Understanding “Paul’s Case” through Structuralism
Willa Cather presents “Paul’s Case” using vivid symbolism and language to depict Paul, his personality, his environment, as well as his life style. Willa Cather does not directly state Paul’s feelings, but through the use of language and symbols we can imply many things about Paul, and the type of person he is. Using structuralism and semiotics to analyze Paul’s case provides the opportunity to take certain concepts in the story and understand the true meaning that lies behind them. In “Paul’s Case” language and symbolism will provide an effective understanding of Paul’s withdrawn and misunderstood behavior, as well as how his “reality” of life affects him externally and internally, the meaning behind the change in narration and the sequence of events that led to the tragic ending of Paul’s life.
“Paul entered the faculty room suave and smiling. His clothes were a trifle outgrown and the tan velvet on the collar of his open coat was frayed and worn; but for all that there was something of the dandy about him, he wore an opal pin in his neatly knotted black four-in-hand, and a red carnation in his buttonhole.” (Cather 490) There are many concepts that lie behind this quote. His suave smile is representing his calm relaxed personality, he has been suspended from school, but his unsettle demeanor portrays that he is not filled with sorrow. His clothing is described as trifle, outgrown, frayed, and worn which can represent low economic status, or a definite need of attention. His teachers frown upon the red carnation in his buttonhole. The flower is symbolic of his attitude. The underlying sign of the red carnation flower is the concept of defiance. The author does not state that Paul is being defiant, but it can be implied by the reactions from his teachers. The meaning behind the language in the beginning of the story and the symbolism behind his behavior and his clothing is that Paul is withdrawn and...
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