Monday, September 22, 2008

Reader's Diary #399- Willa Cather: Paul's Case

Short Story Monday
My version of Willa Cather's "Paul's Case" is found in an old Scholastic short story compilation simply called Famous Stories (though it can also be found online here). At the beginning of each story, editor Norma Reudi Ainsworth poses a question or states a one-line comment that I assume is meant as a sort of summary of the story's theme.

For "Paul's Case" she simply asks, "Can reality ever equal Paul's dreams?" It's an interesting question that suggests she blames the tragedy on Paul, implying that naivete did him in. I didn't see it that way. Perhaps it's the liberal teacher in me, but I thought the system failed Paul. Paul's dreams, as they were, were not well defined at that point. He seemed to enjoy the fine arts, especially the theatre, yet he "had no desire to become an actor, any more than he to become a musician." The teachers, and it would seem Ainsworth too, found Paul's enchantment with fantasy problematic. Sure he was naive and immature. Who isn't at that age? But instead of stifling this component of his personality, couldn't it have been harnessed in some way? Or, seeing as Cather used a lot of flower imagery, couldn't they have offered him fertilizer and sunlight, rather than being critical of where he chose to grow?

The way Cather presents Paul, including the title, suggests to me this is just the sort of debate she'd been aiming at.


Barbara Bruederlin said...

I'll have to read this. I only remember Willa Cather from a university course, about 100 years ago.

Anonymous said...

I've always loved Willa Cather and remember this story from high school (in the dear dead days beyond recall). She had such an affinity for place and for a particular kind of estrangement, if I may call it that, from one's provenance. I'm thinking here of that wonderful tale, My Antonia. But thanks for reminding me of her work. I'm going to look at this story again.
Theresa Kishkan