Irony and Symbolism in Willa Cather's Paul's Case
"Paul's Case," by Willa Cather, is a story that deals with a young boy who does not feel that he lives a life befitting of him. Upon a close reading, it is evident that "Paul's Case" is ruled by irony and symbolism, which are apparent in the story through the words of the narrator. The irony woven throughout the text builds up to an epiphonic moment, a main paradox in the story, which reveals to the reader Paul's true nature.
Paul believes that everyone around him is beneath him. He is convinced that he is superior to everyone else in his school and in his neighborhood. He is even condescending to his teachers, and shows an appalling amount of contempt for them, of which they are very aware.
In one class he habitually sat with his hand shading his eyes; in another he always looked out of the window during the recitation; in another he made a running commentary on the lecture, with humorous intention.
Paul wanted everyone to think he was better than they were. Not only did he try to dress as if he were rich and important, his very actions displayed a great amount of disdain for everyone around him.
Paul sees himself as superior. He carries himself with a haughty countenance and air about him, apparent in the description "Paul entered the faculty room suave and smiling." His attempts to portray himself as elegant is obvious in the adornments with which he tries to accentuate his attire: "he wore an opal pin in his neatly knotted black fourin-hand, and a red carnation in his button-hole." The irony in Paul's self-delusion lies in the way he is, in reality, seen by the rest of the world. While he thinks that he is dapper and winning in his ornamented garb, t...
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...ft who is actually honest. To Paul, the ultimate place in life is to be a part of the upper class. Paul had to try very hard, and be very dishonest, to convey a certain image so that he would be accepted as a part of that class. At this moment, since the best place to be is the upper class, and if one must be dishonest to achieve high social status, Paul wonders how there can be anyone in the world who is honest because everyone should be striving to be a part of the upper class. As far as Paul is concerned, his deceitful measures were an acceptable means for achieving his goal.
Works Cited and Consulted
Brown M. & Crone R. Willa Cather the Woman and Her Works. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1970.
Cather, Willa. “Paul’s Case.” The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction. Eds. R.V. Cassill and Richard Bausch. Shorter 6th ed. New York: Norton, 2000. 198-207.