A Struggle in Self-Identity.
Willa Cather’s “Paul’s Case,” is filled with both symbolism and hidden meaning. Inferences can be made regarding Paul’s sexuality, apparent learning disabilities, abusive father, and motherless household. While there are countless things that go unspoken in the story, a theme of struggling to find one’s self-identity is prevalent throughout. Cather explores the struggle between individuality and conformity, going into further analysis by showing how Paul’s search for individuality leads not only to his isolation but subsequent depression and eventual suicide. Set in Pittsburghin the early 1900s, the story depicts the dull and conformist overtones the Industrial Revolution and steel industry cast over the city. Carnegie had recently created his steel empire, employing most of the town in the steel mills to work long hours at monotonous jobs. Due to the long working hours combined with low wages, there was little time or money for cultural activities to develop. Despite these challenges, Carnegie was also a philanthropist and established many artistic venues with his wealth; (Hicks)Carnegie Hall being one of prevalence in the story and most well known today. Although these activities were generally only available for the social elite, their presence alone created aspirations and imagination material for the working class. Paul’s infatuation with this higher class and the privileges afforded to them was a major influence on his quest to find individuality. Paul’s distaste for conformity is shown throughout the story. It is seen in his observations of people and their routines, though primarily his distain is most overtly displayed through his hate for his home. Cordelia Streetis characterized as conformist in nature as all the houses and their residents are identical. Paul openly critiques the mundane nature of his home and his feeling of entrapment within it. “Paul never went up Cordelia Street without a shudder...
Cited: Cather, Willa "Paul’s Case A Study in Temperament." American LiteratureVolume 2. New York: Penguin Academics-Pearson Education, 2004.
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