Willa Cather’s story “Paul’s Case”is a story of a terribly troubled young man and his struggle with a mediocre life that is unfitting of his dreams. One of Paul’s most significant problems concerns his father. Paul sees things very differently from his father and it always seems as if his father wants him to adhere to his dreams. Instead of trying to mold himself to his father’s unrealistic wishes, Paul distances himself from his environment and attempts to escape everything that defines his utterly un-fulfilling existence. Paul avoids school, his father, and even his home, not out of a sense of possible retribution, but rather a pure hatred for what these things represented: a normal and pedestrian life. Paul finally loses his ability to cope with the unadulterated banality that surrounds him and desperately seeks to change things. Paul shows such a sense of shame towards the lifestyle he has been given that finally all of his discontent manifests itself in a tangible form: home. Paul possesses such a strong aversion to his house that he even experiences delusions that everybody else may see him in the same mundane light; it would be simply impossible to stay. Symbols and setting illustrate one of the major themes of “Paul’s Case”: escape. Paul is so unwilling to conform that he is obligated to escape his father, his home life, his status, and even himself. Once, Paul’s father tells him that he cannot usher at Carnegie Hall anymore, Paul no longer has any source of release, physical or mental, to satiate his urge for freedom.
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