"Who is Paul?", a study of the main character of "Paul's Case" by Willa Cather

Essay by SympletUniversity, Bachelor'sA, November 2003

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Many times, we try to separate ourselves from the world around us; we distance ourselves from the society. For most of us, this delibarate isolation is temporary, but for Willa Cather's protagonist in the short story Paul's Case, this seclusion is permanent. In fact, many researches show that Paul's behavior could be explain by the fact that he seems to be suffering from a narcissic personality disorder and that this illness, plus other emotional factors, could be the key to his suicide.

Many reports and analysis state that Paul is suffering from Narcissism. Although the story was written in 1904 and that particular personnality disorder was only diagnosed in 1977, Cather's character embodies many of the symptoms listed by the doctors, such as: "highly developped sense of self importance, preoccupation with fantasies of success, belief that he is special, feeling he has the envy of peers, and arrogant behavior."

(Benis, 303) But the main display of Paul's illness is his over-developped sense of self-importance; the way he feels that he is worth much more than the environment of Cordelia Street. A good example of that is when he comes back to his home after a concert, he feels a "loathing of respectable beds, of common food; a shuddering repulsion for the flavorless, colorless mass of everyday existence." (Cather, 215-216) Paul feels that he is special and deserves to be associated with those of his equal. For this reason, he enjoys interactions with the experienced circle of the theater, such as leading juvenile Charley Edwards, until his English teacher connects his glamourous world with an inferior world outside him: "what business had she here among all these fine people and gay colors?" (Cather, 214) From there on, he decides that he is too fabulous for pitifull Pittsburgh and decides to...