The escapade which forms the principal part of "Paul's Case" is the type of thing which could easily be found in the early chapters of many biographies and autobiographies of the great and the good. To take one example almost at random, the British actor, writer and polymath Stephen Fry went on a similar spree of shopping and high-living at the age of eighteen with some stolen credit cards, subsequently spending three months in prison. It is axiomatic that such affairs look less serious with hindsight, but it is still important to ask why Paul decides to end his life over a comparatively trivial matter. When the matter is reported in the papers, Paul learns that:
The firm of Denny & Carson announced that the boy's father had refunded the full amount of the theft, and that they had no intention of prosecuting. The Cumberland minister had been interviewed, and expressed his hope of yet reclaiming the motherless boy, and his Sabbath-school teacher declared that she would spare no effort to that end. The rumor had reached Pittsburg that the boy had been seen in a New York hotel, and his father had gone East to find him and bring him home.
This does not sound so terrible, but in the next paragraph, we are abruptly told that Paul regards what is to happen to him as "worse than jail." His preference for living over dying is very slight, until it is too late, at which point:
As he fell, the folly of his haste occurred to him with merciless clearness, the vastness of what he had left undone.
Paul is obviously an unusual person. Perhaps he is not very sympathetic or admirable, but one might say this of many people, including teenagers who later turn out to lead useful or even remarkable lives. The title of the story, "Paul's Case," tells us that those around him would rather judge him than attempt to understand, since judging is easy and understanding is difficult.
The detailed description of his states of mind are an invitation to the reader not to make the same mistakes as he does. If all we take away from the story is: "a bad person came to a bad end, which was his own fault," then we are cheating ourselves of an opportunity to increase our understanding.
Paul, like the rest of us, did not make his own mind or shape his own personality. The interaction of that personality with the outside world, the way in which Paul is both apparently rebellious and desperate to conform, is the subject of the story. There is no doubt that other people would have handled his situation better, but to blame him is to waste the opportunity to understand how and why he chose his course of action.