Drugs Theme in R. Carver’s “Cathedral” and J. Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues”
Many people associate drug abuse with antisocial behavior such as crime. However, drugs do not necessarily lead to such behavior. In Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral” and James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues” drugs, such as marijuana, alcohol, and heroine enhances creativity and also enables self-discovery.
Alcohol and marijuana enhance the communication between the narrator and the blind man, effectively enabling them to draw the cathedral. Even though heroine strains communication between the narrator and Sonny in “Sonny’s Blues,” it enables Sonny to discover and perfect his music career.
Therefore, in “Cathedral” and “Sonny’s Blues” use of hard drugs enhances creativity and self-discovery but affects communication both positively and negatively. It is commonly believed that drug abuse hampers communication. However, events in Raymond Carver’s short story “Cathedral” prove otherwise.
The characters take too much alcohol and marijuana, albeit passively over a short duration of time. Before taking alcohol, the narrator and the blind man could barely get along. Despite his best efforts, the narrator “wasn’t getting through to” the blind man (Carver 218). However, a few glasses of scotch and puffs of marijuana help the narrator and blind man open up to each other.
With time, the drugs improve communication between the two men. Improved communication helps them to draw the cathedral. In contrast, drug abuse impedes communication between Sonny and his elder brother, the narrator. Throughout the story, the narrator struggles to come to terms with Sonny’s drug addiction. As a result, for a long time, Sonny’s brother is not able to “write or say anything” to Sonny (Baldwin 88).
Furthermore, Sonny’s desire to write to his brother is hampered by the fact that Sonny knew how much “hurt he had caused. So he did not write” (Baldwin 89). Even though the two make an effort to keep in touch, communication between them remains strained and only improves towards the end of the story, when the narrator accepts that heroin has helped spur Sonny’s music career.
Drinking and smoking are beneficial pastime activities, which can help enhance creativity. This is evident through the blind man, the narrator and the narrator’s wife. The three partake scotch and other alcoholic drinks to while away the evening. When the narrator’s wife sleeps, the blind man and the narrator smoke marijuana.
Instead of affecting ones thinking, the narrator says marijuana is “staff one reason (sic) with… It doesn’t mess you up” (Carver 220). Intoxicated with alcohol and marijuana, the two recreate the cathedral and translate that idea into a drawing. Thus, drugs enhance creativity. Similarly, in James Baldwin’s “Sonny Blues” the use of heroin leads to enhancement of creativity in music.
Sonny, one of the main characters, is introduced to the heroine as a young boy. Initially, the narrator, whom we later learn is his brother, worries about Sonny’s future. However, rather than destroying him, heroine enables Sonny to take control of his music career.
Furthermore, Isabel discovers that Sonny does not go to school but spends time playing music with his friends at Greenwich Village, where drug abuse is the norm. Later on, Sonny confesses that heroine makes him “feel in control, and sometimes (he) just have to feel that way” to be able to play music (Baldwin 113). Were it not for a heroine; Sonny would not have discovered his talent.
Drinking and smoking are favorite pastime activities in Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral,” but contrary to popular belief, drugs enable one to discover new skills and abilities. The discovery of artistic abilities by the narrator and the blind man can be attributed to taking alcohol and marijuana. Initially, the relationship between the narrator and the blind man is frosty.
However, drugs help to bridge the social gap between them. As a result of improved communication, the narrator, who was “no artist… but kept drawing just the same” (Carver 227), allows the blind man to guide him to draw the cathedral. Furthermore, the narrator discovers that he knows nothing about religion after getting drunk. Therefore, drugs help the narrator to discover his artistic abilities as well as the fact that he is not religious.
Similarly, the discovery of musical talent can be attributed to Sonny’s addiction to drugs. Sonny’s path to music unknowingly starts when he is introduced to the heroine. Sonny alludes to the fact that heroine helped him discover his musical talents when he confesses to his brother that he had to be “high to play music” (Baldwin 113).
Furthermore, when he hears the revival lady sing, he likens the hypnotic nature of her singing to the effects of “heroine in his veins” (Baldwin 113). Therefore, the heroine helps Sonny not only discover his musical talent but also to connect with it. Drug abuse is an issue of real concern in many societies. Use of hard drugs is associated with negative behavior such as crime.
However, Baldwin and Carver prove that drugs do have positive effects. Were it not for drugs, the blind man and the narrator would not have discovered their artistic abilities. Moreover, the use heroine helps Sonny to develop his music career. Therefore, drugs enable one to attain higher ideals.
Upon the attainment of those ideals is attained, drugs become irrelevant. This is evident through Sonny who, upon maturing musically, expresses his desire to leave Harlem and escape from drugs. Therefore, the use of hard drugs is not necessarily bad.
Baldwin, James. “Sonny’s Blues.” Going to Meet the Man. Ed. James Baldwin. New York: Dell, 1973. 87 –119. Print.
Carver, Raymond. Cathedral: Stories. London: Vintage Books, 1989. Print.