Paul’s Struggle

In Willa Cather’s ‘Paul’s Case,’ Paul is a young man who is not content with his life in a small house on Cordelia Street in Pittsburgh. His mother died years ago, leaving him no recollection of her. His father is abusive and has high expectations of Paul. Unfortunately for both of them, Paul does not want to live up to these expectations. He has no care for school and behaves disorderly and audaciously. He does not get along with his teachers or peers. He lacks respect for teachers, insulting them in ways that led to his being expelled and forced to work in an office against his wishes. He lies to his fellow classmates in order to impress them, telling them that he was a friend of the performers he admired at Carnegie Hall. Paul has no concern for his education or fitting in with his classmates; instead, he desires the glitz and glamour of wealthy upper-class society.



A description of Paul’s personality might give one a false impression of his physical appearance. He talks back to teachers, steals money, and lies to his classmates. His appearance, however, contradicts his personality. He is tall and thin, with white teeth, and to some, he has almost a feminine façade. “His eyes are remarkable for a certain hysterical brilliancy, and he continually uses them in a conscious, theatrical sort of way, peculiarly offensive in a boy” (141). His eyes are described to “glitter,” and the most unusual aspect of his appearance is the flower he wears in the buttonhole of his coat at the meeting between him and his teachers. “There was something of the dandy to him,” (141) and he stands up with confidence at an event that should have provoked some fear in him.



As an usher at Carnegie Hall, Paul admires the performers and wishes that he could be a part of that life. He refers to Carnegie Hall as “his secret temple, his wishing-carpet, his bit of blue-and-white Mediterranean shore bathed in perpetual sunshine” (148). He frequently stands outside of the Schenley, a hotel where all the actors and singers stay, watching people go in and out of it. From there, he longs to be a part of their high society and “leave schoolmasters and dull care behind him forever” (144). For the passing moments that he actually seses the performers, he is satisfied. Cather explains that he is not stage-struck by the standard means of the phrase. He has never wanted to become a performer. He just wants to be a part of the atmosphere and let it carry him “away from everything” (149).


Paul isn’t satisfied with his own middle-class life and unfortunate family troubles. He runs away to reside in New York City, feeling that this would be his only opportunity to live the glamorous life that he has always tried to emulate. In order to achieve this lifestyle, he steals money from the office where he had been assigned to work. He then spends most of his money on new clothing and arrangements at the prestigious Waldorf hotel. Paul\'s mountain of lies about his glamorous new life seemingly takes over his senses and help him forget the reality he would have to face when brought home after stealing the money. He becomes amused when he opens the newspaper and finds himself in it. Paul doesn’t care about the severe consequences he would have to face, and his lack of concern for the possible penalties shows his immaturity. Paul never even attempts to change his actions, and instead goes about with his immoralities without a thought.



Paul lives a life of depression and desire to be someone he cannot be. He feels like an outsider; he does not fit in with anyone, including the world he so desires to be a part of. He is a social pariah, something that he brought upon himself by lying to his classmates and trying to show off about being friends with the performers. The only time he could feel as if he is a part of something is when he ushers at Carnegie Hall. He watches the performers in awe of their lives, wishing it upon himself. When he