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Themes are the central topics, concepts or subjects of discussion in contemporary literature studies that a writer is usually trying to point out. Themes should not be misunderstood for morals or messages that they send out. It is the motif that completes a story and does not necessarily need to be articulated in a complete sentence. Everyone in the society is entitled to equal treatment and love by all. Should the less fortunate individuals in our societies be treated less equally? Should people look down upon those who are disabled? Literary elements are important in identifying themes in a literary piece of work resulting in a narrative’s plot development.
“Cathedral” as a short story portrays isolation of individuals in the society and acceptance of all in the society as its major theme. In this story, the narrator’s point of view helps us to identify him as a protagonist and a participator in the story. Through the narrator, we get to know of the blind man’s feelings as he treats the blind man rudely and has no remorse for him. His comments show that he has no sympathy for the blind man even after he is informed about the tragic death of the blind man’s wife. The narrator makes rude and inconsiderate remarks such as asking the blind man what side of the train he travelled on.
The narrator’s prejudiced character reflects the societies today where disabled are ill-treated and are not regarded as people. The narrator does not swallow his pride; he can see while Robert, the blind man, cannot. Instead, he turns to attacking Robert’s disabilities; it is until he notices that everyone needs a fair chance in life and equal treatment. It is clear that the narrator is not happy with the blind man’s visit; his attitude towards blind people is negative. He thinks of him as a burden to the community and to his wife. The narrator does not understand how a woman could get married to a blind man who cannot see her beauty nor compliment on her dressing. The theme of the narrative can further be developed through considering the fact that the narrative lays a difference between looking and seeing. The narrator looks but does not see while Robert, the blind man, does not physically see what he is looking at but has the deeper ability to engage in what is around him. The fact that the narrator sees makes him think he is superior to Robert. His inability to see beyond the normal surface makes him live a lonely and unhappy life with constant misunderstandings with his wife.
Comparing Robert’s relationship with his wife, they seem to have a tight bond. This is mainly because Robert understands her perfectly; he truly listens to her and does not require sight to know when she needs his attention. Evidently, the wife obviously has a lot of things to say regarding her life as she has spent ten years keeping in touch with Robert through listening to tapes he sends her and sending him tapes with details of what is happening in her life. When we compare the bond between Robert and his wife and the relationship the narrator has with his wife, we see that the narrator does little to understand her. They rarely talk with each other that annoys her; for example, the narrator suggests taking the blind man bowling yet he knows that it is impossible for blind people to bowl. He also asks if the blind man’s wife was a Negro, portraying his prejudiced nature.
The main theme also develops other minor themes in the narrative such as the art of insight. Through poetry and drawing, the characters in the narrative not only find meaning in their lives but also some insight of it. Through the narrator, we find out how his wife wrote poems with every detail of her life. She has poems of her past love life and marriage to her childhood friend, the life at the military base, her relationship with the blind man telling how he touched her face, the emotions and feelings she had, and even poems of how she met her husband and the narrator. The narrator gets an insight of his life when he draws the cathedral with the blind man. He realizes that to get understanding of his life and to gain more knowledge, he has to look deeper. He cannot actually explain what happened when he drew the cathedral, but he knows that it was an important great experience and that he found his new sense of understanding. Even though the blind man Robert cannot see what the narrator has drawn, he finds an insight in his life through the new sense of understanding the narrator acquires.
Symbolism and point of view are some of the literary elements in the short story “Cathedral”. The pictures of the cathedral that Robert and the narrator drew are the representations of the true insight which is, in other words, the ideal ability to see beyond the normal surface. Before drawing of the cathedral, the blind man Robert could not see while the narrator could. The narrator’s world is simple, but when asked to describe the cathedral shown on the television, he is lost for words. He says he does not believe in anything, but upon taking time to draw the cathedral, he is able to be conscious of the world around him. He is able to complete the picture with his eyes closed adding details through visualizing them in his mind rather than through his eyes. The author tries to point out to the reader that actual seeing is different from developing inwards insight.
Point of view is the other literary element in “Cathedral”. The author uses first person point of view to narrate the story. The narrator is a self-absorbed character who lacks sense awareness. His only concern is the negative impact the visit of the blind man will have on his life. He does not think about the positive effect the blind man will have on his life. The narrator pities Beulah, Robert’s wife, for having to put up with his blindness. The narrator does not tell the story fluently; he has unnecessary interruptions when crudely referring to his wife’s childhood sweetheart. This reveals his insecurity and jealous nature.
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In conclusion, symbolism and point of view as literary elements have greatly contributed to the development of the narrative’s theme as they involve the discovery of personal insight which is the main idea the author intended to pass. The point of view, for example, makes the reader associate the narrator with his negative sentiments, but eventually he develops liking for Robert and regards him as a human. At the end of the story, the narrator becomes able to reveal his gift to see beyond the usual surface which is a part of the theme. The symbol of the cathedral has given the narrator the opportunity to discover his own world and see what is beyond the normal visible ground.