What are the main themes in "Paul's Case"?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"Paul's Case", by Willa Cather, is the story of a young man who is a misfit to his surroundings. His situation is extreme, and results in Paul's death after carrying out every dream that ever visits his imagination.

One of the most resonant themes in the story is the achievement of wealth under the idea of the American Dream. Paul's father dreams for Paul to attain achievements which are dissonant to Paul's own ideals.To Paul, money is everything because it helps him acquire beautiful things. When he surrounds himself with the gilded society of New York, he feels as if everything in his life has been accomplished. His idea of the American Dream is having wealth.

Another main theme is self-identity. Paul is completely different from his surroundings. Paul is a young man with fantasies that are extremely fancy and far-fetched, all because of his extremely delicate nature. He is literally a misfit, and his search for self-identity provokes severe suffering in him.

Yet, the most important theme might be deception from every perspective. Paul cannot be sincere with his father, his teachers, his friends, or even the people whom he mingles with in New York. Paul is simply unable to be himself because he does not even know exactly what his role in life is meant to be. As he states in the story, he simply wants "to be there" along with the beautiful people. He simply wants to be part of the stamp and not take a specific part of it. Paul is basic atmosphere.