Paul’s Case Essay
Laura Clauser 9/18/2008 Lit 42 The Emotional Place of “Paul’s Case” The main character, a challenging adolescent boy named Paul, has an almost inexplicable ability at irritating every person he comes in contact with. He finds his education trivial, a sense of superiority towards his peers, and a general distaste for everything in his suburban neighborhood on Cordelia Street. At first glance, Paul appears to be suffering from the typical adolescent angst.
However, his actions and frame of mind are better defined by Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPR). Paul demonstrates several symptoms of this mental illness such as, “preoccupation with fantasies that focus on unlimited success, power, intelligence, beauty or love, the belief that he or she is “special” and unique, and can only be understood by other special people, envy of others or a belief that others are envious of him or her, and arrogant behavior and/or attitude” (Cleveland Clinic).In this paper, I will focus on how Paul’s character demonstrates certain symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, specifically the preoccupation with fantasies that focus on unlimited success, power, intelligence, beauty or love, the belief that he or she is “special” and unique, and can only be understood by other special people, and his arrogant behavior and attitude in relation to his love for New York and his hate for Pittsburg.Paul feels as if he is trapped in a suburban world that is too ordinary and plain, which is no surprise since Cather’s characters generally are “lonesome individuals who repeatedly find themselves suffocated by normative life” (Herring). He even goes so far to describe his feelings while returning to his home with “a shudder of loathing…he felt the waters close above his head” (Cather 215).
This so strongly worded description of Paul’s perception of Cordelia Street provides the framework for the conflicting issues of Paul’s emotional bipolar feelings between Pittsburg and New York.The only place where Paul can live in a realm in which he finds his own personal sense of power and success is at Carnegie Hall, finding that “he breathed like a prisoner set free, and felt within him the possibility of doing or saying splendid, brilliant, poetic things” and that the theater provided “a certain element of artificiality necessary in beauty” (Cather 218). Paul demonstrates his desire to sustain those feelings by going to an extreme, stealing money in order to live the life among the New York cultured elite, which he felt he inherently deserved.One of the first things that Paul indulged in once he got to New York City was a clothing shopping spree and, “spent more than an hour in dressing, watching every stage of his toilet carefully in the mirror…he was exactly the kind of boy he always wanted to be” (Cather 221).
Paul’s fixation with himself is similar to that of the mythic god Narcissus, for which the personality trait Narcissist is name, who “fell in love with his own reflection. He stayed watching reflection and let himself die” (Encyclopedia Mythica).Even though Paul knew that his time spent in his New York life was limited, he was finally was able to escape from the people in Pittsburgh who did not grasp that he was “special”, and was able to enter the world where the other “special” people were who would understand him in New York City. Paul feels as if he is the most sophisticated person in his suburban hometown in Pittsburgh. He also feels the need to show how much more sophisticated and important he is than his suburban peers.
Although he feels he is out of the ordinary, “He had no desire to become an actor, any more than he had to become a musician” (Cather, 219). He takes his obsession of proving to his peers how special he is by showing them “autographed pictures of all the members of the stock company…telling them of his familiarity with these people” (Cather 219). However, in actuality, his contact and similarities with the actors of Carnegie Hall is minimal, and he remains an outsider. He is removed from the actual life of these people, but feels he is engaged in it.By thinking of himself extraordinarily, but having no aspirations, Paul becomes “the adolescent longing for something-anything-different.
Defiantly unproductive, he fails to “develop” himself” (Herring). Paul ignores his lack of talents and focuses his sense of superiority above the population of Pittsburgh to his interpersonal relations with the actors at Carnegie Hall in New York City. While Paul may have no talent, or desire for talent, he continues to exhibit his egocentrism behind a cover of arrogance and lack of empathy.Readers of “Paul’s Case” often find it difficult to understand Paul because of his complete disregard for his seemingly good, although ordinary, life. He demeans authority figures, as shown when he answers his school principal’s question about his behavior with, “ ‘I don’t know…I didn’t mean to be polite or impolite, either. I guess it’s sort of way I have of saying things regardless” (Cather 212).
He clearly shows no remorse for how he may have hurt someone’s feelings or humiliated them.His arrogance does not only fall upon his authority figures at school, but when he faces the authority figures outside of school as well. For instance, when he notices one of his teachers at the theater, he became “startled for a moment, and had a feeling of wanting to put her out; what business had she here among all these fine people and gay colors? ” (Cather, 214). With such rage, combined with his need for being different, Paul’s smugness exhibits his arrogance and bitter behavior towards anyone and anything that was below his standards of the “special” life.Paul is an exception to Cather’s usual characters, which are generally good people.
Paul demonstrates actions, feelings, and behaviors that match those of the nine criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder; he most strongly exhibits the three behaviors discussed here. He feels entitled to a life of beauty, success, and power. He does not feel that he can find this in his hometown in Pittsburgh so he lies and steals to attain power in New York City. Although he has no discernable talent, and no desire to develop one, he still feels that he is special, and that everyone else should recognize that fact.
He feels that his peers in Pittsburgh do not understand how special he is, so he must go to New York City to be among other special people who will understand him. Stemming from his angst about not being understood at home comes arrogant and self-important behavior. At the end, when faced with the reality that he must return to Pittsburgh, Paul makes a decision. His self -involvement is more important to him than his own life, much like Narcissus, and he decides to take it. Works Cited Cather, Willa.
“Paul’s Case”.The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2000.
Cleveland Clinic, “Mental Health: Narcissistic Personality Disorder”. WebMD. 9/10/2008 <http://www. webmd. com/mental-health/narcissistic-personality-disorder>.
Herring, Terrell Scott. “Willa Cather’s Lost Boy: “Paul’s Case and Bohemian Tramping”. The Arizona Quarterly Summer 2004: 87-117. “Narcissus.
” Encyclopedia Mythica. 2008. Encyclopedia Mythica Online. 17 Sep. 2008 <http://www.
pantheon. org/articles/n/narcissus. html>.