How do the physical and social settings/environments contribute to the overall meaning of the story? 

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amarang9 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

After Paul's inquisition at school, he goes to his job as an usher at Carnegie Hall. First, he goes to the picture gallery, knowing it will be deserted. The paintings "always exhilarated him." In school, he is defiant and insular. But in the theater and art gallery, he is enthralled and opens himself up. Prior to the show, he gets "lost" while staring at a "blue Rico." Paul is completely at home and content in the theater: 

He was a model usher; gracious and smiling he ran up and down the aisles; nothing was too much trouble for him; he carried messages and brought programs as though it were his greatest pleasure in life, and all the people in his section thought him a charming boy, feeling that he remembered and admired them. 

It is not the symphony that draws Paul in. It is the overall atmosphere of the theater. It is the notion that this is a place where an alternate reality, albeit fake, is created. "He felt a sudden zest of life; the lights danced before his eyes and the concert hall blazed into unimaginable splendor." 

Paul would hang out near the Schenley Hotel because that's where the more famous actors and actresses would stay. In this environment as well, Paul is able to "leave schoolmasters and dull care behind him forever." 

Paul reluctantly goes home to his "horrible yellow wallpaper, the creaking bureau with the greasy plush collarbox," illustrating his distaste for his home and his room in particular. Paul also hates his neighborhood. All of the houses look the same and to him, the culture is "a shuddering repulsion for the flavorless, colorless mass of everyday existence." Everything about his home life is dull, unappealing, and depressing. 

Paul wants to escape from his daily life. The theater is a place of art, where music and stories are created and performed. It is literally a place where fiction is created. This is what Paul is infatuated with: the idea of another world: 

It was at the theater and at Carnegie Hall that Paul really lived; the rest was but a sleep and a forgetting. This was Paul's fairy tale, and it had for him all the allurement of a secret love. The moment he inhaled the gassy, painty, dusty odor behind the scenes, he breathed like a prisoner set free, and felt within him the possibility of doing or saying splendid, brilliant, poetic things. 

The narrator even describes the stage door at the Carnegie as the "portal of Romance." By comparison, Paul finds the schoolroom repulsive. When Paul's parents and teacher bar him from the theater, he must find another alternate world. So, he goes to New York City. 

He stays at the Waldorf and revels in the luxury of his room. Here, at the Waldorf and the Metropolitan, Paul feels like he is with "his people." All of his depressed thoughts about school and home are gone: 

He was now entirely rid of his nervous misgivings, of his forced aggressiveness, of the imperative desire to show himself different from his surroundings. He felt now that his surroundings explained him. Nobody questioned the purple; he had only to wear it passively. He had only to glance down at his attire to reassure himself that here it would be impossible for anyone to humiliate him. 

When Paul learns that his father is coming to get him, he loses all hope. He can not bear to return to his dull, oppressive life on Cordelia Street. Place and culture play a huge role in Paul's story. He can not stand the day to day life of suburban families and the repetitious nature of school as well. He only allows himself to be happy in luxurious buildings and in the artificial world of the theater. 

Read the study guide:
Paul's Case

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