The Themes of “Paul’s Case” by Willa Cather

1. Introduction:

Willa Cather’s short story, “Paul’s Case,” revolves around the life of a young man named Paul. This story brings out the life of this young boy as one that is full of desires and dreams but he cannot work to fulfill them. The story mainly focuses on the harm of relentlessness, the danger of misunderstanding money and wealth, and the effect of materialism in one’s life. Through the use of literary devices such as symbolism and irony, Cather is able to bring out these themes in an interesting and unique way.

2. The harm of relentlessness:

One of the main themes in “Paul’s Case” is the harms of relentlessness. Paul is a very passionate and determined young man, however, his passion is often misunderstood by others as being overbearing and arrogant. For example, when Paul quits his job at the Carnegie Library, he does so in a very rash and impulsive manner. He gives no notice to his employer and simply leaves without any explanation. This act shows Paul’s impulsiveness and lack of forethought, which often gets him into trouble. It is this same quality that leads Paul to steal money from his father in order to buy a ticket to New York. Paul is so determined to escape his dull and dreary life in Pittsburgh that he does not think about the consequences of his actions. As a result, he gets caught and is sent back home.

This theme is further highlighted through the use of symbolism. When Paul is on the train to New York, he looks out the window and sees the city lights for the first time. To him, these lights represent hope and opportunity; they are everything that he wants in life but does not have. This image foreshadows Paul’s eventual downfall because just as quickly as the lights appeared, they disappeared when the train pulled into the station. This symbolizes how Paul’s hopes and dreams are ultimately dashed when he is forced to return home.

3. The danger of misunderstanding money and wealth:

Another theme that is explored in “Paul’s Case” is the danger of misunderstanding money and wealth. Throughout the story, it is clear that Paul has a very different view of money than most people do. For Paul, money represents freedom; it is a way for him to escape his mediocre life and pursue his dreams. However, other characters in the story view money in a more practical way. For them, money is simply a means to an end; it is something that you use to purchase things that you need or want.

This difference in views leads to a lot of conflict between Paul and other characters in the story. For example, when Paul tries to explain his plans for spending the stolen money to his father, his father does not understand why he would want to waste money on frivolous things like theatre tickets when he could be using it to purchase more practical items like food or clothes. This misunderstanding eventually leads to Paul’s downfall because if his father had been able to see things from Paul’s perspective, he may have been more understanding and lenient towards him.

4. The effect of materialism in one’s life:

A final theme that is explored in “Paul’s Case” is the effect of materialism in one’s life.
For Paul, material possessions represent a way to escape his boring and mundane life. He is fascinated by the wealth and luxury that he sees in New York and longs to have a taste of it himself. This desire eventually leads him to stealing money from his father so that he can buy a ticket to New York. However, once Paul arrives in the city, he quickly realizes that material possessions cannot buy happiness. He is disappointed to find that the people who live in New York are not as glamorous or exciting as he had thought they would be. This experience teaches Paul a valuable lesson about the dangers of materialism and the importance of finding happiness in other things.

5. Conclusion:

In conclusion, “Paul’s Case” is a story that explores a variety of themes including the harm of relentlessness, the danger of misunderstanding money and wealth, and the effect of materialism in one’s life. These themes are explored through the use of literary devices such as symbolism and irony.

Frequently Asked Questions


What themes are explored in "Paul's Case"?

The themes explored in "Paul's Case" include the conflict between conformity and individuality, the dangers of escapism, and the struggle to find one's identity.

How does the author use symbolism to explore these themes?

The author uses symbolism to explore these themes by using the motif of flowers to represent Paul's yearning for beauty and elegance, and by using the stage setting of Carnegie Hall to symbolize Paul's dream of escape from his mundane life.

What is the significance of the story's ending?

The significance of the story's ending is that it reinforces the theme of the conflict between conformity and individuality, as Paul chooses suicide over a life of conformity.

How does "Paul's Case" differ from other coming-of-age stories?

"Paul's Case" differs from other coming-of-age stories in its focus on the psychological effects of conformity and nonconformity, as well as its use of symbolism to explore these themes.


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