I See What I Was Missing
A Critical Analysis of
Raymond Carver’s Short Story
( read the story )
by Thomas Jay Rush
This is one of the best short stories I’ve ever read. I was telling my wife about this story in the car the other night while we drove to pick up Chinese food and I almost started crying because this is such a stunningly beautiful piece of writing. I got about nine-tenths of the way through telling her about it and I couldn’t go on because I was choking up. I wrote this poem:
- The Neanderthal
I was telling my wife about a lovely
Raymond Carver short story the other night
as the snow just started,
and we drove in my dirty car
together alone for the first time in weeks
to get some Chinese food.
And I had to stop telling so she wouldn’t make
fun of me because I would have cried if I had
gone on and told to the end.
I cry sometimes when I encounter things
beautiful. I don’t know why but I do.
I wanted to say “Thanks” for making me feel
that I shouldn’t share my joy with you.
This is a touching story of one man’s personal growth. A growth in understanding another human being and a growth in understanding what a cathedral is.
The main protagonist is told by his wife that her old friend, a blind man, is coming to see them and will be staying a few nights. The blind man’s wife has just died. He is in town visiting relatives.
In the beginning of the story the protagonist, the host, does not relish the idea of the blind man coming to stay with them. He finds the blind man odd and weird. He doesn’t want to be bothered. He looks on the blind man as a burden. There are hints that the host views the blind man as a potential rival for his wife’s affections. He says mean and politically incorrect things about the blind man. For example he says “My idea of blindness came from the movies…[that they]….moved slowly and never laughed.”
When the blind man arrives the host is surprised that he doesn’t wear dark glasses. The host is surprised that he doesn’t walk with a long cane with a white tip. This is the first, slight sign of a warming of the host towards the blind man.
The host (or narrator) describes a time, before he met his wife, where she used to work with the blind man. They worked together during the time when she was getting married to her first husband, her childhood sweetheart. After getting married the young couple moved away from Seattle (where the blind man lived – she had worked in his house as his assistant) to an army base. On the last day of her working for the blind man he had asked her if he could feel her face so he could remember her. She had allowed it. This was a memorable moment for her. We know this because the narrator, tells us that she tried to write a poem about the experience. He tells us this during the part of the story where he is being very hostile to the blind man and its clear that he thinks his wife may be in love with the blind man.
When the blind man arrives at their house they invite him in and get him a drink (the first of many that night). They have a large dinner and retire to the living room where the blind man and the narrator’s wife have a long conversation about their lives since they last met, mostly leaving the narrator out of the conversation who starts to get upset.
The narrator turns the TV. His wife says she’s going to go get ready for bed. She comes back in a nightly and bathrobe which upsets the host but by then he’s smoked a joint with the blind guy and he is starting to lighten up – maybe because of all the booze – maybe because of the joint – but he says at one point that his wife’s bare leg doesn’t bother him because the blind guy can’t see anyway. The more booze he drinks and pot he smokes the more mellow he gets.
His wife falls asleep on the couch and the blind guy and him start watching a show about Gothic Cathedrals. After a short while the host realizes that the blind guy can’t understand what’s going on because they are just showing pictures of the cathedrals and not really saying anything. Our host starts telling the blind man about the TV show but then he realizes that the guy probably doesn’t even know what a cathedral is.
The blind man tells the host to describe what a cathedral is but he sucks at describing so the blind man tells him to get a piece of paper and a pencil. The blind man comes down off the couch and sits on the floor next to the host. The blind man tells the host to take his hand and draw the cathedral while he’s holding it.
The host, this man who had so many pre-conceived ideas about what a blind person was, this man who could not understand his wife’s intense experience of having her face touched by a blind person, finally comes to realize, in a brilliantly wrought piece of writing, the experience that she must have had. He learns. He understands his wife’s love for this man who so gently deals with the world using whatever meager faculties are available to him, whether it be through touching a loved one’s face to learning about cathedrals by holding someone’s had as they draw it.
This is a profoundly human story. Mr. Carver pulls off a stunning work of staggering beauty, as they say. The protagonist, through his interaction with this blind man finally comes to see something that he could never have seen on his own.