To what extent is Paul in "Paul's Case" by Willa Cather responsible for the internal conflicts he experiences?Willa Cather's "Paul's Case"

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In Willa Cather's tragic short story, "Paul's Case," Paul's driving desires for the life of the aesthetic over his banal life are directly responsible for his internal conflicts.  And, it is these internal conflicts that drive his disengagement from reality that lead to his eventual destruction. 

Paul's dissastifaction with his life is apparent in his acts of repulsion for his teachers, while at the same time the inscrutableness or his smile that the drawing master describes as "something sort of haunted about it" cause him problems.  For, Paul is only happy when he is able to lose himself in art. When, for instance, he works as an usher at Carnie Hall, he is delighted.

When the symphony began, Paul sank into one of the rear seats with a long sigh of relief, and lost himself as he had done before the Rico.  It was not that symphonies, as such, meant anything in paraticular to Paul, but the first sight of the instruments seemed to free some hilarious spirit within him; something that struggled there like the genie in the bottle found by the Arab fisherman.  He felt a sudden zest of life.... 

But once outside in the real world, Paul "wondered whether he were destined always to shiver in the black night...looking up at it."  Thus, Paul cannot reconcile his inner desires with reality.  When he sits on the steps with his father and listens to the young man whom Paul's father holds as a model to him, speaks of his position working for a man who now cruises the Mediterranean as he keeps in touch with his business, Paul hears only the tale of the palaces in Venice, the yachts on the Mediterranean, and the "high play" in Monte Carlo.  Then, having incurred more problems at school, Paul is taken out by his father and made to work for Denny & Carson, from whom he impulsively steals nearly one thousand dollars. 

This impulsive act, of course, leads to his tragic demise as when Paul is found out, he has no choice because he is internally incapable of imagining that he has the freedom to make a choice. Truly, his tragic inner character is responsible for his actions, even his final one that is fraught with a last internal conflict.  For, even in the approach of death, Paul contemplates only that he will leave much "undone":

As he fell, the folly of his haste occurred to him with merciless clearness, the vastness of what he had left undone.  There flashed through his brain, clearer than ever before, the blue of Adriatic water, the yellow of Algerian sands.

Having always felt himself in another world from his teachers, his classmates, his family, Paul commits suicide because he cannot live the life of the aesthetic.

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