"Paul's Case" Literary Analysis

Meg D'Amato

Point of View

The point of view in “Paul’s Case” is third person. In the beginning, the reader sees the story through the teachers’ eyes and towards the end they see it through an omniscient narrator. The close third-person gives the reader strict insight on what is going on in Paul’s mind. As the reader we are able to see how self-involved Paul is and how wrapped up he is in his depression. The point of view through the teachers’ eyes lets us create an image of Paul in his “outgrown” and “frayed and worn” clothing. The omniscient narrator tells the story so the reader is able to understand both Paul’s actions and thoughts, ultimately allowing the reader to understand that no matter what Paul does he is stuck in this ordinary, boring life. The image of the eye I chose conveys the point of view because it represents an all-knowing narrator that nothing can be hidden from. The narrator sees everything how it is and doesn’t twist any of Paul’s thought or actions.
Nemo. Blue eye. Digital image. Pixabay.com. Pixabay, 15 Apr. 2012. Web. 8 Feb. 2013.

Characterization

Paul lives in a world where he believes he does not or never will truly fit in. In the beginning, Paul tries to escape his dull life in the art, but in the end it proves to have not been enough for him. Along with the art, he is very obsessed with money and believes that it is his destiny to be filthy rich. His selfishness and unhealthy desire to escape lead him into a life of alienation because he can’t allow himself to be content. Paul’s inner darkness leads him to think that he will fail and disappoint his father so badly one day that his own father will end up regretting not killing him. Paul lives his life as an observer unwilling to dive in.  He lives a life of constant searching and is unable to be content with what he has. The image I chose conveys the characterization of Paul because it shows a black and white picture of a depressed man on a dreary day. Like the weather and color in the picture, Paul’s believes his life is very dreary and that is what leads him to his depression and alienation.  
PublicDomainPictures. Depressed Man. Digital image. Pixabay.com. Pixabay, 1 Mar. 2012. Web. 8 Feb. 2013.

Setting

The setting of “Paul’s Case” goes from Pittsburg High School to Carnegie Hall to Cordelia Street to the stock theatre company to the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York and to the snowy train tracks where it ends. The wintery season also helps paint an image of a cold world in which Paul lives in. Carnegie Hall gives Paul an escape from the cold outside. When he is not physically at Carnegie Hall, his thoughts are, giving him a temporary escape from the world. At school the teachers seem to have given up on him. He sets himself away from the students and teachers there because they are “unsophisticated” and boring. Cordelia Street, a respectable middle-class neighborhood, presents itself as a nightmare to Paul. Paul feels like he is drowning in this ordinary, colorless neighborhood causing him to feel unequal which pushes him further into alienation and depression. Just like Carnegie Hall, Paul is able to lose himself in the stock theatre company. The Waldorf Astoria Hotel opens Paul’s eyes to the riches of the world, and he starts to believe that money is everything. He loses himself in the art and beauty around him, and he begins to feel that ordinary life will never compare to this. Everywhere else is unbearable to Paul compared to the luxury and beauty of this hotel. Paul’s unrealistic expectations of life and his inability to accept the life he was born into lead him to his suicide. The train symbolizes the artlessness of the world which ultimately kills Paul. The black and white picture of New York City I chose conveys the setting because Paul is looking to escape an ordinary, boring life that is everywhere and inescapable. Paul refuses to adapt to the ordinary life around him and is unable to find complete fulfillment in the art and riches he finds elsewhere.
Salao228. New York. Digital image. Pixabay.com. Pixabay, 16 Nov. 2012. Web. 8 Feb. 2013.

Symbolism

The red carnation Paul often wears represents himself. Without roots, these flowers have no means of carrying on living. The carnations symbolize Paul’s fragility, his need for beauty, and his inability to thrive in this world. The red color stands out to the reader when compared to the dull world the narrator paints. The red also signifies a luxurious lifestyle that Paul so desperately wants. Paul’s defiance is also symbolized in the carnation. When he wears it to meet his teachers and principals, they believe that it is inappropriate for a boy under the ban of suspension.  When Paul goes to the train tracks, the flowers die in the cold, so he buries them, foreshadowing his soon approaching suicide. The picture of the red carnation with a dull background represents Paul’s need to escape this dullness. In the end, however, we know that like the flower, Paul has no chance of surviving this way.
PublicDomainPictures. Red Carnation. Digital image. Pixabay.com. Pixabay, 17 Feb. 2012. Web. 8 Feb. 2013. 

Theme

In “Paul’s case” by Willa Cather, Paul feels very alienated by the boring world that surrounds him, and he yearns for a different one full of beauty and luxury. He loathes his life on Cordelia Street because it is ordinary and dreary. His obsession with money and art push he further and further away from society because they give him temporary happiness. Paul will never be rich and he will never be part of the art world, so his happiness is an allusion. His inability to accept the world around him leaves him hopeless and with the belief that there is only one way out. I chose the picture of the island because it is isolated from the rest of the land. Survival on this island is impossible without connection to the mainland and this represents how Paul chooses to live. The island may appear appealing in the beginning, but ultimately it proves to be worthless without help and support.
Garfoot, John. Island. Digital image. Geograph.org.uk. Geograph.org.uk, 20 Mar. 2007. Web. 8 Feb. 2013.