The Character Of Paul In Cather?s “Paul?s Case” Essay, Research Paper
The Character of Paul in Cather?s “Paul?s Case”
Paul is the main character in Willa Cather?s story Paul?s Case, and throughout most of the story we are given only his perspective and feelings. This insight into Paul?s mind exposes the reader to Paul?s true character as he evolves into the person he has always wanted to be. Other aspects of the story such as Cather?s vivid description of the setting, and the setting?s change from the bleak home on Cordelia Street to the sparkling New York hotel room add more depth to this evolution. Ultimately, the change in Paul?s character is manifested in his case before his schoolteachers, his escape journey to New York, and his reaction to the news of his crime being found out.
While there is no definite point of change to be found in Paul?s case with his teachers, it is evident that this event marks the beginning of a change in his mentality and direction. Before this small trial Paul is perceived as distractingly imaginative, high strung, and desperate for attention. His teachers think ?There is something wrong about the fellow? (408) that they cannot pinpoint. Their opinions of him do not change, but Paul?s opinion of himself begins to ripen and at this point he seems determined to begin rising above their expectations. Concerning that mentality, he wishes that ? . . . some of his teachers [were] there to writhe under his light-heartedness? (408). In one instance after his ?trial? of having to seat one of those teachers at a concert, Paul begins to think negatively of her, but then dismisses those thoughts. He even remarks on feeling ?like the Geni[e] in the bottle,? (409) set free.
Subsequently, Paul?s reckless trip to New York brings about the most evident and significant change in his character. Cather epitomizes this in her description of the view from his train window: The snow was whirling in the curling eddies above the white bottom lands, and the drifts lay already deep in the fields and along the fences, while here and there the long dead grass and dried weed stalks protruded black above it. (415)
Paul?s old habits of fear and self-defecation are much like those dried weed stalks, whereas the ?snow? of his new identity is beginning to cover them up. According to Paul, ?The only thing that at all surprised him was his own courage . . .? (416) in being able to accomplish such a task as running away. That mentality grows from simple self-astonishment to self-acceptance when Paul reaches the point where ?He had only to glance down at his attire to reassure himself that here it would be impossible for anyone to humiliate him? (418).
Paul?s new carefree persona regresses slightly when news of his crime reaches New York. His confidence is shaken, allowing some of his old doubts and fears to resurface:
It was to be worse than jail, even; the tepid waters of Cordelia Street were to close over him finally and forever. The gray monotony stretched before him in hopeless, unrelieved years. It all rushed back upon him with a sickening vividness. (419)
This news affects him so far as to make him leave his sanctuary in New York, apparently to commit suicide on a railroad track far outside of Pennsylvania. Toward this end of the story, Paul grows somewhat numb to his surroundings, letting severe determination overtake his persona. Cather draws a comparison between Paul and a drooping carnation in his lapel: ?It was only one splendid breath they had, in spite of their brave mockery at the winter outside the glass, and it was a losing game in the end it seemed . . .? (420). Paul does not simply accept this ?loss,? however: ? . . . he started to his feet, remembering only his resolution, and afraid lest he should be too late? (421).
The ending of the story does not mention that Paul evinced any regret or any additional fear; instead it suggests that Paul finally reaches a peace with his surroundings: ? . . . and Paul dropped back into the immense design of things? (421). This last statement embodies the reasoning for Paul?s journey to New York and serves well to sum up the finality of his change of character and the shift in his mentality. He is an unsatisfied, creative young man who wants to be surrounded by the things that make him feel alive, and he ultimately finds that liveliness and that peace, and then pays the price for it consciously and willingly.