"Paul's Case" Literary Analysis

Ellen Crooks

"Paul's Case" Literary Analysis

Point of View

The author, Willa Cather, utilizes an objective point of view in order to leave the reader to their own judgements. Without choosing a specific character whose voice guides the story, it is up to the reader to react to the events of the story entirely on their own. This contributes to the theme by allowing us to watch Paul get entrenched in a fantasy world without allowing Paul's own thoughts or emotions to justify the actions. This image of eyes represents the reader's role in this story, watching on and observing the goings-on through vision untainted by any lenses or subjective wonderings.

Nemo. Black and White Eyes. Digital image. Pixabay. Pixabay.com, 11 Apr. 2012. Web. 08 Feb. 2013.


Cather characterizes Paul through his actions. By presenting the reader with only the information that is pertinent to the current scene, Cather once again allows the descriptions to speak for themselves, nearly eliminating pathetic appeals and allowing each reader to know Paul through his actions. In this sense, it is easy for the reader to see how deluded and idealistic Paul is, making the theme's emphasis on the deleterious effects of investment in a dream tangible for every reader. The clouds in this picture represent Paul's impractical and unrealistic dreams and fantasies: Paul's head is in the clouds.
Alexis. Cloudscape. Digital image. Pixabay. Pixabay.com, 22 Oct. 2012. Web. 08 Feb. 2013.


The setting of "Paul's Case" clearly mirrors Paul's sentiments regarding the connection between locale and happiness. While Pittsburgh is dark and oppressed, New York City is alive and vivacious. Paul can be described using those same adjectives in the two respective locations, reinforcing the theme's reliance on a dream to make oneself happy. This image of a bustling street station represents the physical journey that Paul takes as well as the emotional journey that finds Paul desperately happy having arrived in the midst of his long-lived fantasy.
Brooksbank, Ben. Liverpool Street Station: West Side Barriers. Digital image. Geograph. Geograph.org.uk, 13 June 2010. Web. 08 Feb. 2013.


Cather's most blatant use of symbolism in "Paul's Case" is that of the red carnation that appears throughout the story. At the beginning, the bright flower worn in Paul's suit jacket represents his vitality and spunk, his motivation to achieve his silent dream. At the end, the carnations reappears wilted and dying, echoing Paul's broken spirit due to the realization that his dream world cannot exist any longer. The theme is elucidated because the carnation helps to illuminate how crushing an experience like Paul's can be to one's spirit. The image is a red carnation, presumably similar to the ones that symbolized so much in the story.
Hans. Red Carnation. Digital image. Pixabay. Pixabay.com, 17 Aug. 2011. Web. 8 Feb. 2013.


The theme of "Paul's Case" is as follows:

To dedicate one's existence wholly to a fleeting and unsustainable dream can promote an inability to cope with the disappointments of reality once the dream has been lived out.

This image of a train represents the mode of Paul's suicide as well as the temporary quality of unrealistic dreams. At one moment, there is a train speeding towards you, whistling and carrying life. At the next moment, you are stuck staring at empty tracks with the feeling that every passenger gets to enjoy this train that you saw for a second but could not keep up with no matter what.

Brooksbank, Ben. Train. Digital image. Geograph. Geograph.uk, 5 Aug. 2011. Web. 12 Feb. 2013.