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Literary Analysis Essay of Willa Cather's 'Paul's Case: A Study in Temperament'

0 August 11 2014, 14:32 in Literary Essay

Literary Analysis Essay of Willa Cather’s ‘Paul’s Case: A Study in Temperament’

‘Paul’s Case: A Study in Temperament’ is a short story written by Willa Cather. The piece revolves around the life of Paul and his inclination towards high society activities. Looking closely, Willa Cather balances the way the story is told to properly delineate the situation leading to Paul’s suicide as well as offer means for readers to understand Paul through the process of dramatization. By first describing the situation and then indicating the feelings and sentiments of Paul, Cather is then able to expose important themes related to the story.

The narcissism of Paul is one theme that readers are able to derive from reading the piece. Specifically, it demonstrates the inclination of an individual to situations of grandeur, power, beauty and success. Arguably, these narcissistic tendencies enabled Paul to escape his current situation and seek out and enjoy the luxuries brought forward by money (Kane 3). From the perspective of Paul, this viewpoint is introduced at the beginning of the story based on the additional designs he included in his clothes, to his love of theatre and the arts, and his expensive splurges from stolen money (Cather 1). Likewise, Paul’s rebuke of what he considered to be the ‘normal’ life of a middle class, who seek only simple things, indicates his recognition that he should belong to somewhere else rather than the reality he currently lives in.

Related to the theme of narcissism, Cather also presents the theme of conflicting realities that Paul continues to see. Specifically, the portrayal of Paul’s character demonstrates his fascination with luxury and the criticism he provides to his family for his lackluster life. For instance, his inclination to arts, theatre and high class activities differs from the actual middle-class environment he lives in. Exposure to these situations influenced Paul to create a world for himself where he sees himself a part of high society and demonstrate a sense of belonging (Kane 2). However, since this remains to be a façade, it only leads to his further alienation and dismay. Consequently, it led to Paul stealing money from his work to enjoy the frills of the rich but at the same time led him to his demise.

Also significant in helping understand Cather’s story corresponds to how the author provides hints to readers about the homosexuality of Paul’s character. Since the beginning, Cather has been giving clues that Paul was rather eccentric compared to other men. The manner that he dresses, his interests and fascinations enable readers to arrive at such conclusion (Herring 90). At the same time, it also exposes his alienation to the world he currently lives. Though he might have found a companion during his escapades in New York, it was only short lived and did not end well. Altogether, these negative experiences and isolation that Paul had concerning his sexuality arguably is one of the reasons as to why he committed suicide.

Overall, William Cather’s story illustrates the tragic story of Paul and how he addressed his narcissistic and homosexual identity amidst the rebuke and criticism of different people in his life. By utilizing a balance between exposition and dramatization, Cather is able to bring out issues related to homosexuality and conflicting realities that Paul continues to see. It helps readers’ identity the plight of Paul and how he continues to aspire for something he is not. Though he was able to do this by stealing money and enjoying the luxurious life he always envisioned, it was only temporary. As the story is about to end, Cather enables readers to determine for themselves the answer as to why Paul committed suicide.

Works Cited

Cather, Willa. Paul’s Case: A Study in Temperament. 1906. Web. Accessed 4 August 2014.

Herring, Terrell Scott. ‘Willa Cather’s Lost Boy: ‘Paul’s Case’ and Bohemian Tramping’ Arizona Quarterly 60.2(2004): 87-116.

Kane, Sarah. ‘Narcissistic Personality Disorder in Willa Cather’s "Paul’s Case” n.d. Web. Accessed 4 August 2014.

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