I reviewed a collection of literary criticism on Carver’s Cathedral, a collection of short stories written by Carver which was published in 1983. One that stood out to be in particular was James W. Grinnell’s criticism on Carver’s Cathedral works. Grinnell wrote his review in the winter of 1984, and went on to say many things about Carver’s work. Grinnell mostly praises Carver’s work and his addition of newer and more creative ideas in his latest work. Grinnell also believes that Carver has improved his, what some called “old” style, by adding new elements to his work.
James W. Grinnell opens his critique by saying, “Things are finally looking up for Raymond Carver. ” I have to say I agree with Grinnell’s opening statement, the stories in Cathedral were some of which had a more pleasing and refreshed outlook on life. James Grinnell gives an overview of Carver’s life. To paraphrase Grinnell, Carvers life was not always on the positive side that it seemed like it was on since the release of Cathedral. Carver was married at the age of eighteen and he had a lot of responsibilities at that early age.
Carver had the responsibilities of supporting his children and wife at this age while working dull, routine jobs. Grinnell goes on to explain how Carver was raise in a poor neighborhood in the city of Yakima, Washington. Then Carver was able to go to college and complete a Bachelor’s Degree from Chico State in California. After college Carver took up writing from the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop, making just enough to barely survive in the year he spent there.
After these experiences Carver took up drinking while wasting many years of his thirties. Which Carver fully accepted and did not make any excuses for. Before 1983, Carver wrote two books full of stories called Will you Please Be Quiet, Please? and What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. Compared to the long titles, the content of the stories were pretty short, many being less than or equal to ten pages each. Carver carefully crafted his stories despite his drinking and lack of comfortable writing space.
Due to the restricted viewpoints and the characters not being quite clear, Carver gained a reputation for his kind of writing that won for him. According to Grinnell when Carver came out with Cathedral, “a book with a one-word title and a dozen, more fully fleshed-out stories,” which I agree totally with, the stories were still “hard little gems of fiction but they are a few carats heavier than those of the earlier books” (Grinnell p. 106). To summarize Grinnell, half of the stories were first person narrations, which Carver had tight control over his characters perspectives.
Carver does not give too much to the outside world around his characters and allows the reader to bring their own emotional baggage to and from the stories. While Carver is a literary minimalist and presents the characters of his stories lives as nothing more than what it is. Grinnell uses the opening story Feathers as an example, explaining the story. Grinnell explains that the narrator’s daily routine is exhausted and weary and that his wife is broken when a coworker invites them over for dinner.
Carver places details such as the television that has a plaster of Paris cast of crooked teeth, and a La-Z-Boy chair, as well as the host’s wife, and their baby that is described as fat and ugly, as well as a pet peacock. The narrator holds nothing back and shares with the reader that the baby was the ugliest they had ever seen. The night turns out to be a nice, special one that is actually memorable because after that their lives became even duller. The narrator and his wife have a child of their own, who developed “a conniving streak in him.
Grinnell explains that Carver’s characters “Often experience a special moment which almost affords them a glimpse of something elusive- a better life perhaps” Grinnell then says that they cannot actually achieve it hence they retreat to drinking or their regular boring life which seems even duller by the missed opportunity to achieve this better life. Grinnell calls “Cathedral” the peak story of the collection, and also refers to it as “this little masterpiece,” which I also agree with; Cathedral was my favorite story honestly.
Grinnell tells that the piece concluded with the narrator trying to describe to a blind man a cathedral that he sees on television, but his words fail. Then the narrator tries to show the experience by holding the blind man’s hand while making a sketch of cathedral. The narrator then closes his eyes after the blind man asks him to. Grinnell expresses that the blind man is more perceptive than the narrator is and when the narrator closes his eyes, he gains a new dimension of perception.
Grinnell ends his critique by saying Carver’s life seems to be coming back together and that his art is blooming, while he thinks that Cathedral is a major part of a new beginning for Carver’s writing career. The second literary criticism text I chose to select was one from Randolph Paul Runyon, which was written in 1992. Runyon’s essay examined the connecting elements and recurring themes in the short stories from Cathedral. Runyon first reviews “Feathers,” and mentions the characteristics of the setting.
Runyon mentions the “old plaster-of-Paris cast of the most crooked, jaggedy teeth in the world” as well as the pet peacock and the baby. To summarize Runyon, the narrator of the story ends up mentioning that the evening was a special one that made him forget his everything in his life. Runyon says that there are two different interpretations of the meaning of the visit; one was that for the narrator’s wife the visit was a reminder of what went wrong in their lives in the beginning.
The other one is that for the narrator it was glimpse of paradise, that he would never see again which was symbolized by the pet peacock. Runyon believes there is a possible three interpretation, which can be seen from a different point of the nonparticipants of the story. This is the point of view that the reader sees and the one that escaped Jack and Fran. The story takes place in the evening which they both always remember it began with a little story about the difficulty of remembering.
This tied into a previous story that Carver had written. Another thing Runyon mentions about “Feathers” is that a lot of things are presented in pairs in the story such as the narrator and his wife, the baby and the peacock, the teeth “before” and “after. ” Then Runyon goes on to say that it was fitting for the first story of the collection to begin with a series of chains of before and after, and we should be accustomed to them now because this is the way his short story sequences seem to be put together.
Runyon then talks about “Cathedral,” which he starts off by summarizing the story, saying that before the narrator’s wife married him she worked as a reader for Robert and that they had exchanged tapes in the years since. When the narrator’s wife was telling him about Robert she told the narrator that she had talked about him in a tape to Robert and Robert had something to say about the narrator in his tape back to her, but what Robert had said about the narrator was never fully told since an interruption came at that time.
This type of interruption had been seen in another one of Carver’s works. To summarize Runyon, the narrator was annoyed at first that Robert was coming to visit because he has never had much to do with blind people and he thinks he will be uncomfortable. Robert is a nice man that enjoyed thing just like any other person would, good food, good drinking and good marijuana although he was just trying it for the first time. Runyon then summarizes the rest of the story, and then adds his opinion.
Runyon believes that the conclusion is intended to make the reader think to explore many of Carver’s other pieces. Runyon says that the conclusion also reminded him of the conclusion of “The Bridle” when Holits was high on the cabana roof since the narrator and the blind man drew the cathedral while they’re high. Also a significant role reversal was seen since at first the narrator was in charge of drawing the cathedral on the heavy paper so that Robert could move his fingers over the paper to get an idea of what it looked liked, but by the end the blind man is actually guiding the narrator.
The blind man was basically showing the narrator what it was like to be blind, when the blind man tells the narrator to close his eyes. Runyon says the collaboration between the two, the blind man and the narrator, was something like collaborattion Carver held with his editor (p. 176). I agree with a lot of things I read in both of these pieces of criticism. I like the criticism given by Grinnell the most, and I would say it was a really good one. Not all of the stories of the collection were gone over in these though.
I agree that drinking is often turned to by the characters of Carver’s writing, like when Robert first got to the narrators home, the narrator offered him a drink right away, I said, “Let me get you a drink. What’s your pleasure? We have a little of everything. It’s one of our pastimes” (Carver). The narrator then closes his eyes after the blind man asks him to. Grinnell expresses that the blind man is more perceptive than the narrator is and when the narrator closes his eyes, he gains a new dimension of perception. Also when Grinnell expressed that the blind man is more perceptive than the narrator, I agreed as well.
Although the narrator has been able to see all of his life he doesn’t comprehend that being blind doesn’t mean that a person is completely handicapped but he isn’t completely normal either. The narrator says “I’ve never met, or personally known, anyone who was blind. ” The narrator also thinks that Robert could be taken bowling which is not very realistic. I do believe at the end the narrators perception is taken to a new depth especially while he mentions that the drawing they worked on was really something, saying that with his eyes closed.
Courtney from Study Moose
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