Carver

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Cathedral | Symbols



If the setting of the story—the narrator's house—suggests his inability to see outside of his own limited point of view, the cathedral represents an antithesis. A cathedral entails many levels of symbolic meaning: it is a social space where people come together, a spiritual place of worship, an artifact of history, and a carrier of artistic and imaginative expression (through its architecture and the art and music it contains). All of these elements throw into relief the meaninglessness of the narrator's life.

When Robert clasps his hand over the narrator's hand to draw, the element of personal, physical connection enters into the effort to communicate. The narrator, who readers might expect to recoil from such contact, for once seems overcome by a force larger than himself. In this transcendent moment, the blind man has taught the narrator to see. The final line of the story represents the triumph of imagination when, after the blind man tells him to take a look, he says with eyes still closed, "It's really something."

Twenty-Peso Coin

Robert cuts in half a 20-peso coin. He buries half of it with Beulah, and he keeps the other half. Because the coin is cut in half, it's useless as a means of exchange. In fact 20 pesos isn't worth much to begin with. So, the coin has symbolic value that surpasses any monetary value it may once have had. Robert assigns the coin an alternate value in that it comes to represent his life with Beulah, becoming a substitute for their relationship now that Beulah is dead. The coin symbolically maintains the connection between the two characters beyond the death of one.

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