About Us  |  Student/Parent comments  |  Site Map

Willa Cather: Paul's Case

Questions taken from the following text:

Arp, Thoams R. & Greg Johnson, ed. Perrine's Story & Structure, Tenth Edition. Harcourt College Publishers: New York, NY; 2002. Paul's Case, by Willa Cather (1905). pp.197-215.

1. Technically we should classify the author's point of view as omniscient, for she enters into the minds of characters at will. Nevertheless, early in the story the focus changes rather abruptly. Locate the point at which the change occurs. Through whose eyes do we we see Paul prior to this point? Through whose eyes do we see him afterward? What is the purpose of this shift? Does it offer any clue to the purpose of the story?

Kirsten

The Point of View of the story changes when Paul leaves from his meeting at the school. Before this shift, we see Paul from the perspective of the teachers, and after Paul leaves the meeting, the story is focused on Paul's actions and feelings. This shift allows us to focus, along with Paul, on what he feels are life-ruining problems -- boredom, monotony, etc. Throughout the story, Paul obsesses over these things with total disregard for how his actions might influence those around him, and with this change in POV, the reader is allowed to be like Paul and only see things from how he feels.

(178) "As for Paul, he ran down the hill whistling the Soldiers' Chorus from Faust, looking behind him now and then to see whether some of his teachers were not there to witness his light-heartedness." Paul has a certain vindictive streak to him that makes his insults especially sharp. Paul recognizes that because he shows nonchalance to what the teachers or other meant-to-be authority figures think of him, that he has a special edge that perturbs these people. There is nothing more frustrating and defeating than trying to control someone who feels nothing but complete indifference and dislike towards you -- and who responds to being reprimanded with "light-heartedness".

(176-177) "The astonished woman could scarcely have been more hurt and embarrassed had he struck at her. The insult was so involuntary and definitely personal as to be unforgettable." The way that Paul insults his teachers is unique -- because he does so indirectly -- he never once verbally abuses them -- it makes the insult seem so much worse. And because his negative reactions to his teachers seem involuntary, it appears to the teachers that Paul must just be so absolutely repulsed by them that he can't control his reactions of dislike for them.

Katie

In the beginning of the story we see Paul through the eyes of his teachers. In paragraph 11, the audience now views Paul through his own thoughts and the narrator's point of view rather than through his teachers. By switching points of view the audience can see Paul as he views himself, and as others view him. Could a theme be that people view you differently than you view yourself? Although you may want people to view you a certain way, you have no control over their opinions and viewpoint.

Bailey

In the beginning we are given the story from the viewpoint of a teacher, but then it switches to Paul's viewpoint. This switch occurs at paragraph 11, after Paul leaves the "hearing." This change in view points signifies reality: we see how other people view him and then we see his ideas of what is taking place.

Jamie

We first see Paul through the eyes of his teachers, who view him as a troubled delinquent. After this initial perspective, the point of view shifts to that of Paul, who sees himself, euphemistically, as being different. The author uses this shift to distinguish between reality and illusion/dream. The teachers see Paul as disturbed, the reality of the situation, while Paul thinks he is unique and that the others are wrong, which is a kind of fantasy. This may be a clue to the purpose of the story, by portraying how reality is often different from what a person wants or sees.

Kathryn

Early in the story the point of view is that of the teachers. This offers an outside view of Paul before his motives are explained through his own eyes. Throughout most of the story, Paul's perspective causes the reader to sympathize with his plight, but the initial perspective of the teachers provides an outsider's view to his behavior, which is an essential element of the story, in that it highlights his singularity of behavior and attitude.


2. What details of Paul's appearance and behavior, as his teachers see him, indicate that he is different from other boys?

Kirsten

Paul's teachers describe, "a sort of hysterically defiant manner of the boy's; in the contempt which they all knew he felt for them, and which he seemingly made not the least bit of effort to conceal" (p. 177) and that, "his whole attitude was symbolized by his shrug and his flippantly red carnation flower."(p. 177) It's this "untouchable" attitude about Paul that makes him so different and so infuriating to his teachers -- because he feels higher than them, there's nothing they can do to him, and his appearance mirrors this defiance -- it's this trait of his that makes him unique.

(176) "His clothes were a trifle outgrown, and the tan velvet on the collar of his open overcoat was frayed and worn; but for all that there was something of a dandy about him, and he wore an opal pin in his neatly knotted black four-in-hand, and a red carnation in his buttonhole." Paul's appearance already suggests that he wants to make himself distinctive from other people. He has put obvious attention and care into selecting things that are luxurious -- velvet collars, an opal pin, and a flower in the button hole. But while these things are fancier than normal, it's still obvious that he doesn't come from luxury as the clothes are too small and the fabric is shabby. Paul seems to be pretending to be something he's not.

Kelsey

When Paul is first introduced he is wearing an opal pin, and a red carnation. He is described as abnormal, using his eyes to portray a certain hysterical brilliancy -- they had a glassy glitter about them. The teachers were unable to describe in words "the real cause of the trouble, which lay in a sort of hysterically defiant manner of the boy's."(p. 176) He is different because he tries to stand out, which is almost his goal.

Katie

Paul is different than other students in the way he dresses. Wearing an opal pin and a red carnation symbolizes the sense of superiority he feels over his teachers. Being tall and very skinny, Paul also has intense, odd eyes. He also bows when he leaves the trial room which is unlike most teenage boys.

Bailey

Paul dresses differently from other boys and the way he dresses makes teachers question how seriously he takes the "hearing." The teachers view his red carnation as flippant, "and they fell upon him without mercy." (para. 4)

Jamie

The red carnation, pin, and general attire (frayed collar) of Paul indicate that he is different from most boys.

Kathryn

Paul's attire and demeanor are distinctly condescending. By arriving at his suspension hearing wearing an opal pin and a red carnation, Paul indicates that he believes himself to inhabit a higher social class than his teachers. They detect Paul's subtle disdain, and loathe him for it because they cannot precisely describe the nuances of his behavior that bother them so much. His attitude gives him status, because he presumes to not care about anything that his teachers have to say.


3. Explain Paul's behavior. Why does he lie? What dos he hate? What does he want? Contrast the world of Cordelia Street with the worlds Paul finds at Carnegie Hall, at the Schenley, at the stock theater, and in New York.

Kirsten

Paul lies, "to make himself noticed and admired, to assert his difference from other Cordelia Street boys" (p. 190). Paul hates anything common or monotonous; unfortunately for Paul, Cordelia Street residents are the epitome of "normal" -- middle-class working families. Paul longs for a life of beauty and exhilaration. At Carnegie Hall, Paul is caught up in the high-class music and affluent guests who have, "that world-shine" (p. 179). The Schenley is the hotel where these types of people stay -- inside exists a world that Paul longs to be a part of because of its exclusivity. The stock theatre appeals to Paul because it's exciting and because working there allows him to escape the realities of Cordelia Street. New York is the ultimate symbol of all the things that Paul wants: high-society life in New York is glamorous, new, and constantly changing, so unlike Cordelia Street where life is noted for its stability.

(182) "He happened to be the young man who was daily held up to Paul as a model, and after whom it was his father's dearest hope that he would pattern...He was clerk to one of the magnates of a great steel corporation, and was looked upon in Cordelia Street as a young man with a future...at twenty-one he had married the first woman whom he could persuade to share his fortunes." The man who is meant to be Paul's role-model couldn't be further from the romantic visions Paul dreams of for his future self. The man is plain and works in an indistinctive, colorless job and married, not out of love, but because that what the natural pattern of a normal life. Paul has made it clear that he wants to be distinctive, while the people around Paul seem to believe that happiness lies in leading a stable life.  

Kelsey

Paul lies to make himself noticed and admired, to assert his difference from other boys. By lying he separates himself from the norm; he becomes the actor or the musician whom he idolizes. Whenever Paul is in a theatrical setting he forgets his current life and focuses on the present...on the positive. Paul is an overlooked boy desperate for attention.

Katie

Paul lies because he simply wants to be admired by others. Growing up in a poor neighborhood of Pittsburg, Paul has great disdain for his monotonous, simple life. He yearns to be a part of the rich, opulent lifestyle unlike his own. His home on Cordelia Street is confining and dull. Paul hates how the homes all look the same and lives of the people on the street are extremely similar. Unlike dull Cordelia Street, Paul craves to be in Carnegie Hall, which represents beauty, elegance, and the wealthy. He loves the theater and how it makes him feel important, and part of the upper-class lifestyle.

Bailey

Paul lies in order to be given attention and to be noticed. He dislikes Cordelia Street, and he hates not having money and being poor. Cordelia Street represents his bondage, while New York and other places are stage-like. These places are a fake illusion of glamour, yet Paul likes them because they are ritzy and high-class.

Jamie

Paul lies because he wants attention. He hates poverty and the feeling of bondage his low-class status reminds him of; he abhors the monotony and prospect of being stuck in that "distasteful" class of society. Instead he yearns to "live it large" with money, theatre, and luxury. Cordelia Street is a drab, bleak, and plebian place that represents Paul's position in society. New York, Carnegie Hall, and the Schenley are upbeat, classy, cultured areas, or everything Paul desires.

Kathryn

Paul detests the mediocrity of his existence, which he believes to constitute the world at large. Paul feels that the drabness of his street and his day to day life are an indication of life in general, which is why he is attracted to the false beauty and splendor of Carnegie Hall and the stock theater. In these venues, society's rich display of its finest regalia entices Paul because it is a performance of flawless happiness.


4. Is Paul artistic? Describe his eractions to music, to painting, to literature, and to the theater. What value does he find in the arts?

Kirsten

Paul isn't really artistic; rather, Paul uses certain types of art, like music, theatre, or paintings, to transport himself to his fantasy life. Paul has little appreciation for art if it doesn't help him to imagine the life he longs to have.  

(178) "there were some of Raffelli's gay studies of Paris streets and an airy blue Venetian scene or two that always exhilarated him...he rose with a start and ran downstairs, making a face at Augustus Caesar, peering out from the cast-room, and an evil gesture at the Venus of Milo as he passed her on the stairway." I'm not sure that what Paul feels towards the arts can necessarily be called "appreciation" -- he more seems to use certain types of art, like paintings or music, to transport himself into his fantasies of higher-class life. He certainly doesn't seem to have any respect for art that doesn't do this, like the statues he passes on the way out.

Kelsey

Paul is not artistic: he is just emotionally-connected to the theatrical setting. When surrounded by music or the theater, Paul realizes that he has the opportunity to escape from his problems and become something. The arts provide a necessary sanctuary away from typical childhood problems.

Katie

Paul himself is artistic because he values the elements of theater and the arts. He appreciates their lively, evolving atmosphere. Paul hates his home because of its mind-numbing life, but he adores the theater because of its originality and freshness.

Bailey

Paul is very artistic, because he feels (emotionally) through art and music. Music and stage life are his escape from reality.

Jamie

Paul is artistic in that he feels deep emotions in response to music, literature, and the arts. When he is exposed to the arts he transforms into his true self, which is someone who loves the atmosphere and the experience the arts offer, and someone who is happy and joyful. He finds the value of life in the arts; when the music starts, the paintings appear, the words of books flow, Paul actually has the sense of being awake and alive.

Kathryn

Paul is artistic in that he lets himself be completely consumed by the arts. His reactions to painting, theater, and music indicate that he has no discretion when it comes to believing wholeheartedly in the beauty of something that nonetheless may be false. Performances and subjective depictions entice his fancy, because he is eager to inhabit a world in which things are perfect, even if they are false.


5. Is Paul a static or developing character? If the latter, at what points does he change? Why?

Kirsten

I believe that Paul is a static character up until the point that he throws himself in front of the train. It is here that Paul realizes, "the folly of his haste...the vastness of what he had left undone." (p. 192) Before this point, Paul's thinking is very stationary -- he hates the routine and lack of excitement, but only right before he dies does Paul grasp that there was so much he had yet to accomplish in his life -- even if being able to do these things would mean returning to Cordelia Street.

Kelsey

Paul is a static character. However, in the story, the reader is shown many different sides to his character as the setting changes.

Katie

Paul is a static character because his views and opinions stay the same throughout the story. In the beginning he is obsessed with upperclass life and the theater, and in the end he still values these things. He becomes more aware of the rich life style in realizing how crucial money is to people's success: "money was everything, the wall that stood between all he loathed and all he wanted." (p. 191)

Jamie

I think Paul is static. In the story Paul wants to escape his reality to live in a dreamy world of luxury and riches. When he finally manages this by moving to New York, a place where his fantasies can be fulfilled, he still finds a way to worry about his past. His fears of his former lifestyle haunt him and, even in the midst of his classy dreamlife, cause him to want to escape, which in turn leads to his suicide.

Kathryn

Paul is a static character in that, throughout the story, his viewpoints do not change and the actions resulting from his ideas about the world are consistent. Throughout the entire story, Paul venerates wealth and opulence as an indication of happiness in a world above that which most people inhabit. His suspicions are confirmed at the end of the story when he realizes that money is as important, if not more, than he had always believed. Paul is static in that his stay in the hotel does not cause him to have an epiphany; it merely verifies his long-established ideas.


6. What do Paul's clandestine trips tot he stock theater, his trip to New York, and his suicide have in common?

Kirsten

These things are similar because they exist outside the normal sphere of Cordelia Street life. The stock market is a place that residents of Paul's street are unaccustomed to because they earn their living through blue-collar work; New York is unknown and a complete opposite of Cordelia Street, and Paul's choice to commit suicide is an abnormal way to die.

(179) "Paul was startled for a moment, and had the feeling of wanting to put her out; what business had she here among all these fine people and gay colors? He looked her over and decided that she was not appropriately dressed and must be a fool to sit downstairs in such togs." When Paul's English teacher shows up, it's natural that Paul should react so sourly to her. His teacher is an element from Paul's true "reality" -- she's something that reminds Paul that he's not a member of people who attend performances at Carnegie Hall; he is just a kid who lives among people who are, "exactly alike as their home, and of a piece with the monotony in which they lived." (180). When Paul is at the Hall, he escapes from this reality, but with a person from the world he's trying to escape from confronts this fantasy, he sinks, "back forever into ugliness and commonness that he had always had when he came home." (180)

Kelsey

They are all attempts to fit into society's preconceived mold. Paul is merely trying to get attention from society.

Jamie

All of these experiences are liberating for Paul. When he goes to the stock theatre he is in a world free of worries. When he goes to New York he no longer has to face the monotonous, grim life of Cordelia Street. When he kills himself, he no longer has the burden of hate and of unhappiness in his life.

Bailey

Paul's trips to the stock theater and to New York and then his suicide all seem to be an escape from reality.

Kathryn

Paul does each with absolute conviction in his purpose, and without regret.


7. Compare Paul and the college boy he meets in New York,(paragraph 56). Are they two of a kind? If not, how do they differ?

Kirsten

I think that Paul is entirely different from the college kid he meets. The boy Paul meets has come down to new your for a, "'little flyer' over Sunday" (p.189) -- he has merely come to New York to have a break, while Paul has come to New York to escape from his life back home.

Kelsey

Paul and the college boy are similar but not the same. The college boy uses the night life to escape from the world, while Paul uses the arts to do the same. [Doesn't Paul think that the night life is "the life"???] -- M

Katie

Paul and the Yale college boy are separate and distinct from each other. The college boy is familiar with the party life of New York and is obviously from an upper class family if he is attending Yale. In contrast, Paul grew up in a poorer Pittsburgh neighborhood and doesn't seem to be concerned with college or at least he is not expected to attend an Ivy League school.

Jamie

Paul and the boy are two of a kind. The boy temporarily leaves Yale to enter his fantasy world just as Paul often escapes into places that present themselves as ideal and dreamy.

Kathryn

Paul and the college boy are not similar, because the college boy is accustomed to the opulence that Paul reveres. The college boy has probably grown up in rich surroundings, so he does not unconditionally appreciate wealth as Paul does.


8. What are the implications of the title? What does the last sentence of the story do to the reader's focus of vision?

Kirsten

I think the title, Paul's Case implies that Paul has caught a "case" of something -- an illness where Paul is caught in the fever of a life filled with beauty and exhilaration. This bug that Paul catches blinds him from all else; things like perception to other people's thoughts or concerns about the future are all masked by this longing for an "other" life.

(192) "He had a feeling that he had made the best of it, that he had lived the sort of life he was meant to live, and for half and hour he sat staring at the revolver. But he told himself that was not the way, so he went downstairs and took a cab to the ferry...As he fell, the folly of his haste occurred to him with merciless clearness, the vastness of what he had left undone." Instead of getting caught and taken shamefully home to Cordelia Street, suicide superficially seems like a much more romantic plan to Paul. Paul realizes only too late that there is still so much to have done in his life, even if it might have meant going back to the commonness of his home. I think it's interesting that when Paul dies he merely falls, "back into the immense design of things" (193) -- Paul had spent most of the story trying to be distinct from the normalness around him, and in the end he just blends back in to the universe in his attempt to be distinctive.

Kelsey

The title of Paul's Case emphasizes the point that his cause is sort of a lost case. It is like a case which police investigate to determine why someone would kill themselves.

Bailey

Paul's life is like a piece of artwork: not sustaining because it could break or fall apart or fade at anytime. His life is not based on reality, it is more of a depiction of his dreams. The picture is only so big and reality is unable to fit in it. There is a larger picture of what life is all about, but for Paul, life is confined and does not include life's realities.

Katie

The title Paul's Case sounds like a study of his life. Paul is just a case study. [of what? what is this "case study"?] --M

Jamie

The title Paul's Case implies that the problem is not that concerning the teachers or surrounding people, but that it is an internal struggle. It is Paul's priority and case, no one else's.

Kathryn

The title implies that Paul is an anomaly among his peers, because case indicates a singular occurrence. Also a case study would be a study of something out of the ordinary or insane by normal standards.


9. Are there any clues to the causes of Paul's unusual personality? How many? In what is the author chiefly interested?

Kirsten

I believe that the primary thing that contributes to Paul's unusual personality is that Paul, "could not remember a time when he had not been dreading something. Even when he was a little boy, it was always there -- behind him, or before, or on either side. There had always been the shadowed corner, the dark place into which he dared not look, but from which something seemed always to be watching him -- and Paul had done things that were not pretty to watch." (p.187) It's this deep sense of disrest and insecurity that seems to shape much of who Paul is.

(185) "The snow was whirling in curling eddies above the white bottom lands, and the drifts lay already deep in the fields and among the fences, while here and there the tall dead grass and dried weed stalks protruded black above it."
(186) "The snow was whirling so fiercely outside his windows that he could scarcely see across the street; but within, the air was deliciously soft and fragrant."
(187) "He watched the snowflakes whirling by his window until he fell asleep."
I think it's important that it begins to snow heavily right during the period where Paul has run away from his life in Cordelia Street. Snow may be beautiful and cover up any ugliness beneath it, but it's superficial and doesn't last -- while Paul's situation may seem to be getting better now that he has left behind everything, his problem, "the shadowed corner, the dark place into which he dared not look, but from which something seemed always to be watching him" (187), is still lurking behind the pretty faćade of his new life.

(190) "He had never lied for pleasure, even at school; but to make himself noticed and admired, to assert his difference from other Cordelia Street boys; and he felt a good deal more manly, more honest, even, that he had no need for boastful pretensions, now that he could, as his actor friends used to say, 'dress the part.'" Up until this point, I had guessed that Paul was confident in his uniqueness. But true confidence, I believe, means not having to prove to others what it is that you're secure about. Paul states that he wants to be "noticed and admired" for how special he is, but I think that he does this because he needs others to assure him that he isn't like the people he detests -- I think that part of the reason Paul hates the people from Cordelia Street so much is because he worries that he sees their ordinariness in himself.

Kelsey

The clues to Paul's unusual personality are introduced early on. The author describes Paul's home life as sketchy; she introduces him with an appearance that is slightly dingy. Paul seems to be unhappy because he has an overprotective, controlling father. I think the author is pointing out how strongly home life affects a person's way of life and thinking. [What about viewpoint? Earlier, everyone was saying how your own view of life affects everything around you -- what does that have to do with these influences on Paul?] -- M

Katie

Some clues to Paul's personality mighty be that he is raised by a single parent, he says he hardly knew his mother. Also, the social effects of Paul's life play a role in his personality. Although he is not dirt poor, he despises his monotonous life.

Jamie

Some clues exist that point to Paul's unique personality; Paul's obsession with actors (Charlie Edwards) and singers and the stories he professes about them, Paul's thought about his dad's wanting to kill him, Paul's constant awareness and care for flowers, and others' perceptions of him all reveal clues to Paul's different personality.


10. In what two cities is the story set? Does this choice of setting ahve any symbolic value? Could teh story have been set a validly in Cleveland and Detroit? In San Francisco and los Angeles? In New Orleans and Birmingham?

Kelsey

I think the story could have been set anywhere, however it was most effective in New York because many theatrical people flock here, only to be disappointed with the cruelties. Just because a person goes somewhere doesn't mean there problems stay behind. [Then why Pittsburgh???] --M

Katie

Pittsburgh is an industrious city filled with the working class people. This contrasts the city of New York and its glamorous lifestyle. Theater is also a crucial part of the city and this appeals to Paul and his interests.

Bailey

It is set in Pittsburgh, a very industrial town, and then it is also set in New York, a very ritzy town. It was important that the story took place in these two places because of how different they are from one another. Pittsburgh represents the realities of life because it is a working town, which is very different from NY, because NY is more international and fancy.

Jamie

The story is set in Pittsburgh and New York as symbolic of Paul's hate and his love. Industrial working Pittsburgh bears the hate of Paul, while upper class, socially attractive New York is what Paul wants and loves. The other cities would not work as well because they do not contrast as much.

Kathryn

Pittsburgh is known for harboring low-class industrial workers during the early 1900's. New York is a world-renowned city with a reputation for splendor. The distinct reputations of these cities highlight Paul's desire to move from mediocrity to riches.

BACK TO English III page | The North Fork School Home Page | top of this page


Click on bar below to email Marie
MAIL to Marie

Copyright February 10, 2008 Marie M. Furnary All rights reserved.