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"Paul's Case" by: Willa Cather Literary Analysis

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 1 1

Willa Cather

A Father's Approval

In the story “Paul’s Case,” there are few things that create an intimacy between Paul and his father. One thing that bonds these two is Paul’s job at Carnegie Hall, it is evident that the father is not poor, but he does want to come up in life. Right now Paul and his family are middle class. Paul having a job is something the father likes about his son because he is earning money. Paul and his father both value money and want to move beyond middle class in life. This is a connection between the two. As well as the father being a provider, Paul’s father was strict, but he does provide for his son.  

What pulls Paul and his father apart is the high expectations he has for Paul and how strict he is towards Paul. Paul fears his father, he fears him to the point that even asking for money is a challenge for him. Paul’s greatest fear towards his father is that he believes his father will regret not shooting and killing him if discovered as a burglar in the basement. This is a sign that the two do not have a healthy relationship and the two attitudes Paul and his father have towards each other pulls them apart.

The power balance in the relationship of Paul and his father is the fact that Paul’s father plays the role well. Paul’s father is an ideal father that loves his children and cares for them, but he goes to the extreme in punishing Paul. As seen in the story, Paul’s father was worried about his behavior in school, pays for Paul’s debt and even goes to look for Paul and bring him back home. All this was done out of love and done as a father. This is the balance in the relationship, what throws it off is the fear Paul has for his father from not being good enough and the punishment he knows he will receive from his father. This affects the relationship greatly because Paul and his father will never have a good father to son relationship without them coming to the middle and understanding that on Paul’s side he just wants his father’s approval and acceptance of who he really is. On Paul’s father side he just wants the best for his son and knows he’s capable of obtaining it.

The triple pattern of conflict, disaster and liberation in their relationship begins with Paul being prohibited to return to school or work at the Carnegie Hall and all his lies were revealed. Paul’s father punishment begins the conflict. The disaster and liberation starts with Paul finding out that his father has paid his debts and is now on the way to New York to find him and bring him back. This should have shown Paul that his father cares for him and his heart is in the right place, but all Paul can think about is the trouble he will be in with his father. So in the end suicide is his only escape of loneliness, alienation and no longer being able to disappoint his father. The resolution from the crisis would be Paul’s death by suicide. In the end as he notices that his carnation has wilted, he buries it in the snow this is symbolic of his death. It like he realizes at this moment he is like the red carnations that he has worn from the beginning. 

With Paul and Paul’s father relationship I view the transformations that occurred in their relationship as one that ends in self-destructive. The ending is fitting because that is what happened. Paul’s suicide in my opinion was an act to avoid a lot of battles he fought within his own mind, but it also was an escape from facing his father and the issues of their relationship. Paul knowing that his father was coming to NY to get him took him to the mindset of how their relationship had been in the past. Where again he would have let his father down and been punished once again.   



Oct 15, 2012 1:21pm
You have written another interesting review. Thank you, Thumbs up!
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