Identify examples of the four types of conflicts in "Paul's Case." 

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

I assume that by the “four conflicts,” you mean conflict in a psychological, and not literary, sense. The four conflicts, as developed by Kurt Lewin, are as follows:

  • approach-approach—where one must choose between two desirable outcomes.
  • avoidance-avoidance—where one must choose between two undesirable outcomes.
  • approach-avoidance—in which one choice has good...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

I assume that by the “four conflicts,” you mean conflict in a psychological, and not literary, sense. The four conflicts, as developed by Kurt Lewin, are as follows:

  • approach-approach—where one must choose between two desirable outcomes.
  • avoidance-avoidance—where one must choose between two undesirable outcomes.
  • approach-avoidance—in which one choice has good and bad outcomes.
  • multiple approach-avoidance—in which one chooses between two or more things, each of which has positive and negative possible outcomes.

Paul is an interesting character to consider in this context. Paul’s problem is his identity. He begins the story feeling that he is a certain way but feels confused about why his life does not reflect how he feels. For example, he feels like he is a wealthy member of high society, but he cannot square this feeling with his life on Cordelia Street. It seems to me that the final conflict, multiple approach-avoidance, is the state most people find themselves in; the “young man” Paul’s father uses as a model for Paul, who marries at 21 to prevent his own certain dissipation, can be thought of as someone trying to make the best of a bad situation by plotting a rational course through life. Of course, Paul wants none of that. From this “four conflicts” point of view, this sort of conflict is entirely too complicated and too compromising. Paul yearns for a life of ease and simplicity beyond conflict.

His decision to steal the money can be thought of as an instance of approach-avoidance. Clearly, this act has positive and negative attributes; on one hand, it enables him to get to New York, but on the other hand, it also precipitates the humiliation of his father coming after him and his eventual suicide. In itself, this is an example of avoidance-avoidance (given the choice between humiliation and death, Paul sees death as the lesser evil).

In a way, the psychological condition Paul yearns for is one where every decision is approach-approach. The passage where Paul gazes at the opera singer’s hotel in Pittsburgh is an expression of this dream; the hotel is a place where every decision is between two goods, and this fantasy becomes real when he gets to the hotel in New York. These decisions create Paul’s identity: as the story says, Paul feels “that his surroundings explain him.”

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

There are two types of conflict, external conflict that occurs outside the character and internal conflict which occurs within the character.  For Paul, the conflicts intersect.

Paul's internal conflicts far outweigh his external conflicts in this story.  So much so that his belief that only money and beauty will give his life meaning, lead him to external conflicts with the authorities and subsequently to his death.  

"Paul steals from his employer and leaves for New York City. There he realizes his dreams of buying expensive clothes, staying at the Waldorf, a grand hotel, attending the opera, and becoming "exactly the kind of boy he had always wanted to be."

"When his crime is discovered, Paul cannot face returning to the "ugliness and commonness" of Cordelia Street and commits suicide by jumping in front of a moving train."

His internal conflicts, his dissatisfaction with life, his desire to be someone else, but without a willingness to work for it, combine to produce a desperate, isolated state of rejection for this character.

As a result of Paul's feeling outside of his family, his fellow students and everyone in his life, he commits suicide rather than return to his ordinary life.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team