Cameron Young Ms. Newsom Composition 1302 2 April 2012 Simply a Bad Case Is the outcome of our lives predetermined before we are born or by the environment in which we are born into or is it determined by our own free will? “These are some of the many questions that plague humanity, the questions that give philosophers, sociologists, scientists, and writers material with which to work” (Hicks).
In the short story Paul’s Case: A Study in Temperament, Willa Cather uses these questions to tell of a boy, Paul, whom his peers do all they can to help; yet, their attempts do not work because he simply struggles from a bad case of petty lying and borderline narcissism.
Often the traits associated with narcissism are said to be developed from the way parents raise their children (Narcissists). In Paul’s instance his father raised him as well as he could. Paul used his own free will to determine the outcome of his life.
Paul is a strange young man, often leaving his peers confused about his actions and his motives.
The strangeness is best depicted by Paul’s physical appearance, “his master had noted with amazement what a white, blue-veined face it was; drawn and wrinkled like an old man’s about the eyes, the lips twitching even in his sleep…” (Cather). Also he is described in another instance as displaying the characteristics of being addicted to the drug belladonna. Paul has no care for his physical appearance at school; in fact, he does not even care to be at school, and he did not try to hide his feelings. Paul tells his classmates how appreciated he is elsewhere and fills them with wonderful stories of his experiences at Carnegie Hall.
Often when Paul runs out of stories, he comes up with new lies and excuses for when he cannot fulfill the lies. Cather describes Paul’s school life by stating: Matters went steadily worse with Paul at school. In the itch to let his instructors know how heartily he despised them and their homilies, and how thoroughly he was appreciated elsewhere, he mentioned once or twice that he had no time to fool with theorems; adding–with a twitch of the eyebrows and a touch of that nervous bravado which so perplexed them–that he was helping the people down at the stock company; they were old friends of his.
Of course the people from the stock company are not actually Paul’s friends; this is a lie, another habit Paul frequently utilizes. In fact, Paul’s compulsive lying leads him to sometimes not knowing whether he is living in a lie or actual reality. Though Paul’s persona is defined by strangeness and intrigue, there are also a few times in the story when Cather portrays him with a sense of normality. Perhaps Paul’s happiest time and most normal time is when he is working as an usher at Carnegie Hall. Even though he seems normal, he is only lost in the fantasy of his beloved art world.
Paul also enjoys the Sunday afternoon conversations on his front porch, of “cash-boys” moving up in the world from poverty to riches. Paul longs to become filled with these riches, yet he despises the American Dream and the hard work it takes to get to that point in life. This is another example of how something is not right within Paul, he cannot overcome reality. While Paul has difficulty with reality and never realizes his problem, his peers all recognize that there is something wrong about him and try to help. For instance, Charley Edwards an actor at the theatre and Paul’s only friend in the story does all that he can do for Paul.
Charley does more for Paul than perhaps any other individual in the story by giving Paul a friendly figure. Charley allows Paul to hang around and feel comfortable inside the theatre. While some may argue that by Charley helping Paul plan his escape to New York, he only made situations worse for Paul, in his defense he did not know any better. Because of Paul’s lack of honesty, innumerable lies, and his sense of normality around art, Charley must have believed that he was being great help to a boy who had a passion for art.
While actually, Paul has no desire for art, only the wealth that surrounds it. Paul also has no desire for life on Cordelia Street, where he lives with his father and two sisters. Not only does Paul have no desire for Cordelia Street, it seems as if also he has no desire for a relationship with his father or his two sisters. Cather never reveals a name for the father and two sisters, possibly because of the lack of importance they are to Paul. Paul’s father is none the less, an average good caring single parent.
He attends school meetings when Paul is facing challenges, surrounds Paul with positive role models on Cordelia Street, and attempts to show Paul discipline within his life. When Paul’s father realizes that Paul is in need of a change he removes him from school, gets him a job, and removes Paul from the art world in order to help Paul get back into the reality of life. Paul still shows no respect for his father by stealing money from his employer and running off to New York. Paul’s father still does not give up; he pays back the money and goes to look for his son.
Throughout the story Cather uses subtle hints to show that Paul’s problem originates from struggling with a bad case. The story begins with Paul’s father who calls the principal’s office to confess his perplexity about his son. Then the feelings of Paul’s school teachers are best expressed by the art master when he declared, “there was something about the boy which none of them understood… There is something wrong about the fellow” (Cather). Altogether; everyone in Paul’s life is quick to admit that Paul is simply a bad case.
Paul’s own actions along with his lack of respect for himself also lead to the conclusion that there is something not right about him as well. Paul’s suicide and thoughts about wishing that his father would have killed him show that he has a problem within himself deeper than anything that his peers could solve. Paul’s problem drives him to take his own life, and the simple fact that he does not fit in does not lead to such drastic measures (Saari). Although it may seem that Paul’s peers have an overly narrow view of normality, they did all they could to help.
Paul’s constant lying and lack of openness towards his peers never allowed him to reap the benefits of their help and blocked them from completely understanding him. As described in the essay Is Cather’s Paul a Case? by Loretta Wasserman, Paul is “destroyed by his own illusions”. Works Cited Cather, Willa . “”Paul’s Case” by Willa Cather. ” Sam Houston State University – Texas – Carnegie Research Doctoral Univ. N. p. , n. d. 16 Apr. 2012. . Hicks, Jennifer. “Paul’s Case Heredity or Environment?. ” eNotes – Literature Study Guides, Lesson Plans, and More.. Notes, n. d. 16 Apr. 2012. . “Narcissists, narcissistic personality disorder and the serial bully. ” Bully OnLine: bullying in the workplace, school, family and community, action you can take, stress, psychiatric injury, PTSD, resources, case histories, news and contact the media. N. p. , n. d. 16 Apr. 2012. . Saari, Rob. “EBSCOhost: ‘Paul’s Case’: A Narcissistic Personality Disorder, 301. 81. ” EBSCO Publishing Service Selection Page. N. p. , n. d. 16 Apr. 2012. . Wasserman, Loretta . “Paul’s Case” by Willa Cather. ” eNotes. N. p. , n. d. 12 Apr. 2012. .
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