January 15, 2004

Beauty in “Cathedral” and the Pygmalion Legend

Keith's blog entry about "Cathedral" inspired me to post this...

Raymond Carver’s short story, “Cathedral,” echoes the same theme as in the legend of Pygmalion (by Ovid) – fascination with beauty. In “Cathedral,” the husband is at first repelled by the blind man, but by the end of the story, he is entranced by the feeling of his own drawing. In Pygmalion, the sculptor doesn’t see the beauty in earthly women, but finds his true love in his own sculpted creation. Both suggest that the nature of the art is what is most beautiful.

In “Cathedral,” the husband is scared of Robert, the blind man, and doesn’t want him to visit. Carver writes, “I wasn’t enthusiastic about his visit. He was no one I knew. And his being blind bothered me….A blind man in my house was not something I looked forward to” (Carver). The husband does not see a blind man as a suitable human being to share his company, and he is jealous of the relationship that Robert could have with his wife. Like the husband, Pygmalion also “abhors” a certain type of human – a woman. “Pygmalion loathing their lascivious life, / Abhorr’d all womankind, but most a wife” (Ovid).

However, both opinions change when they encounter art. After Pygmalion sculpts his beauty, he falls in love with it. “Almighty Gods, if all we mortals want, / if all we can require, be yours to grant; / Make this fair statue mine, he wou’d have said” (Ovid). When the statue becomes human, Pygmalion embraces it and is happy in love with a creature he once scorned.

In “Cathedral,” once the husband begins to draw with Robert, and feel the blind man’s hand resting on his own, he too falls in love with his creation. “His fingers rode my fingers as my hand went over the paper. It was like nothing in my life up to now” (Carver). The husband also experiences a conversion to the beauty of his own art, just like Pygmalion fell in love with his creation.

Essentially, both stories represent art as beautiful – more beautiful than human creatures. The creation of the artwork appears to be most beautiful to Pygmalion and the husband, even though they previous rejected the human element of the art – women and the blind man.


Posted by Julie Young at January 15, 2004 06:13 PM
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