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In “Paul’s Case” language and symbolism will provide an effective understanding of Paul’s withdrawn and misunderstood behavior, as well as how his “reality” of life affects him externally and internally, the meaning behind the change in narration and the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.

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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the language in the beginning of the story and the symbolism behind his behavior and his clothing is that Paul is withdrawn and misunderstood. “The structure of language itself produces “reality”–that we can think only through language, and therefore our perceptions of reality are all framed by and determined by the structure of language. ” (Derrida) In “Paul’s Case,” we can only determine Paul’s reality through the language that identifies

Paul’s experiences. “The moment he turned into Cordelia Street he felt the waters close above his head. After each of these orgies of living, he experienced all the physical depression which follows a debauch; the loathing of respectable beds, of common food, of a house penetrated by kitchen odors; a shuddering repulsion for the flavorless, colorless mass of every-day existence; a morbid desire for cool things and soft lights, and fresh flowers. ” (Cather 494) This is the type of life Paul dreams of having. The interpretation behind this concept is happiness.

Happiness that comes from having a warm comforting home, and “cool things. ” Unfortunately Paul desires these things because he has the exact opposite. “His ugly sleeping chamber; the cold bathroom with the grimy zinc tub, the cracked mirror, the dripping spigots; his father, at the top of the stairs, his hairy legs sticking out from his night-shirt, his feet thrust into carpet slippers. ” (Cather 494) This description of his environment depicts Paul’s “reality. ” Paul is depressed about having to go home, he does not like being there.

Paul cannot control these circumstances because he does not want to accept that this where he comes from. Paul wants to live a lavish life style; he does not accept his “reality. ” According to the descriptions provided in the text Paul is struggling with both internal and external conflicts. “Writers and dramatists learn from infancy: it’s stronger to show the audience than to tell them. To say that “George was a good friend” leaves no impression; for impact, the writer shows what friendship meant to George. (Bernstein)

At the time that Paul decides to flee to New York, Willa Cather changes the narration to be from Paul’s perspective. “Here and there on the corners were stands, with whole flower gardens blooming under glass cases, against the sides of which the snow flakes stuck and melted; violets, roses, carnations, lilies of the valley-somewhat vastly more lovely and alluring that they blossomed unnaturally in the snow. ” (Cather 499) The use of language has shifted into positive descriptions of the atmosphere. Paul is not, as it seemed in the beginning, an abnormal person.

He is a person with dreams and ambitions just like everyone else. The fact that he went to such extreme measures to fulfill his dreams of visiting New York shows his determination. He did not ever want to return to Cordelia Street. For him, home was “worse than jail”, and the thought of it was “sickeningly vivid”. This shows just how unhappy he was at home. The change in narration occurs to provide the reader with a prominent perception of Paul’s life and through his explanation of the environment we can imply that he is finally content with his life at this point in time. His golden days went by without a shadow, and he made each day as perfect as he could. ” (Cather 500)

“A lie will easily get you out of a scrape, and yet, strangely and beautifully, rapture possesses you when you have taken the scrape and left out the lie. ” (Montague) “He could remember a time when he had felt so at peace with himself. The mere release from the necessity of petty lying, lying every day and every day, restored his self-respect. ” (Cather 500) Paul’s unhappiness caused him to lie. The author says, “petty lying” which is defined as meaning less lying to prove that he above the others.

The underlying concept behind the lying is that Paul is ashamed of who he is, it is not directly stated in the text, but it is implied by Paul’s behavior. “ His dearest pleasures were the grey winter twilights in his sitting-room; his quiet enjoyment of his flowers, his clothes, his wide divan, his cigarette, and his sense of power. ” (Cather 500) This description of the things that brought happiness to Paul is a dream. The dream he longed to obtain no matter what he had to do to get it. Through the system of language that is used through the story we learn that Paul seems to self-absorbed, unhappy, and not quite sure of whom he is.

These characteristics of his personality lead Paul to a tragic ending. Paul commits suicide. “He felt something strike his chest, and that his body was being thrown swiftly through the air, on and on, immeasurably far and fast, while his limbs were gently relaxed. The because the picture making mechanism was crushed, the disturbing visions flashed into black, and Paul dropped back into immense design of things. ” (Cather 502) This use of language does not state directly that Paul committed suicide, but the author states, the picture making mechanism was crushed, the disturbing visions flashed into black.

The concept behind this line is that his memory of life disappears. Paul would rather be dead then to go back to the life he had back home. The Language in the story is not difficult to understand. When Willa Cather describes certain concepts or images in the story there can be more then one meaning that one can obtain from it. Language is a system that is used to communicate ideas and thoughts. Words are just a jumble of letters the true meaning is the concept that lies behind them.

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Understanding Paul’s Case through Structuralism. (2017, Mar 05). Retrieved from http://studymoose.com/understanding-pauls-case-through-structuralism-essay

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