Cathedral Study Guide

Cathedral was published in September of 1983. It was Carver's third and final major-press publication of all-new stories in his lifetime. Though Where I'm Calling From: New and Selected Stories would follow in 1988, that book was comprised primarily of previously published work.

The collection is frequently, and somewhat fallaciously, cited as a new era in Carver's style. His first two story collections had been noted for their sparse language, use of understatement, and precisely chosen details. Carver had been known as a "minimalist" for these reasons, and Cathedral, which boasted many longer stories, many of which more explicitly explore psychological motivations, was heralded as a richer, more expansive style for Carver.

However, the truth is that the two previous collections – most particularly his second collection, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love – had been heavily edited by his editor and friend, Gordon Lisch. While scholars continue to debate the true extent of Lisch's input, it is clear through their correspondence that Carver was unhappy with how extensively Lisch cut the prose for What We Talk About, and that, while Lisch remained editor in name on Cathedral, Carver would not allow him to exert so strong a hand. In truth, two of the stories cited as the 'new style' were written before or in the same period as the stories of What We Talk About. These are "A Small, Good Thing," (which appeared as "The Bath" in What We Talk About, a version so heavily edited that it's practically a different story altogether), and perhaps his most famous story, "Cathedral."

The story "Cathedral" was drawn from a real-life incident, when Carver's partner Tess Gallagher was visited by her blind friend. It is somewhat unique in Carver's ouevre both in terms of its optimistic ending and in featuring such an explicit epiphany for the character. It is likely Carver's most anthologized story.