Cather’s Connection to “Paul’s Case”
To understand art, one must first understand the artist who created it and their motivation in doing so. In Willa Cather’s short story “Paul’s Case: A Study in Temperance” the protagonist, Paul, is a unique and complex character, which gives insight into the complexity of his creator. Understanding Cather’s personality and her purpose in the creation of Paul is paramount in the analysis of Paul as a character.The story of “Paul’s Case” was not wistfully imagined with the inclination to tell a pleasant story of light-hearted entertainment; the immaculate conception of the character Paul and his corresponding case is one of forced emotional expression under the pressures of a society that renounces those who with homosexual tendencies and the isolation that accompanies the concealing of such a secret. As scholar Marilee Lindemann states, “Cather’s fiction is clearly and deeply marked by medical and juridical discourse that pathologies nonprocreative sexualities; often, instead of being subverted or critiqued, those discourses are brutally enforced, even by those who are most oppressed by them”. It wasn’t that Cather was elated to share the story of a young dainty boy who “was tall for his age and very thin, with high, cramped shoulders and a narrow chest… and a red carnation in his buttonhole” (Cather) but rather she was using writing as an escaped her own emotional struggles, with “Paul’s Case” being the accumulation of those thoughts and feelings when channeled as written word.Paul is not only the protagonist but the manifestation of Cather’s own homosexuality. Paul is the opposite of the archetypical man. He isn’t interested in sports or chasing women, his main interests seem to be fashion and working “evening[s] as an usher at Carnegie Hall… where there were some of Raffelli’s gay studies of Paris streets and an airy blue Venetian scene or two that always exhilarated him” (Cather). Paul has to share a dressing room with a half dozen other boys and unlike most high school aged males in a changing room, Paul “was always considerably excited while be dressed… and he teased and plagued the boys until, telling him that he was crazy, they put him down on the floor and sat on him,” which made Paul feel “Somewhat calmed by his suppression” (Cather). Paul’s overt feminine disposition is counter to the expectations and ideals of the role of males in society. This phenomenon of crossing gender norms held a constant presence in Cather’s own life, who for a time “dressed as a boy, cut her hair like a man’s and called herself William Cather” (Rose).Understanding Cather is only the foundation in understanding Paul. Paul’s creation is not entirely encompassed in the superficial exploration of his outward appearance and inward traits; the environment in which Cather chose to place Paul as well as the story she wove around him opens a window of insight into Paul’s meaning as a character.The culminating even of “Paul’s Case” gives the critical understanding of Paul’s identity in the story as well as Cather’s influence. In the end Paul takes off the red carnation, now wilted, that has symbolized his resilience throughout the novel: “It occurred to him that all the flowers he had seen in the glass cases that first night must have gone the same way, long before this. It was only one splendid breath they had, in spite of their brave mockery at the winter outside the glass” (Cather). The “one splendid breath” of the flowers parallels the tribulations taken on by Paul enjoy the slender of the life he thought he deserved and the subsequent death of his spirit after the last breath of life left that dream and “all the world became Cordelia Street” (Cather). Paul gets to the train tracks and takes a nap. He chose not to shoot himself but jump in front of a train. These two actions are very significant. Paul wants to give himself an out, to have hope, to have an epiphany that makes him realize he doesn’t have to do what he feeling is the only option. He has to die because society won’t let him live and thrive. He isn’t shooting himself, the train is killing him; he is not responsible for his death, society is. Understanding Paul’s thought process calls for one to look deeper – to look into Cather’s mind. She did not leave the story to end with any socio-political resolution for Paul. For Cather there is no happy ending, only a society that is adamantly outspoken against homosexuals and leaves no hope for understanding or acceptance. She understands that “it [is] a losing game in the end, it seemed, this revolt against the homilies by which the world is run” (Cather). Paul has a multitude of things that make him a unique character and pose difficulties for anyone to attempt to analyze. To obtain a firm grasp on Paul as a character one must reach down between the words, through the subtext and touch the author themselves for that is where the truth lies. One cannot fully appreciate the art without first appreciating the struggles of the artist that manifested itself into their work.Works CitedLindemann, Marilee. Willa Cather Queering America. New York: Columbia UP, 1893. Print.Cather, Willa. “Paul’s Case.” By Willa Cather. Jalic Inc., 23 Apr. 2000. Web. 25 Sept. 2012.
Delusions of Grandeur
The short story Paul’s Case follows the character Paul through his exploits in his short-lived life. Paul is introduced as a rather troubled young man as demonstrated by the dynamic between him and his teachers. He is infatuated with artistry especially in the theater and even works at Carnegie Hall in Pittsburgh which gives him the opportunity to indulge his fixations. However, he has a naïve idea of art and only appreciates it for the grandiose sense of belonging rather than the artistry. Paul dislikes his middle-class life and looks down upon the businessmen, teachers, and families in his community. He holds himself in high regard and believes he will lead a cultured and prosperous life with great wealth. He pursues adventures that he hopes will grant him the unrealistic fantasies he has of his future life. Paul is a depressed young man who is superficial, delusional, and self-obsessed which is illustrated by his dissatisfaction with his current life and yearning for a better life which is out of his reach.
Paul is evidently superficial and delusional through his obsession with wealth, hatred of the middle-class life, and the desire for the good life. He describes his state of living as unfortunate and miserable; he believes he was meant to be rich and it was a sheer mistake that he was born in a poor household. He looks down upon the life his father and their neighbors lead; he describes them as unsophisticated, reverent and miserable. Paul obsesses about the lives of the iron magnates but does not yearn for the lives of “cash boys’ who work hard to achieve success. He feels alienated and drowning in ugliness by being in the middle-class life, only when he goes to the theater that he feels the ugliness leave him. He fantasizes about the easy life but he lacks the ambition and drive to achieve these accomplishments, he only hopes to be in the adventures of actors and artists but not work to be an artist himself. Paul’s obsession and superficiality drive him to steal $1000 from his new job to fund his exploits in New York City; he splurges on expensive apparels, a room at an elegant hotel and the high social life to feel the contentment he has always yearned for his whole life.
Paul’s fixation on wealth and power is illustrated in his obsession with art, the theater, and the lives of artists. After a concert, he follows the soloist to her hotel and imagines her life. He envisions the marble floors, lights, exotic meals and expensive wine; he then compares the high life with his room which he considers ugly and miserable. Paul uses his fascination with the art world to escape from his dull life and busk in the glow of sophistication. He believes that riches is the only way out of his current life, but he is deluded, as he does not understand the concept of money and hard work. Paul is always unimpressed by the lives of the hard-working people in his community; he does not consider a hardworking man, married with children as a success.
Paul’s narcissistic and self-obsessed nature is demonstrated comprehensively in the story through his attitude towards others and his delusional sense of self-importance. He regards his teachers unworldly and believes he has a better understanding of taste that they do, he thinks this of everyone except for the artists he looks up to. He is disgusted by the scents and filth in his home that he douses himself with cologne to rid himself of the smell before he visits Charley Edwards. Paul’s dire need for admiration leads him to lie about the adventures he goes to with the actors, and on how he treats the women to expensive hotels and gifts. The idea of returning to his old middle-class life weighs on him that he chooses to commit suicide to avoid subjecting himself to the mediocrity. Paul’s ignorance of how much his narcissism surpasses his ability to match the expectations he has set for himself leads to his demise.
The protagonist is presented as a victim of grandiose delusions or megalomania, a disorder which is mostly prevalent among young people. Paul exhibits symptoms such as self-perception of being superior, obsessing on fantasies of success and power, sense of entitlement, exploitative and arrogant demeanor. Due to his feelings of inferiority he compensates through crafting illusions of superiority. His enthrallment with the art world is a form of elitist narcissism which comes with lacking the concept of hard work. Furthermore, self-indulgence is a common indication exhibited through his splurging. The mismatch between his narcissism and the reality of his life results in depression which in turn makes him suicidal.