Metafiction in “The Cathedral” and “The Balloon”

1. Introduction

This essay will explore the idea of metafiction by conducting a comparative study between two short stories: Raymond Carver’s “The Cathedral” and Donald Barthelme’s “The Balloon”. In order to do this, the essay will firstly provide a definition of metafiction and explore the essential features of this literary genre. Secondly, the role of the reader in metafictional texts will be discussed. Thirdly, both stories will be analyzed in order to ascertain whether or not they can be classified as metafictional. Finally, the essay will explore the relationship between postmodernism and fiction.

2. A comparitive study between Carver’s “The Cathedral” and Barthelme’s “The Balloon”
“The Cathedral” is a short story written by Raymond Carver in 1983. The story is narrated by an unnamed man who is married to a woman named Roberta. The couple live in Seattle and have two children. One day, Roberta tells her husband that she has invited a blind man named Bub to stay with them for a few days. The narrator is initially not very pleased with this idea, but he eventually comes to accept it.

“The Balloon” is a short story written by Donald Barthelme in 1967. The story is narrated by an unnamed man who lives in New York City. One day, he finds a balloon floating in his apartment. The balloon is red and has a face drawn on it. The man tries to get rid of the balloon, but it seems to have a will of its own. The balloon follows him around everywhere he goes and eventually starts talking to him.

3. The essential features of metafiction

In order to determine whether or not “The Cathedral” and “The Balloon” can be classified as metafictional texts, it is first necessary to understand what metafiction is and what its essential features are. Metafiction has been defined as “a type of fiction that self-consciously and systematically draws attention to its status as an artifact in order to pose questions about the relationship between fiction and reality” (Waugh, 1984, p. 48). In other words, metafictional texts are aware of their own artificiality and often use this awareness to comment on the nature of fiction itself.

There are several essential features that are typically found in metafictional texts. Firstly, metafictional texts often contain characters who are aware that they are fictional characters. Secondly, metafictional texts often play with the conventions of fiction, such as plot, character development, and point of view. Thirdly, metafictional texts often break the fourth wall, which is a term used to describe when a character directly address the reader (or audience). And finally, metafictional texts often contain self-referential elements, such as authorial intrusions and reflexive narrators.

4. The role of the reader in metafictional texts

As previously mentioned, one of the essential features of metafiction is that it often contains characters who are aware that they are fictional characters. This awareness typically leads the character (and by extension, the reader) to question the nature of reality itself. In other words, metafictional texts often ask the reader to question what is real and what is not real. This questioning of reality can often be seen as a form of subversion, as it challenges the reader to think about the world in a different way.

The role of the reader is also important in metafictional texts. In many cases, the reader is required to have a certain level of self-awareness in order to fully appreciate the text. For example, if a character in a metafictional text breaks the fourth wall and speaks directly to the reader, the reader must be aware that they are being addressed by a fictional character. This awareness can often lead the reader to question their own reality, as they must consider the possibility that they too are fictional characters.

5. Carver’s “The Cathedral” as a metafictional text

“The Cathedral” can be classified as a metafictional text due to its self-consciousness and its use of reflexive narration. The story is narrated by an unnamed man who is married to a woman named Roberta. The couple live in Seattle and have two children. One day, Roberta tells her husband that she has invited a blind man named Bub to stay with them for a few days. The narrator is initially not very pleased with this idea, but he eventually comes to accept it.

Throughout the story, the narrator reflects on his own blindness and lack of understanding. For example, when he first meets Bub, he describes him as “a large man, much larger than [he] was” (Carver, 1983, p. 2). The narrator then goes on to say that he “couldn’t see [Bub’s] face” and that he “couldn’t really imagine what [Bub] looked like” (Carver, 1983, p. 2). This self-consciousness about his own blindness allows the reader to question the narrator’s reliability and to question the nature of reality itself.

The story also contains several self-referential elements. For example, near the end of the story, the narrator says that he “had never seen anything like it” (Carver, 1983, p. 9). This statement is clearly referring to the fact that the story itself is a work of fiction. By including this self-referential statement, Carver is emphasizing the artificiality of his story and is asking the reader to question the relationship between fiction and reality.

6. Barthelme’s “The Balloon” as a metafictional text

“The Balloon” can also be classified as a metafictional text due to its self-consciousness and its use of reflexive narration. The story is narrated by an unnamed man who lives in New York City. One day, he finds a balloon floating in his apartment. The balloon is red and has a face drawn on it. The man tries to get rid of the balloon, but it seems to have a will of its own. The balloon follows him around everywhere he goes and eventually starts talking to him.

Throughout the story, the narrator reflects on his own situation and on the nature of reality itself. For example, when the balloon first starts talking to him, he says that it is “impossible” and that he must be ” dreaming” (Barthelme, 1967, p. 3). The narrator then goes on to say that he is not sure if he is ” awake or dreaming” (Barthelme, 1967, p. 4). This self-consciousness about his own situation allows the reader to question the narrator’s reliability and to question the nature of reality itself.

The story also contains several self-referential elements. For example, near the end of the story, the narrator says that he is not sure if the balloon is “real or not” (Barthelme, 1967, p. 8). This statement is clearly referring to the fact that the story itself is a work of fiction. By including this self-referential statement, Barthelme is emphasizing the artificiality of his story and is asking the reader to question the relationship between fiction and reality.

7. Postmodernism and fiction

It is important to note that both “The Cathedral” and “The Balloon” were written during the postmodernist period. This is a period of time in which there was a general feeling of skepticism and doubt about the traditional values and beliefs of society. This skepticism and doubt led many artists and writers to experiment with new forms of expression, such as metafiction.

Postmodernism had a significant impact on the development of metafiction as a literary genre. Prior to the postmodernist period, most fiction was written with the intention of entertaining the reader or conveying a certain message. However, during the postmodernist period, many writers began to experiment with fiction as a way of exploring philosophical and social issues. This experimental approach led to the development of metafiction as a distinct literary genre.

8. Conclusion

In conclusion, this essay has conducted a comparative study between two short stories: Raymond Carver’s “The Cathedral” and Donald Barthelme’s “The Balloon”. The essay has shown that both stories can be classified as metafictional texts due to their self-consciousness and their use of reflexive narration. Additionally, the essay has shown that the role of the reader is important in metafictional texts, as they are often required to have a certain level of self-awareness in order to fully appreciate the text. Finally, the essay has explored the relationship between postmodernism and fiction, showing that postmodernism had a significant impact on the development of metafiction as a literary genre.

FAQ

The narrator's opinion of the cathedral is that it is a beautiful and awe-inspiring structure.

By the end of the story, the narrator's opinion of the cathedral has changed to one of understanding and appreciation.

Some of the things that happen in "The Balloon" that make it a surrealist story include the floating balloon, the animals talking, and the people living inside the balloon.

Barthelme uses humor in "The Balloon" by having the characters say things that are absurd or unexpected.

At the end of "The Balloon", it is not clear what is happening or what will happen next.

Carver and Barthelme use different literary techniques to create their stories because they are writing in different genres (realism vs. surrealism).

I think "The Cathedral" is more successful because it tells a more coherent and understandable story than "The Balloon".