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Paul's Case by Willa Cather

            Willa Cather's short story, "Paul's Case," is about a young man who is fighting what he fears most: to be as common and plain as the world around him. Paul feels he is drowning in his everyday, dull environment and his only breath of air is his rescue: the theater and music. Paul has very little interest in his class studies. This leaves him open to distraction and eventually criticism. Although Paul's outer appearance is that of a perfect gentleman, his teachers find his behavior inappropriate and unacceptable. The narrator draws particular attention to Paul's eyes describing them as "remarkable for a certain hysterical brilliancy" (Cather p.74); this is followed by the response of his teachers who find it "peculiarly offensive in a boy" (Cather p.74). The teachers at school do not understand Paul's behavior. They feel Paul is disrespectful and they have given up on him. At Paul's meeting with the school's principal each of his teachers gets an opportunity to express their difficulties with Paul. The whole time Paul stands there never losing his smile. This is seen as "irritating to the last degree" (Cather p.75). For Paul this is his sign of strength. He refuses to allow his teachers, of such simple minds, to interfere with his soul. They have no understanding of Paul's behavior and do not wish to learn. After the meeting his teachers felt remorse for their verbal attack against the boy. One remarked on the similarity to a "miserable street cat set at bay by a ring of tormentors" (Cather p.76). However none of this affected Paul. He was untouched and uninterested by his teacher's cruel remarks. That was just his attitude. Paul was in another world, above all these irrelevant judgments. The words of his teachers could not harm Paul, he was simply out of their reach. This sort of belief held by Paul leaves him to judge himself. No amount of discipline could ever change his set ways unless Paul did so on his own.

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