In the story "Paul's Case", was he driven to his fate by the destructive values of America.

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Since the story by Willa Cather is titled "Paul's Case" instead of "Paul's Life" or "Paul's Situation", we are instantly advised that the story that we are about to read is extremely unique and particular to a specific person.

Secondly, to assert that American values (ALL American values) are destructive would be to reduce our society to philosophical barbarism, which is not the case at all. Moreover, Paul does not observe any values that we, as Americans, are brought up to cherish. Therefore, the element that drives Paul to his fate is much simpler to identify: Paul is driven to his fate because he is not born nor raised in the element that is inherent to his nature. Paul is simply in the wrong body, and living at the wrong time.  

Paul is born an elusive aesthete with an enormous sensitivity and a feeble nature that separates him from the rest of the boys of his same age. With this predisposition, he is prone to feel emotionally overstimulated as well as understimulated unless there is a clear motivation in sight. Since he has a fascination for delicate and beautiful things, he cannot tolerate the commonalities of everyday life such as the smell of cooking, dinginess, or anything he would consider "ugly". To the common eye, these things are trivial. To Paul, they are a necessity.

Hence, when "his bone" is removed as concierge at Carnegie Hall and he is forced to undergo the menial job of a clerk in a common firm, he embarks in his ultimate manifestation of the aesthete ideal, which is to elope to New York on stolen money and live the way he deserves.

In Paul's mind the money was simply a conduit for the acquisition of beauty and lovely things. He is not greedy about it, nor he plans on have it to keep it for no purpose. He simply yearns something that he believes is his property. Beauty is all he wants to achieve. He is like the rose that he buries in the snow: Once beauty begins to welt, it is best to do away with it altogether.