Humans, by nature, are flawed. This principle is the driving force behind realism in literature. While many of the stories in the literary community end in a beautifully closed, fulfilling manner, realism is a style of writing in which the faults of humanity are not concealed with idealism and a happy ending is not always guaranteed, mirroring reality. Reality is littered with the flaws of individuals and society as whole. Realism, because it does not mask these flaws, sometimes offers a resolution to these imperfections, but other times simply reveals them to make a reader wonder. Realist authors Raymond Carver and James Joyce exemplify the flawed human condition in their respective short stories “Cathedral” and “Araby.”
It is a perfectly common impulse to resist things that are unfamiliar, this includes people who are different than to what you are accustomed. The protagonist in Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral,” struggles with the introduction of an old friend of his wife, a well-traveled, kind, knowledgeable man, who happens to be blind. Though the main character is aware of the friend’s disability, no forewarning or amount of preparation could have made him comfortable with this man. Society often has the same problems as this man, not only are non-handicapped people often resistant to handicapped people, but people have a hard time accepting anyone who displays a characteristic alien to their own. The two are faced with a situation that leaves them alone together, lending an opportunity for bonding, of which the blind man takes advantage. While watching a television special about cathedrals, the blind man insists that the main character take hold of his hand and draw a cathedral so that the blind man may better understand what they look like. This is a revelation for the main character that causes him to value the blind man’s experience. After spending some quality time with the blind man, and with the blind man’s encouragement, the main character comes to realize that the blind man, though different, has valuable information and experience to offer. Unfortunately, because of the general population’s opposition to change, many life experiences and opportunities for enlightenment are missed.
In “Cathedral,” Carver shows the importance of accepting those that are different by resolving the inner conflict that the protagonist has regarding the blind man. He does not know how to react to him initially and is not ready to accept him because he is so different. But, when he lets the blind man show him the kind of experience he can have when he opens his mind and heart, he realizes that differences should be valued rather than avoided or feared. In this, Carver solves the inner issues of the main character, but offers no viable solution for society as a whole. Though the protagonist is able to open his heart, and be accepting, society cannot be forced to accept things they do not wish to accept. One can only hope that more will have experiences similar to the main character’s that allows them to be more open to those that are different.
James Joyce illustrates an entirely different human flaw in his short story “Araby.” In this story, a young boy develops a schoolboy crush on a friend’s older sister. While the boy and girl were discussing an upcoming fair (Araby), she mentions that she is unable to go, instigating a hasty promise from the young boy to bring her back a souvenir if he attends the fair. After several reminders to his uncle, who is his guardian, the boy waits on the last day of the fair for his uncle to return home from work to give him the money for the fair. Late that night, his uncle returns, and grudgingly hands him the money, but as the boy walks through the gates of Araby, he notices most stalls are closed and soon comes to realize he will not be returning with a gift for the girl. This upsets him because he had given himself false hope. “Syd Field argues that in good writing for film ‘everything is resolved dramatically, in terms of action and character: all questions raised are answered'”(Preis, 18) This is the classic approach to Hollywood films, everyone lives happily ever after. Unfortunately, this is not always how things go, which is a fact that the average human is just not ready to accept. People are constantly getting up their hopes even in the most impossible situations, and are slow to give up hope until something definitively prevents a happy ending.
This defect of human culture is unique in that a majority of people recognize that it exists. Many people are quick to tell you that they ‘hope against hope’ that something will happen, because, honestly, everyone wants things to happen as they plan or better. Fueling this desire for a perfect outcome, are stories about unlikely successors, underdogs that we can relate to, stories that people are convinced can become their stories. When Joyce points out this common habit, he recognizes that though this may be a defect, hope based on no solid foundation, it is not necessarily something to be corrected. False hope, or any hope at all, is what drives people to succeed. If someone does not think that there is a chance to succeed, there would be no point in putting in the effort to attempt anything. Hope is what keeps people from being paralyzed by their fear of failure. Joyce recognizes this human flaw without solving it because it should not be solved, not all flaws need to be corrected.
The human culture is not perfect, in fact, making a mistake is often attributed to “being human.” But modern society portrays perfection as not only the ideal human state, but attainable, when in fact it is not. Hollywood glorifies life by ending every story happily and often depicts a society that includes people from all walks of life. Authors Raymond Carver and James Joyce take a more realistic approach when they tell their stories. Through his story “Cathedral,” Carver reveals that not everyone is accepted as they are and that people are resistant to things they do not know. He offers a nice solution for his main character, but recognizes that there is no way to universally reach people and make them accept every person regardless of differences. Well the human defect depicted by Carver is seen as something that should be solved, Joyce shows a defect that does not need to be solved at all. His main character hopes for a happy ending that never comes, as many people do. Everyone desires positive events in their life, but all positive is not possible. Hoping for all good things in life is unrealistic, and people know that, but they hope nevertheless because hope is what motivates people to do everything they do, every human action is driven by the hope of a certain outcome. So, defect though it may be, it should not be solved, which is why Joyce does not offer a solution.
Literature written in the realistic style allows the average person to relate to the main characters as well as exposes flaws in human nature. Carver and Joyce are two authors that write in realism and from them one can see imperfections in human society that may or may not have been apparent. Though the fault illustrated by Carver is one that appears to require a solution while the fault Joyce depicts does not, neither offer a solution viable to the whole of society. Realism as a style is effective in showing flaws of humans but the solution to those problems cannot be solved by a single author in a short story. If those issues are to be resolved at all, dramatic changes to society must be made, which is slow and difficult. “Cathedral” and “Araby” are wonderful examples of realism that simply leave the reader pondering the issues they present, because the only way to change them is to make people aware of them.
Carver, Raymond. “Cathedral.” The Seagull Reader: Stories. 2nd ed. New York: W. W. Norton &, 2008. 84-98. Print.
Joyce, James. “Araby.” The Seagull Reader: Stories. 2nd ed. New York: W. W. Norton &, 2008. 216-21. Print.
Preis, Eran. “Not Such a Happy Ending: The Ideology of the Open Ending.” JSTOR. University of Illinois Press. Web. 29 Mar. 2011. .