"A Case For Paul" A Look At Society's Treatment Of Those With Psychological Or Emotional Problems Though "Paul's Case" Willa Cather

3455 words - 14 pages

A Case for PaulSociety today is quick to point fingers and cast stones. It is a demanding creature, which will brutalize those that do not live up to its expectations. If a person is excessively different, people will drive him or her further away or cast him or her aside entirely because society has difficulty dealing with what it does not understand. The problem with this extreme reaction to difference is that acceptance is exceedingly important in every individual's life. This acceptance from parents, teachers and peers plays a major role in forming who a person becomes or how they see and feel about themselves. If people would learn to engage and not judge perhaps, humanity could help those with psychological or emotional problems before it is too late.There have been many theories as to what was wrong with the protagonist, Paul, in Willa Cather's short story "Paul's Case". In most analyses, Paul is put under a literary microscope and is poked and prodded until he fits into one category or another. Rob Saari states in his analysis of the story that "Paul suffers from . . . 'narcissistic personality disorder'" (), and Sherry Crabtree puts forward the idea that he is homosexual (). These critics have missed the point; the focus should not be on Paul, but the people around him. Who has ever wondered why no one tried to understand Paul? Cather explores how society's cruel dismissal of Paul, for being unusual, led to his aberrant behavior and ultimate suicide in "Paul's Case".Cather sets a definite separatist attitude from her antagonists from the beginning of her story. We are introduced to Paul through the eyes of his principal and teachers as he comes to ask their permission to return to school from suspension. At a time when most students would be repentant, Paul's teachers see him as being "suave" and "something of a dandy", seemingly unapologetic for his "various misdemeanors" (Cather 789). Unimpressive physically, being tall and skinny with "high, cramped shoulders and a narrow chest", the only remarkable feature Paul has are his eyes, which "were remarkable for a certain hysterical brilliancy, and he continually used them in a conscious, theatrical sort of way, peculiarly offensive in a boy" (Cather 789). Paul's demeanor and mannerisms irk his teachers to the point that they launch a brutal verbal assault, citing case by case why they feel he should not be allowed back to school.After the onslaught, Paul is asked to explain his behavior. He simply states, "I don't know . . . I didn't mean to be polite or impolite, either. I guess it's a sort of way I have of saying things regardless." (Cather 789). The principal's only action at this point is to tell Paul that he should try to "rid" himself of this trait, and send Paul on his way (Cather 790). Cather never informs the reader what exactly Paul has done to deserve the verbal beating or even ultimately, what is so wrong with him. Paul's teachers themselves have no real understanding why they...

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