Proper communication is an essential skill to have. Someone who does not have proper communication skills can find it harder to overcome conflicts with other people. Cathedral and A Small Good Thing by Raymond Carver both clearly depict the importance of communication between people. Communication can be thought of as such a simple, day-to-day skill, but in reality, it is one of the most useful tools to have. Carver uses dialogue and communication of emotions to show how communication with others is not only vital to our personal well-being, but the profound impact our communication can change the lives of others as well.
Being able to communicate emotions is essential. Both Cathedral and A Small Good Thing have characters that are unable to do this. In Cathedral, Bub has difficulty expressing his feelings. Even more, he does not even admit he has feelings, and as a result, he does not have a close relationship with his wife. He feels awkwardly about feelings, in general. His reaction to the heart warming, beautiful love story of Robert and Beulah was apathetic. In A Small Good Thing the baker is the character that has issues communicating his emotions. He is extremely abrupt throughout the majority of the story, and seems almost distant to any kind of emotion, so he comes across as abrupt with her. Neither Bub nor the baker is able to communicate their feelings in an effective manner. The character that can best communicate his feelings is Robert in Cathedral. Despite him being blind, he is jolly, understanding, and pleasant. It is as if he carries a sense of calm and wisdom about him. Neither of the other characters possesses these attributes.
Carver’s choice of dialogue for his characters in Cathedral and A Small Good Thing is just as important as the communication of emotions. He keeps things simple. The characters do not drone on in long speeches. They tend to give simple, straightforward answers such as “I am comfortable.” (265). Raymond Carver is right in not overdoing his characters speech. Instead of overwhelming the reader with long paragraph dialogue throughout the whole story, he says what needs to be said, and leaves it at that. This says a lot for the characters themselves as well. They are regular people who speak in regular lengths. Sometimes the characters seem like they do not even want to exchange words at all, making it so that There were no pleasantries between them, just the minimum exchange of words, the necessary information. (270).
Another example of this is in A Small Good Thing when Scotty is hit by a car. The driver of the car does not get out to say anything. “He simply put the car into gear and drove away”. (271). When there is dialogue between the characters, it can sometimes feel strained, almost awkward. You can feel the awkward tension in A Small Good Thing when Ann speaks with the family of Franklin in the waiting room. “The father shifted in the chair. He shook his head. He looked down at the table, and then he looked back at Ann.” (278). He is fidgeting. This is typically seen as a nervous or an awkward gesture. Bub in Cathedral is also a conversationally awkward character. He never seems to know quite what to say or how to speak in comfortable terms. His overuse of alcohol contributes to this. When Bub is sitting with Robert and his wife after dinner, he explains says, “Now and then I joined in. I did not want them to think I had left the room, and I did not want her to think I was feeling left out.” (264).
Carver shows the role that communication has in helping us through our problems. When you have a problem between two or more people, communication is essential. In A Small Good Thing, there is no proper communication between Scotty’s parents and the baker. Instead of explaining himself properly, the baker makes cryptic phone calls regarding Scotty. “It has to do with Scotty, that problem. Have you forgotten about Scotty?” (279). Realizing that these phone calls are from the baker, Ann and her husband go to the bakery at night. Ann’s anger and ability to communicate her emotions to the baker spark a change in him.
Furthermore, the baker changes because he has a chance to comfort others by exposing his own suffering, and together they are able to see the hope in each of their situations. “They talked on into the early morning, the high, pale cast of light in the windows, and they did not think of leaving. (286). In Cathedral Bub is completely closed minded to the idea of a blind man in his house. He is unable to communicate for the majority of the story. He pretty much sulks while his wife entertains Robert. This changes when Bub and Robert are watching TV together. Simply by having a normal conversation with Robert, Bub has a sort of epiphany and is able to see things in a new light. As Robert helped Bub draw the cathedral, Bub says, “It was like nothing else in my life up to now.” (270). While there is no proof that Bub has changed, there is an indication that there is hope for him. Robert is the only character in Cathedral that seems able to form proper human connections.
In both A Small Good Thing and Cathedral, Carver clearly shows how important communication is in our lives. Lack of communication pushes us farther apart, whereas proper communication can bring us together. A Small Good Thing shows the healing power that human communication has on us. Cathedral ends with hope, and Bub being in communion for the time being, with another human being. Raymond Carver does an excellent job of showing the importance that communication has in all of our lives. Communication is a constant struggle, as it deals with people. These two stories bring out this conflict between people as a way to allow the reader to identify with the characters.