Self-Awareness and Awakening in Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral” and Joyce Carol Oates’s “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” Research Paper
Can it be too late to see and understand the real nature or real value of definite things and relations? Different people can experience a kind of awakening or catharsis as a result of the external factors’ impact or as a result of the long spiritual journey toward the self-awareness.
The narrator of Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral” published in 1983 is a self-centered man who is inclined to see the world in a way which is convenient for him that is why his world is limited and framed because of his lack of sensitiveness and ability to feel and learn.
Thus, the story’s narrator is focused on himself, he does not understand his wife and her feelings, and he does not want to see the wife’s blind friend in his house because this man is associated with the wife’s past life, however, this blind man helps the main character ‘see’ and understand himself or to awake.
Carver’s character receives the chance to awake in time, when something can be changed. However, Connie as the main character of Joyce Carol Oates’s “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” (1966) seems to receive the chance to understand the values in the life too late, while facing the threat of being abused by the cruel men.
Although both Raymond Carver and Joyce Carol Oates focus on the topic of self-awareness and awakening in their stories, the authors choose different approaches to emphasize the significance of these actions; Carver demonstrates the possibilities to awake through the understanding and learning when Oates shows the negative effects of not being awakened in time.
In his short story “Cathedral”, Raymond Carver uses the first person narrative point of view in order to represent the situations and events through the eyes of the main character who interacts with his wife and the blind man. The important role of this approach is in the fact that the reader receives the opportunity to understand that the narrator lacks self-awareness, and he is rather ‘blind’ while discussing himself and other people with the focus on the narrator’s own words and descriptions.
From this point, the narrator’s narrow-mindedness and impossibility to see the deeper meaning is emphasized with references to his thoughts about the blind man’s visit. Thus, the narrator states, “I wasn’t enthusiastic about his [the blind man’s] visit. He was no one I knew. And his being blind bothered me. My idea of blindness came from the movies.
In the movies, the blind moved slowly and never laughed” (Carver 1). Thinking over the visit, the narrator is focused only on his own feelings and negative associations related to the ‘idea of blindness’, without paying much attention to the wife’s expectations, although the wife discusses this blind man as the closest friend, thus, the first person narrative point of view serves successfully to accentuate the narrator’s true emotions.
According to Clark, “Carver’s laconic speakers often narrate in a reportorial, self-effacing manner. They objectively document subjective sensory experiences, requiring a heightened degree of interpretive synthesis” (Clark 106). To demonstrate his perception of the situation, the narrator describes his emotions in short abrupt sentences, using words with negative connotation.
However, in spite of the worst expectations, the narrator’s meeting with the blind man provides the main character with the opportunity to experience the self-awareness and become awakened in order to understand himself, the other persons, and the real sense of life. Being unable to see beyond the surface, the narrator does not want to learn how to grow spiritually and how to awake.
From this perspective, Carver refers to contrasting the narrator who does not want to act to understand himself and his wife and the blind man for whom “learning never ends” because he “got ears” (Carver 9). Although the narrator can use eyes and ears, he cannot use them appropriately in order to examine the external world and his inner world of feelings.
Clark explains Carver’s approach to depict the main character while stating that “the narrator is emotionally close to the actions he describes, yet maintains a detached stance”, thus, the suggestion about the author’s intention is that “he wants his audience to form their own conclusion” (Clark 108). The narrator is even detached from the life he lives because he cannot open his eyes and learn the deeper meanings or examine the hidden emotions and feelings expressed by his wife.
Nevertheless, the main difference of Carver’s story from Oates’s one is in the fact that the main character receives the chance to learn the truth, to experience catharsis, and to awake with the help of the blind man’s words.
Trying to describe a cathedral, the narrator follows the blind man’s words and closes his eyes in order to draw the cathedral and to feel it. Following the blind man’s advice, the narrator experiences the true awakening, and he says, “I was in my house … But I didn’t feel like I was inside anything. “It’s really something,” I said” (Carver 13).
Carver ends his story with these words, and the reader can assume that the life of the narrator can change significantly because of the experience and these new feelings. It is possible to refer to Clark’s discussion of this ending because the researcher states that for the first time, the narrator “has wrestled with matters of “truth and illusion” and become more aware of a world outside of himself” (Clark 110).
Self-awareness becomes the result of the interactions with the blind man, and it is possible to expect that the narrator can use his chance to learn how to see beyond the surface, while changing his arrogance and ignorance directed toward his wife and the blind man because of the spiritual awakening.
If Carver provides the main character with the opportunity to experience self-awareness and to learn the importance of awakening in order to change the life, Oates demonstrates the significance of self-awareness and awakening though presenting the possible outcomes of not following the right path. Connie, a 15-year-old main character of Oates’s “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”, is described as a person who intends to present herself as a mature woman while being a teenager who ignores the parents’ rules.
Describing Connie, Oates states that “she was fifteen and she had a quick, nervous giggling habit of craning her neck to glance into mirrors or checking other people’s faces to make sure her own was all right” (Oates 1). The author accentuates the girl’s lack of self-awareness while emphasizing Connie’s extreme focus on herself, on her appearance, and on the other people’s vision of the girl.
To give the readers an opportunity to conclude about Connie’s actions and the story’s ending independently, Oates uses the third person narrative point of view in contrast to the first person narrative used by Carver. That is why, Connie’s considerations and thoughts are presented in a rather ironical manner.
The girl is described as rejecting to follow the right path from the teenager’s maximalist visions and naïve discussion of the world around to the spiritual awakening. Thus, for instance, Oates draws the reader’s attention to the fact that “her [Connie’s] mother was so simple, Connie thought” (Oates 2). Connie is inclined to judge the people round her as ‘simple’ without understanding that she lacks the real vision of the mature life.
While discussing Connie’s abilities in understanding herself and the real world, Cruise states that “Connie lacks interest in what either lies outside her orbit or does not bear directly upon the urgencies of her life” (Cruise 97). That is why, Connie needs to experience the awakening from her illusory reality in which she is the mature woman who can have the sexual relations with men or act as women who have the significant background.
Describing Connie’s thoughts and ideas in detail and developing a lot of dialogues, Oates focuses on the fact that Connie used to live in the world of her fantasy. Nevertheless, the author does not provide the young girl with the real chance to change her life and attitude to it with the help of awakening because Connie’s way to self-awareness is too long in spite of her young age, and the author makes the reader assume that, finally, Connie experiences awakening, but there is no time to change something in her life.
The approaches used by Oates and Carver to discuss the topic of awakening and the necessity of self-awareness are similar in relation to the fact that both authors provide the hints to understand the main characters’ significant experience in the final words of the stories. Thus, following the cruel men, Connie focuses on much land which is observed everywhere, “so much land that Connie had never seen before and did not recognize except to know that she was going to it” (Oates 9).
In this case, Connie develops “the capacity to define herself actively or consciously” (Cruise 102). Although these final words can be discussed as the culmination of Connie’s spiritual awakening, the reader can assume that this experience cannot provide Connie with a chance to change the life for better.
In their short stories, Carver and Oates discuss the topic of self-awareness and awakening while using similar methods of presenting the important experience of awakening in the final words of the stories. However, the authors’ approaches to the presentation of the topic are different because Carver and Oates are inclined to use to contrasting variants to demonstrate the importance of the discussed experience.
Thus, if Carver’s narrator receives the chance to change his life and to grow spiritually, Oates’s Connie has few chances to change any thing in her life because it is too late to analyze the weaknesses in her attitudes and behaviours. From this perspective, in spite of the fact that the authors focus on the same topic of self-awareness, Carver and Oates’s approaches to discussing the topic are quite opposite and rather intriguing.
Carver, Raymond. Cathedral. n.d. Web.
Clark, Robert. “Keeping the Reader in the House: American Minimalism, Literary Impressionism, and Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral”. Journal of Modern Literature36.1 (2012): 104-118. Print.
Cruise, James. “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” and Cold War Hermeneutics”. South Central Review 22.2 (2005): 95-109. Print.
Oates, Joyce Carol. Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? 2003. Web.
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