Short Story Analysis

"Paul's Case" by Willa Cather

Crititcal Biography

Willa Sibert Cather was born on December 7, 1873, in Back Creek Valley, Virginia ("Willa Cather"). She was first exposed to stories and fiction during her time in Virginia, where she listened to the stories of the ladies that helped with canning produce. This memory would inspire the last of her novels, Sapphira and the Slave Girl. Her early life would take part in many of her greatest works, from O Pioneers! describing her Western home in Nebraska, to the confining home in Red Cloud inspiring The Song of the Lark, One of Ours, which won a Pulitzer, and "Paul's Case". After graduating from the University of Nebraska in 1896, Cather fully devoted herself to her works. Her first works that she published were a collection of poems called April Twilights and her first collection of short stories, The Troll Garden, which featured "Paul's Case". Willa Cather wrote until her last years, leaving us with many great short stories, poems, and novels. Cather died of cerebral hemorrhage on April 24, 1974, in New York (O'Brien).
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“Paul’s Case” is a story about a troubled boy who feels misplaced in the world. Everything around him is dull, from the paintings of John Calvin and George Washington in his room to the everyday grind of life. After embarrassing his teachers to the point of his expulsion, Paul takes the chance he's given to run away from home and live the life he always wanted-- a life surrounded by colorful, interesting people and the excitement of uncommon and beautiful things like the first note from an instrument or soloist. However, his new life ends sooner than expected when he hears of his father heading to New York to retrieve him. Rather than face his father and return to his miserable life, Paul chooses the only way to prevent his homecoming. He jumps in front of a moving train.

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Analysis of Theme

The theme I found that had the most impact on me while reading "Paul's Case" was that dissatisfaction with our life causes us to rush blindly into the life we want to live while only making our lives worse in the end. Paul is bored with the ordinary people and the everyday lifestyle and wants to make his way in the world now. This idea is known as the American dream. Paul wants to live with the rich and fancy people he sees at Carnegie Hall. However, he uses deception to achieve that goal by stealing money he was supposed to take to the bank and lies about his parents to adults, saying they were "travelling abroad" to avoid his father knowing of his whereabouts (Cather). The consequences surrounding him pressure him to feel that he can no longer achieve his dream if he goes back to Pittsburgh with his dad, so he kills himself to avoid the miserable life that awaits him ("Paul's Case," 196). Paul has burned every bridge he can use to achieve his dreams of a better life. He was expelled from school, banned from Carnegie Hall, and he wouldn't be allowed to work for his dad's company because he stole their money. He would be forced to live out the rest of his days in his boring house on Cordelia Street, wishing he were as good as dead.

Works Cited

Cather, Willa. "Paul's Case." Youth and the Bright Medusa. Willa Cather. Vintage, 1975. 181.

LitFinder. Web. 3 May 2016.

O’Brien, Sharon. "Cather, Willa 1873—1947." American Writers: A Collection of Literary

Biographies, Retrospective Supplement 1. Ed. A. Walton Litz and Molly Weigel. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1998. 1-23. Scribner Writers on GVRL. Web. 5 May 2016.

“Paul’s Case.” Short Stories for Students. Ed. Kathleen Wilson. Vol. 2. Detroit: Gale, 1997.

196. Print.

"Willa Cather." Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale, 2007. Literature Resource Center. Web. 3 May 2016.

Ben Atchley

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