The criticism in Willa Cather's story of "Paul's Case" has two critics with different interpretations of what Paul represents in the story. One critic by the name of Rob Saari believes that Paul suffers from a narcissistic personality disorder, which is a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, the need for admiration, and the lack of empathy. On the other hand, Karen Bernardo blames Paul's dull and depressed environment for his downfall. I will analyze each interpretation as to why each critic feels this way about Paul and come up with my own conclusion that support Karen Bernardo's explanation in which Paul's dull and depressing enviroment [Cordelia Street] played a huge role in his escape to be somebody. .
One could see why Rob Saari viewed Paul as a narcissist. Paul believed that everyone around him is beneath him. He is even condescending to his teachers, and shows an appalling amount of contempt for them, of which they are very aware. In one class he habitually sat with his hand shading his eyes; in another he always looked out of the window during recitation; in another he made a running commentary on the lecture, with humorous intention. Not only did he try to dress as if he were rich and important, his very actions displayed a great amount of disdain for everyone around him. Paul carries himself with a haughty countenance and air about him, apparent in the description "Paul entered the faculty room suave and smiling"(67). His attempts to portray himself as elegant is obvious in the adornments with which he tries to accentuate his attire:" he wore an opal pin in his neatly knotted black fourin-hand, and a red carnation in his button hole"(67). While he thinks that he is dapper and winning in his outfit, the reader is informed how Paul is seen by everyone else, "His clothes were trifle out-grown and the tan velvet on the collar of his open overcoat was frayed and worn Paul was tall for his age and very thin, with high, cramped shoulders and a narrow chest" (67).