The Attentive and Unattentive Mind essay
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Attentiveness is the art of being keen or observant to something or paying attention to a particular issue. It can also imply to a behavior towards somebody showing special regard, consideration or affection. Inattentiveness on the other hand portrays a show of no regard whatsoever to someone or something. Raymond Carver in his book "Cathedral", among many other things, aims at exposing the narrator's attentiveness and inattentiveness to various critical issues surrounding him.
To start with, the narrator appears to be blind to everyone else but himself and his own perspectives. He pays no attention whatsoever to other people's views, not even his own wife's. His wife, for example, tries to draw attention to the fact that he has no friends because of his cynical nature but he chooses to pay no attention. It does not seem to bother him at that he entirely has no connections socially with other people apart from his wife, and even the little contact they share ends up in arguments.
He appears to be an inconsiderate man evident where he found the death of Robert's wife "pathetic" because so little money was left for him. That is a very horrible thing to say about a death. To him not even the love Beulah and the blind man shared with each other matters. He shows no sympathy for Robert who is hurting and needs all the love, affection and comfort he can possibly get. To make it worse, Robert had been there for the narrator's wife in times of need like in the case where she was giving up and almost filed for a divorce. Even after all this, he shows no sign of appreciation to the blind man and instead views Robert as the source of their problems while in fact, he is acting as the remedy to the couple's hopeless situation.
The narrator is too keen on issues to do with his wife's relationship with the blind man. He feels left out especially when the two start recalling the moments they shared before she got married. A feeling of insecurity crops on seeing the warmth so evident between the two. This jealousy causes him to pay attention to little detail like the exposed thigh of his wife after her robe slips from her legs forgetting that the man he so much resents is blind. He has no interest whatsoever in his wife apart from an interest in her friendship.
He waits for a mention of his name by her wife in their conversation, which does not seem to be forthcoming. .The narrator feels left out when his wife and Robert recall the years they spent together, before the narrator knew the woman who would later on become his wife. In addition, the narrator's insecurity worsens when his wife pays too much attention to Robert and it seems to Bub like she is pampering him something he does not normally experience which is ironical as he is supposed to be the soul mate (28).
His inattentiveness to human connections and his lack of devotion to building social relations causes him to drain himself in alcohol and drug abuse as a means of escape. His drunkenness leads him to lose connectivity with his wife in terms of communication resulting in her pouring her heart out to the blind man and seeking consolation and refuge elsewhere. His inattentiveness to her once led her almost to suicide because of loneliness although it was in vain as she only got unconscious and recovered after a while. One would expect that after this occurrence he would treasure her more but he throws caution to the wind and does not seem at all to pay any interest.
Only the blind man seems to be good in maintaining good social relations. His attentiveness to people's feelings and emotions and his courteous nature makes him connect easily with the narrator's wife leading to his suspicion that his wife is having a love affair thus the resentment towards Robert. This assumption is based on the fact that his wife only writes poems on the most important issues and happenings in her life and most of her letters to his realization were to him wanting to know how he was progressing and updating him about everything in her life. For this same reason the first time Robert met Bub, as he calls him, he recalls that it seems to him like they have met before.
The author, Raymond Carver, withdraws Bub's wife from the story to build more on the character of Bub and the blind man, Robert. He displays inattentiveness to the wife by causing her to sleep on the couch. This allows the rest of the story to unfold thus shifting the attention of the reader to the rest of the characters, that is, Bub and Robert. He pays attention to Robert portraying him as selfless, willing to help Bub come out of his cocoon and see the beauty of life. Even when the narrator turns out to be rude, Robert shows the concern the more portraying himself as a pleasant and outgoing person.
He comes out as a cynical guy who finds no joy in life. For example, his view of blind people he indicated was that the blind moved slowly and never laughed. Sometimes they followed the guide of seeing-eye dogs or used a cane and wore dark glasses. He could not see how the one blind person he knew did not match up to the idea portrayed in the movies. He does not seem to see pasts Robert's disability. He unknowingly categorizes Robert as abnormal due to his stereotypical views and ceases to see him as an individual with capabilities like himself, probably even more. The fact that the wife's poems most of the times were never about him but about the blind man also got him very jealous. His inattentiveness to human connections causes his being uncomfortable that the blind man is to spend the night at their home. In the first place, he was not amused at all with the idea of the loyal friendship his wife and Robert shared and to think that he could put up with him in the same house was an insult in itself.
He views Robert as an intruder who is cramping his personal privacy and his apparent private relationship with his wife. Robert is able to relate better with the narrator's wife as she is seeking for attention and someone to confide in which her husband does not seem to deliver. Their lack of communication causes a misunderstanding between the two and they end up throwing angry words and looks at each other. The two, that is, the narrator and his wife have not taken time to solve their conflict without arguing. If they had, then the wife would understand why her husband is insecure and feels threatened around Robert. The narrator would also come to terms with why his wife relates better with Robert than with him and maybe improve on his attentiveness to her.
However as the evening grows he pays more attention to who the blind man is rather than what he looks like and he grows more comfortable around him. They eat and drink together and later sit to watch the television. A show on cathedrals initiates their interactive session after the wife to the narrator is unable to keep awake and falls asleep on the sofa. He gets receptive to what the man has to offer in terms of knowledge and is willing to learn. At the end of it all he ends up drawing a cathedral with the help of the blind man who clasps on his hands, something he never imagined himself capable of doing. Neither then nor in ages to come had he ever pictured himself do that as he had no interest in the things that his fellow men found interesting. He preferred to stay in his own world where social relations and connections did not count and were not a bother. It is not until a blind man comes along that his mind opens up and he begins viewing life from a different perspective.
The narrator exhibits the art of attentiveness to detail. In his narration, he pays attention to detail and leaves nothing to your imagination as he describes even the minutest of things. This helps the reader in terms of clarity and making the story real revealing his innermost feelings that he finds hard to express. For example, he goes ahead to describe the arrival of his wife and Robert from the train station;" I saw my wife laughing as she parked the car. I saw her get out of the car and shut the door. She was still wearing a smile- amazing. She went around to the other side of the car to where the blind man was already starting to get out." He seems to enjoy his wife's happiness yet he lacks the ability to cheer her up.
The narrator comes out as one too attentive to the physical appearances and misses out on the most important of all which is the inner beauty. His most evident trait is his superficial nature which leads to his failed marriage and his struggling relations with his fellow men. His judgment of Robert is not out of knowledge or experience with blind people but out of sheer ignorance of the truth. His major concern or rather what he chooses to see more than anything else is what displeases him around Robert, something he should be overlooking as everyone has their mishaps once in a while.
The inattentiveness of the narrator and his wife to each other's feelings leads them to their rocks situation. If only they could sit down and communicate without hurling insults at each other, they would most definitely find a solution to their problem. The wife would understand why the husband feels very threatened and insecure around Robert while the narrator would know the reason why his wife vents out her feelings and emotions elsewhere and why she feels more comfortable around Robert than around her husband. This mutual understanding would be a huge step in healing their wounded relations.
The author pays particular attention to marriage and seems to put an emphasis on "outside relationships". He tries to pass across the point that these relationships can either build or ruin lives depending on the relationship of the married couple. In this one, for example, the communication barrier between the couple poses a huge crisis in their relationship. As if this is not enough, the narrator's wife shares a history with Robert even before the narrator came into the picture causing insecurities. The narrator feels as though he is competing for his wife's attention with the blind man who seems to have won her over. This is not supposed to be the case. On the contrary genuine friendships are for completion or a cementing of a loving relationship between a man and his wife.
The narrator seems to have lost any connections with the world around him. He fails to understand how Beulah could put up with a blind man who had nothing to his name calling it love. He cannot comprehend how a blind man is capable of touching someone's life because he himself with his full eyesight has been unable to impact anyone's life for the better. He muses, "They'd married, lived and worked together, slept together . . . and then the blind man had to bury her. All this without his having ever seen what the god damned woman looked like" (1054). That to him is a huge mystery; that a perfectly 'normal' human being can stay with a blind man and only be separate through death. He does not seem to configure with the emotional and intellectual aspects of a relationship. His inability to grasp the beauty of that marriage is evidence of his 'blindness'.
There is also the aspect of his inattentiveness to spiritual matters. When Robert asks him if he is in any way religious, the narrator admits that he is not and goes on to confess how cathedrals and religion "don't mean anything special to [him]" (1061). An appeal by Robert for a description of the cathedral ends up in the narrator's mumbling of words on his opinion; "in those olden days, when they built cathedrals, men wanted to be close to God" (1061). He believes matters to do with religion are outdated and seems to have completely lost touch with godly matters. The reformation occurs only when the narrator experiences the cathedral through the blind man's eyes through a drawing they do together. On completion, he refuses to open his eyes and has this to say, that he does not: "feel like [he is] inside of anything" (1062).
The author in all this seeks to portray the awakening of an insensitive man to the world of a blind man. His emotional blindness is unveiled and among the greatest lessons he takes with him is that life is beyond the superficial. There is an awakening in him both emotionally and spiritually. He not only learns to see things through the eyes of a blind man but also view the world through the eyes of a man of God.