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Essay: Paul’s Case by Willa Cather

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  • Subject area(s): Literature essays
  • Reading time: 3 minutes
  • Price: Free download
  • Published: January 21, 2020*
  • File format: Text
  • Words: 646 (approx)
  • Number of pages: 3 (approx)
  • Paul's Case by Willa Cather
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Willa Cather’s short story, “Paul’s Case” (1905), uses symbols and ironic instances in order to develop the idea of what the “American Dream” is to convey a feeling of hopelessness throughout the story. The author develops her ideas by depicting Paul’s conflicts and the fantasy he employs to express the human truth to achieve the American Dream, which allows for the highest aspirations to be achieved. Paul is a 16-year-old high school boy, who searches for the aesthetics in life that he does not get from what his father figure provides. Paul aspires to live a luxurious life in New York City, however, he has no interest in school. The only place Paul “escapes” his reality is at Carnegie Hall, where he enjoys working because he is able to encounter rich and economically superior people, as he strives to be one day. Paul’s case constantly depicts a fantasy ideal of life and lying until you can achieve “greatness” or what Paul considered to be an “American Dream.” Paul’s self-deception leads readers to predict that as he continues to lie and believe an invalidated feeling of living a “lavish” life with no efforts, he will not strive and will not be successful. This consistent behavior in which Paul continuously makes unsatisfactory decisions led for him to give up, and take his own life. The use of symbols in this story helps reinforce the meaning of the story as he wears a red carnation in his buttonhole, which his teachers said to have been “his whole attitude was symbolized by his shrug and his flippantly red carnation flower, and they fell upon him without mercy” (Cather 245). This portrays Paul’s attitude as defiant and disobedient. Towards the end of the story, Paul buys red carnations dripping “red glory.” Paul took one of the carnations, and buried it in the snow, subsequently, he heard the train coming, and he jumped in front of it. The carnations “burial” was a symbolic overture to Paul’s actual suicide. Paul’s self-perception and the perception perceived by those around him are inconsistent. He perceives himself to be of superior class and better than those who surround him, however, it is obvious to the reader that those around him see him completely different than what he presents himself to be. Paul believes he is important and should be appreciated just like those on the stage of Carnegie Hall. The irony in this situation is that he worked for the rich and privileged, he was their servant, he did not classify as “one of them.” Paul thought that because he was allowed into the theater with haughty people, they were “equal.” Although, the reality is that Paul and the guests were welcomed into the theater under different circumstances. Paul is the one of servitude while the guests are being served by Paul, “It was very much as though these were a great reception and Paul was the host” (Cather 247). It is ironic that Paul is the attendant, while in his mind he sees himself as much more remarkable, as the host. Throughout the rest of the story, Paul’s attitude and character are exposed to the reader through his actions. It is very clear that Paul’s passing is inevitable as he made poor choices in his life. Paul lived in a fantasy world, as he dreams without indulging in his goals. In order to reach your goals, and achieve greatness one must work hard for their goals, but in Paul’s case he lived a fantasy of reaching the American Dream through the easy route, therefore, he never was able to attain this life. After his realization that he could not reach his goals through substandard decisions, he decided to end his life after he became aware that he could not fake his way to eminence.

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