Willa Cather's Short Story "Paul's Case"
In Willa Cather’s short story Paul’s Case we learn of a young man who is fighting what he fears most: to be as common and plain as his world around him. How others perceive Paul only encourages him to fulfill his dream of escaping his monotonous lifestyle. Paul feels he is drowning in his everyday environment and his only breath of air is his savior: the theater.
Paul has very little interest in his class studies. This leaves him open to distraction and eventually criticism. Although Paul’s appearance is that of a perfect gentleman, his teachers find his behavior inappropriate and unacceptable. The narrator draws particular attention to Paul’s eyes describing them as “remarkable for a certain hysterical brilliancy”(Cather 245); this is followed by the response of his teachers who find it “peculiarly offensive in a boy”(Cather 245). Paul’s meeting with the schools principal continues as each of his teachers get an opportunity to voice their disgust with Paul. The whole time Paul stands there never losing his smile. This is dubbed “irritating to the last degree” (Cather 246). For Paul this is his sign of strength. He refuses to allow his teachers, of such simple minds, to tear at his soul. They have no understanding of Paul’s behavior and do not wish to learn. After the meeting his teachers felt remorse for their onslaught against this mere boy. One remarked on the similarity to a “miserable street cat set at bay by a ring of tormentors” (Cather 247). However none of this affected Paul. He was untouched and unscaved by his teacher’s cruel remarks. That was just his way. Paul was in another world, above all these petty judgments. The words of his teachers could not harm Paul; he was simple outside their reach. This sort of belief held by Paul leave's him to judge himself. No amount of discipline could ever change his set ways unless Paul did so of his own free will.
Paul’s home life was not the least different. His father was constantly judging and questioning his way of life. Paul felt he was constantly under observation, “that there would certainly be inquiries and reproaches” (Cather 250). His father was a man of strict discipline and strong ethics. His father did his best, feeling he understood Paul, to prepare him for a successful life. After continuing problems at school his father decided to take action, in the most sincere ways. He pulled Paul out of school and sent him to work as an accounts assistant with his fathers firm. This was the first blow that broke Paul’s spirit. Now he was unable to be lost in his imagination, to have his thoughts of grandeur, and to feel above his boring surroundings. To add to Paul’s sorrow, his life light was extinguished. Paul’s father not only forbid him to attend the theater, but...