Paul 's Unhealthy Desire in Paul's Case
In her short story "Paul's Case," Willa Cather tells the tale of a young boy's struggle to separate himself from his common, everyday life and the people he shared it with. Paul admired the opulence of the theater, the wardrobe, the perfumes, the lights, the colors, the flowers, and the champagne. When he realized it wasn't possible to have these things, he threw his life away. Cather's purpose was to show that, by focusing on what he didn't have, Paul could not live at all.
Many clues were given that Paul dreamed of leaving town. For instance, he was exhilarated by the Venetian scenes and streets of Paris depicted in the picture gallery. He loved to listen to his father speak of "palaces in Venice, yachts on the Mediterranean, and high play at Monte Carlo" (202). Also, when no one paid attention to his stories, Paul announced to his classmates that he would be leaving to travel for a while. These acts foreshadow Paul's fleeing to New York. The fact that he actually stole money to take this trip shows how intensely desperate he was to leave. By constantly fantasizing about being somewhere he wasn't, Paul could not possibly live where he was.
Throughout the story, flowers are used to symbolize Paul's situation. The red carnation he wears to the meeting with his teachers is viewed by them as "flippant" and "scandalous" (195-196). This also suggests his attitude towards the gathering. Paul was very nonchalant about the entire thing. His clothes may have been a bit small and tattered, but by wearing that flower, Paul had no trouble holding his head up. He had always acted as if he were on a higher level than his teachers, and he felt it necessary to humiliate them and give them no satisfaction whatsoever. Paul knew the carnation and the bow he left them with were inappropriate, and that's exactly why he did it. The carnation acted as his talisman, and it made him a more powerful person wearing it. The flower transformed him into someone more important, someone different. By concentrating on being someone he wasn't, Paul could not appreciate who he already was.
Another symbolic moment occurred in New York where it was snowing. Even in the harsh weather, there were flower gardens blooming under glass cases at stands on street corners. Paul found them to be much more lovely and attractive blossoming unnaturally. He believed "the natural nearly always wore the guise of ugliness" and that "a certain element of artificiality seemed necessary in beauty" (203). Paul was like the flowers, taken from his natural environment to grow in an artificial one.
A last look at the symbolic meaning of the flower takes place when Paul leaves his carriage at the end of the story and is walking home.
The carnations in his coat were drooping with the cold, he noticed; their red glory all over. 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...