Paul’s Case by Willa Cather
In Paul’s Case by Willa Cather we have the theme of hostility, respect, freedom, escape, corruption, determination and commitment. Taken from her The Troll Garden collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and from the beginning of the story the reader realises that Cather may be exploring the theme of hostility. Paul’s attitude towards his disciplinary hearing suggests that he is hostile to his teachers particularly if the narrator is to be believed. Paul, with his red carnation, does not appear to take proceedings seriously something that his teachers appear to be aware of. He is not only hostile towards them (by way of dress) but he also appears to have no respect for them either. It is as though Paul already knows what he wants to do with his life and as such has no need to show his teachers any respect. If anything his desire to return to school may be more to appease his father. There is also a sense that Paul feels as though he has learnt all he needs to know from his teachers and that they can teach him no more. How unhappy Paul might be in school is also noticeable by the freedom he feels when he goes to the theatre. It is as though he is able to use the theatre as a means to escape from what can only be described as a dull existence for Paul (school). His outlook changes dramatically when he is at the theatre and it is as if he is able to live in a world that is free from restriction while he is at the theatre.
Cather continues to explore the theme of escape while Paul is outside the theatre. He imagines what his life would be like should he live at the Schenley rather than having to live with his parents. Again there is an element of freedom attached to Paul’s fantasies which some critics may suggest is impractical as Paul has no way of living his life at the Schenley nor has he made any contribution that would assist him in living an alternative lifestyle. The reality being that the freedom that Paul wishes to achieve is in practical terms not possible. At no stage in the story is there any sense that Paul wishes to put in the effort (or hard work) that might be required to advance in life. Everything for Paul has to be done quickly and with as little effort as possible. Unlike his father who is prepared to put in the work to make advances in life slow as they may seem. Paul on the other hand is not prepared to do the same. He wants everything quickly and again with as little effort as possible. Something that is noticeable by the fact that in order to advance in life Paul decides to rob his employer (Denny & Carson).
It is after Paul robs Denny & Carson that he is able to live out his fantasies booking an expensive room in the Waldorf. If anything Paul is living a lie which in many ways mirrors all he has seen from the professional actors at the theatre. As readers we are aware that Paul admires the actors at the theatre though he seems to forget that they are actors who are acting or playing a part. Paul on the other hand has allowed himself to be corrupted in order to play a part. He has chosen a path in life which will inevitably result in him being caught for his actions yet this does not deter Paul in any way. He remains steadfast despite it being clear to the reader that he will be caught. Which in many ways may suggest that despite the consequences of his actions Paul is determined to try and life his life as he would like to live it. Even if by doing so he is living his life at the expense of others (Denny & Carson). At no stage in the story does the reader suspect that morality is an issue for Paul. So driven is Paul by his desire to live a different type of life that he is prepared to rob others.
The end of the story is also interesting. Despite the fact that Paul’s father has paid off his debt Paul has no desire to return to Cordelia Street. It is a place (and life) that Paul cannot bear to live. He associates Cordelia Street with everything that is wrong with his life and as such wants no part of it. Though some critics may suggest that Paul is being foolish by not returning to Cordelia Street, having avoided a prison sentence, it is also possible that Paul feels so strongly about his place in the world that he is not prepared to take anything less. If anything it is all or nothing for Paul. Either he is able to live his life as he sees fit or he is not prepared to live his life at all. Which may suggest that even though Paul may have been in the wrong he remains committed to the decisions or choices that he has made. Paul does not wish to live a life that would be considered ordinary by others.