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Paul's Case

In: English and Literature

Submitted By pjm89
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Mid-term paper “Paul’s Case,” is a seemingly simple story of a boy who is lost in the world that ends in tragedy. It is a familiar idea that is used often in literature. A character will seemingly have nowhere to turn, and do the unthinkable: cut (themselves) lose from the world and take their own life. The big question in “Paul’s Case,” is why? Often times when a character takes their own life, it is when there is no other viable option, or when they believe it is the right thing to do. In this story however, Paul doesn’t necessarily kill himself because he thinks it’s the right thing to do, and arguably he doesn’t do it because he has no other option. Perhaps in his head he has no option, but even then he knows he will simply get punished and return to his home in Cordelia Street (perhaps a fate worse than death to him). So what can be attributed to Paul’s ultimate decision? The answer can be found deep within Paul’s psyche. His decision to take his own life was a last resort act of desperation that was rooted from his feelings of emptiness and fear of mediocrity, disdain for other people, as well as disconnect from the world and reality.
Paul’s actual case is one of great debate, and there are a lot of theories as to what his “problem” was or if he even had one to begin with. Despite all the debate, it is undeniable that a large part of Paul’s problems are rooted within his own feelings and delusions. The biggest problem for Paul is this underlying sense of emptiness and fear of smallness. “he had always been tormented by fear, a sort of apprehensive dread … There had always been the shadowed corner, the dark place into which he dared not look” (Cather 95). Paul’s longing for a life of luxury and grandeur is his fantasy or escape from the dreading feeling of monotony and mediocrity in his life. The feeling of being simply average and not special is what he fears, which is why he seeks such praise from others. His feeling of dread also reveals the anxiety and self esteem problems that Paul has, which also might suggest that he has a mental /social disorder of some sort (such as narcissism). There are many instances where Paul shows his hatred for the cold reality of being average and mediocre. His hatred for Cordelia Street and his neighborhood is a prime example. “all of whom were exactly alike as their homes, and a piece of monotony in which they lived. Paul never went up Cordelia Street without a shudder of loathing” (Cather 88). He hates where he lives because of the monotony and mediocrity of everyone who lives there. The houses all look alike just as all the people are alike, and Paul resents that. He believes himself to be better than other people and more entitled to grandeur because he’s special.
It’s because of this attitude that Paul finds it hard to truly connect with other people. He shows disdain for many people in his life such as his teachers, neighbors, and even resents his father. His inability to have a true connection socially might be rooted in his narcissistic tendencies. Since he is anxious about the reality of being mediocre he needs other people to reassure him that he is special. He seeks praise, to reassure him and keep him in denial about his mediocrity. In order to gain praise, he manipulates and lies to people, such as when he lies to his classmates about planning trips to exotic places with the singers and musicians from the symphony hall. Another problem with Paul is that when he manipulates people he is never sympathetic and will do what is necessary for him to get what he wants despite the harm it could cause other people. An example of this is when he steals the money from “Denny and Carson’s” without even thinking about how it may affect his father’s job. His general disdain for people and manipulation of people to get what he wants without sympathy is what prevents him from having any form of meaningful relationship with someone. Even with Charley Edwards he is largely only friends with him because he looks up to him and wishes to be him, as well as uses his “friendship” with Charley as a means to brag to his classmates. Even with someone he admires such as Charley he only wants to be around him because he envies him, and he has something that Paul wants. This social disconnect from people is also part of Paul’s larger disconnect from reality and the world.
Paul is often delusional about the world, and a part of him knows that. The thing he fears is the cold hard reality of the world. The reality that he may be mediocre and average, the reality that he may never achieve his dreams, the reality that he isn’t who he thinks he is. Paul uses these delusions to escape reality and the hard truth of the world. Throughout the story Paul lets his imagination run wild, and will play out complete scenarios in his head before snapping back into reality. An example is when he follows the German singer from the Symphony Hall to her hotel.
“In the moment that door was ajar it seemed to Paul, that he, too, entered. He seemed to feel himself go after her up the steps, into the warm, lighted building …A quick gust of wind brought the rain down with sudden vehemence, and Paul was startled to find that he was still outside in the slush of the gravel driveway” (Cather 88).
In this instance Paul is so taken by his fantasy that he is “startled” to find that what he was fantasizing about was not a reality. Once again the cold hard truth hits Paul, and it kills him on the inside. Paul’s delusions could suggest that Paul may have a severe mental illness that shifts him in and out of reality. Some people have gone as far to suggest that the entire story after the basement takes place within Paul’s mind as a delusional fantasy. Despite the beliefs of other people, it still does not take away from the fact that Paul’s has these delusional fantasies. Whether he’s in control of it or not, it serves its purpose as a means to escape reality. This disconnect from reality is largely what keeps Paul able to continue with his life earlier in the story. His time fantasizing and working at Carnegie Hall is really the only thing he looks forward to in his life because it is his escape. “After a concert was over Paul was always irritable and wretched until he got to sleep …He had the feeling of not being able to let down, of its being impossible to give up this excitement which was the only thing that could be called living at all” (Cather 87). After each concert Paul did not want to accept the realities of his life and found it difficult to let go of the feeling of luxury and grandeur that he felt while at Carnegie Hall. “It was at the theater and Carnegie Hall that Paul really lived; the rest was but a sleep and forgetting. This was Paul’s fairy tale” (Cather 91). These examples only go to show how disconnected from reality Paul really was. It’s when Carnegie Hall is taken away from him that he becomes desperate. With his only escape from reality gone, he steals the bank notes from “Denny and Carson’s” tries to go live his life in New York City as a way to create another fantasy for himself. It is clear that once again he does not consider any consequences and is so delusional and set on fulfilling his fantasy that reality takes a backseat to his own visions of greatness and luxury. When his father and the consequences finally catch up to Paul, the cold reality hits him hard once again. He is abruptly pulled out of his fantasy and forced to consider the reality of his actions. It is with this final reality that he will have no way to escape his actions and the mediocrity of his own life, that he feels trapped. He feels the pointlessness and emptiness that lingers and remains in his mind when all the fantasies and clouds are cleared, and he realizes that he has no way out this time. This feeling of emptiness and futility is ultimately what leads him to take his own life.
Paul’s story is one that is not that uncommon. It holds true even by today’s standards as there are cases like this everywhere. He was most definitely troubled, and may have had multiple mental/social disorders. His outcome was rooted out of desperation, and when the reality of his actions and life finally caught up to him, he made a decision. The deep down feelings of emptiness and worthlessness were what caused his disconnect from people and reality, and when he had nowhere else to run, he took the only escape he felt he had left.
Work Cited
Cather, Willa. “Paul’s Case.” Literature: The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction. W.W. Norton & Company. New York, NY : London, 2006. 87-95.…...

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