After finishing “Paul’s Case,” I found myself particularly drawn to Cather’s word choice in describing various elements of Paul’s life. In part, this had to do with the lack of comfortability I felt toward Paul’s character, even after reading 11 pages’ worth of his mannerisms and thoughts. But I also think I was drawn to Cather’s style of writing because of the stark contrast it presents when compared to work of Gertrude Stein.
I think back to reading “Miss Furr and Miss Skeen,” and to not knowing a single visual detail about either of the women portrayed in the story. However, in “Paul’s Case,” I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a scene where Cather leaves anything up to her readers’ imaginations.
Here are some of the adjectives Cather uses to describe Paul within the opening lines and paragraphs of the story: “suave,” “smiling,” “dandy,” “hysterical brilliancy,” “peculiarly offensive,” “theatrical,” “conscious,” “accustomed to lying,” and “lips…continually twitching.” (The twitching lips were probably the biggest contributing factor in my un-comfortability.)
As we learn more about Paul, we come to understand that he feels most at home in the setting of the theater, where he is surrounded by an air of opulence and like-minded individuals. The dreariness of Paul’s home life on Cordelia Street becomes unbearable after his nights at the theater, and eventually, Paul decides — or rather, is forced to decide — to ditch suburbia for good and head to New York City.
Paul’s attitude toward Cordelia is quite harsh, both before and after he leaves for New York. Again, I took note of some of the words Cather used to describe Paul’s suburban home, and here are the words I found most poignant: “morbid,” “loathing,” “ugliness,” “commonness,” “depression,” “repulsion,” “flavorless,” and “colorless.”
In a way, Paul’s attitude toward the monotonous drudgery of suburban living reminded me of Molly Bolt’s disdain for such lifestyles in Rubyfruit Jungle, though I do feel Paul’s disdain was more severe.
Flowers are a recurring theme throughout “Paul’s Case.” What did you take them to symbolize (if anything)?
Cather writes that Paul feels he has to prove that he is different to his schoolmates in Cordelia. Why do you think he feels this way? Have you ever been in a situation where you felt you had to prove yourself to be different, as not to be lumped into a group you didn’t want belong to?