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Tragic Desire - Willa Cather's Short Story "paul's Case

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Tragic Desire

In Willa Cather's short story "Paul's Case", Paul makes selfish adolescent decisions to feed his desire for a wealthy and upper class lifestyle. Paul's struggles to break apart from what his life is and what he wants it to be. Paul's family and mentors send him into a sea of lies and fables that he uses to create his perfect world. There is always something we may want and cannot have but we will make moves to try to achieve them. As Cather explains: "He had no desire to become an actor, any more than he had to become a musician... what he wanted was to see, to be in the atmosphere, float on the wave of it, to be carried out, blue league after blue league, away from everything" (Cather ). He arrives at these visions of the perfect life for himself from that of artists and musicians he interacts with throughout the story. This desire grows overwhelmingly strong, overtaking his mind to make an unrealistic world for himself, leading to a downward spiral that ultimately makes him take his own life.

Deviant and outlandish lies towards Paul's lifestyle are his easy way out of reality. He begins with disrespect towards the faculty in his high school in Pittsburg. Paul has no real desire towards school as a result he is suspended from school. During a meeting set up by his father to him back in school, Paul's demeanor in eminent when he walks in. "Paul entered the faculty room suave and smiling" ( Willa Cather 212) A red carnation flower he wears on his coat during the meeting gives further insult towards the staff, "This latter adornment the faculty somehow felt was not properly significant of the contrite spirit befitting a boy under the ban of suspension"( 212). Paul takes this red flower throughout the story to symbolize his repulses toward the earth beneath him. Paul is asked by his principal why he wants to be there. Paul states that he wants to be, this of course is a lie. Further evidence is given when Paul states, "This was a lie but Paul was quite accustomed to lying; found it, indeed, indispensable for overcoming friction"(Cather 212). Paul has realized an imminent escape route out of unwanted scenarios he may encounter. Before dinner one night Paul's father brings up the young man who through his eyes was "the dearest hope that he would pattern" (217). Paul did not like being compared to others or following the roles of people that he felt were beneath him. At this point, he is upset. After dinner he asks his father if he can go study with a classmate; this again is a lie that Paul uses to escape his upset mind and go clear it up with the company of Charley Edward's. This again is a way to escape the dreary scene he attends day to day. He places a wall up before him as a shield to cope with his inner self emotions.

Paul's straight approach towards acceptance of the upper class society causes him to block out the common hard working society he comes from. Cather writes "He approached it tonight with the nerveless sense of defeat, the hopeless feeling of sinking back into forever into ugliness and commonness that he had always had when he came home."(215) His dislike towards the color, smells and the people of in his community of Cordelia Street emanate throughout the story. The positive manner given to Paul from Charley Edward's in comparison to his father gives Paul further reason to become detached



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