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‘Paul’s Case’ is one of the short stories written by Willa Cather. Essentially, it is about a young man, sixteen years of age, best described as an alien as a result of being motherless. The alienation actually sent Paul out to go and look for some aesthetics given their absence from his yellow wallpaper. This made him feel more detached. Through Cather, we are able to see clearly that Paul has no interest in school and instead has shifted his interest to working in Carnegie Hall. He is driven by his otherwise strong dream of having a luxurious lifestyle while living in the New York City.
In responding to this somehow desperation, Paul avoided his situation by surrounding himself with music aesthetics and with the rich and wealthy people. In reality, Paul developed complete disinterest in school, and this major change is attributable to the alienation and isolation he succumbed to in his later life. This disinterest in school is seen on one occasion when Paul was at the chalkboard and his English teacher stepped to his side and attempted to guide his hand” (Cather 1). Surprisingly, when he was touched by the teacher in order to be directed, Paul made quick backward steps and placed his hands at his back showing that he was not interested. Such disinterests are also reflected in other classes where he is reported to be mostly looking outside through the windows when lectures are on session making him to give little or no attention to what the teacher said. Growing without a motherly love and care, Paul is un accustomed to any affection or some care from his teachers that otherwise his mother would give to him (Rosowski, 27).
An interrogation of ‘Paul’s Case’ brings him out as the major protagonist, the round character that exhibits not only different personalities but also shows unique feelings to different situations. In the beginning of the story where he shows what could be described as careless attitude towards being re-admitted to school after the expiry of his suspension. "His teachers felt this afternoon that his whole attitude was symbolized by his shrug of his shoulders" (Cather, 1). Paul indeed showed such disobedient actions on various occasions that re-affirmed his careless character and worsened his alienation.
The writer portrays Paul as a different and a unique character throughout the story. It is inherent from the beginning through to the end. Upon returning to school, he went straight to Carnegie Hall where he worked as an usher at the theater location. It is here as Cather says that Paul changed his attitude becoming more enthusiastic as compared to what he was at the meeting thereby making him be regarded as a model usher (Cather 2). In essence, this reveals that Paul do not stand to be regarded as an ignorant character, but rather that the joy he derives from his job makes him to be regarded by many within the vicinity as a model to be emulated by other ushers.
In literature, the arrogance displayed by Paul was meant to make the story more psychotic than it really was. Cather shows different personalities of Paul which makes him to be a static character and personality in the story. Critic David, for instance, documents that ‘Paul’s Case’ occurs in ‘a mossy Pittsburg and glamorous New York’ which outlines Paul’s two different fronts. After being late for his curfew, Paul ends sneaking and hiding in the basement where he ends up spending the rest of the night before coming to his senses and realizing that his father mistakenly might confuse him for a burglar or his father walking down stairs holding pistol in his hand on suspicion that there is a stranger in the house. And on reaching he found Paul which scared and infuriated him. Such actions by Paul made the story more interesting as it revealed his psychotic aspect, where he day dreams, thinking of the most ambiguous and unusual things that he could not attain at that particular moment (David, 34 and Woodress, 45).
Very interesting themes have also be deduced from the story. Such themes are found to navigate mostly around the character of Paul. Some of the basic questions that could be asked to help understand Paul may include; is he corrupt morally? Should he be responsible for his actions or should American values and dreams be blamed for his actions. In light of these questions, themes that are found to be synonymous with the story include; the American dream, choices and consequences, deception, beauty, alienation, and limitation and opportunities. The American Dream stood to be a major theme in the story.
For instance, Paul’s father and the rest of the members of Cordelia Street which is an ‘enviable and respectable’ middle class group attach strong values on hard work, family and the church all of which Paul strived to ignore. And on their free time, people in this neighborhood would sit down in groups exchanging exciting stories about the merchants’ or industrial heads that worked hard from poverty and changed their situation to being wealthy. Interestingly, Paul also is bound by the same fate as other members of Cordelia Street; that is one time be a rich person so that he too can have a taste of the good rich life. Although he does push through with this dream and manages to have the leisure he always wanted, he attains it not through hard work but through immoral ways and enjoys it only for a short a time, actually for just one week. As regard deception, this is what makes him to realize his dream however short it was. At home, Paul exhibit this theme by propelling lies to his father about his trips to the theater and his so called tall tails at school actually defines the life he wants to have in New York City. In New York City, he extends his deception by actually pretending that he is a rich boy probably from a rich family from Washington who has come to New York to await his globe-trotting parents (David, 32).
Beauty is another theme expressed in the story. For Paul , beauty is what defines and makes his life and is only attainable in illusion. Paul is very relaxed and lively and above all very comfortable when in art galleries, theater, symphony and opera. In fact, when he is quietly listening to operas, he ends up losing himself. In deed Paul assumes art to be his religion. Cather affirms this when he describes the art as his “sacred temple”. Alienation is just but another theme. Paul is estranged in his vehement dreams of beauty and glamour. His alienation is well reflected when he experienced total discomfort from among the people he should be happy with.
Related to alienation is the theme of limitations and opportunities. His alienation is majorly seen as a product of the limitations that he faces and which prohibit him from enjoying his life to the fullest. His father for instance pays much attention to the business world and strongly opposes the strong desire that Paul is trying to get himself involved into, and in fact he only allowed Paul to work as an usher in order for him to earn some little money as a young person, something he actually believed in (Bloom, 77).
Throughout the entire story, the author employed a style that stood out as unique. The author employs a distinct style of writing that brings out the complexity of the story in general. For instance, “Paul bounded upstairs scrubbed the greasy odor of the dish water from his hands with ill smelling soap he hated” (Cather, 4). This alone is enough to give the reader a distinct picture of the unique style used by Cather to outlay deep visualization of the story. Also important to note is that through out the story, Cather displayed a rich repository of her writing prowess and ability not leaving syntax manipulation which she is fond of in many of her writings. “He rose and moved about with a painful effort, succumbing now and again to attack nausea”, this interesting passage alone is enough to give a clear picture of how Cather navigated with syntax structures throughout the story (Arnold, 25).