Compare and contrast the ways in which the stories “Paul’s Case: A Study in Temperament” by Willa Cather and “Hands” by Sherwood Anderson provide insight into these misfit characters and the social problems that create their problems and alienation in the first place. In other words, compare and contrast how the problems the characters confront in the stories have a social cause, and comment on how at least one of the stories still provides insight into our society today.

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Both Paul in "Paul's Case" and Wing in "Hands" are alike in that they suffer from the social problem of a superficial American culture that puts too much emphasis on external appearances and too little on a person's inner being or spirit. However, the stories contrast in that Paul has internalized his culture's superficiality, making it far too important in his life, while Wing doesn't care so much about externals but simply suffers from other people's tendency to judge superficially.

Paul despises his lower-middle-class life and family to an extreme degree, so much so that he embezzles money and embarks on a spree living the high life in New York City. Staying at the best hotels, eating at the best restaurants, and wearing the finest clothes gives him a sense of self-worth that is based entirely on outward appearances. When the money runs out, he becomes a victim of his society's warped values: rather than face reality, Paul commits suicide.

Wing, in contrast, puts his emphasis on the interior life of the spirit, wanting to inspire his students and people he cares about with a desire to think for themselves and appreciate learning. He gets so caught up in his quest to enlighten others that he can't control his hands, which compulsively touch the student—or friend—he is trying to reach. All his society sees is that he is "caressing" his male students: he is run out of town and his life ruined by false accusations of pedophilia. Though not superficial himself, as Paul is, Wing is nevertheless a victim of a society that doesn't bother to look beneath the surface.

Both stories provide insights into society today. As with Paul, too many people put too much emphasis on the external signs of wealth and pay too little attention to their souls, getting too tied up in judging themselves by shallow standards. As with Wing, we are still apt to judge people as deviant based on an external quirk or behavior without looking at the whole person to evaluate what is going on.

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