The two most significant motifs in Willa Cather's story "Paul's Case" are the sight flowers and the sense of smell. They are indicators of Paul's personality and help the reader understand him better.
Flowers are a representation of Paul's own feeble, yet, unique personality. We find Paul in the very first part of the story wearing a somewhat flamboyant red carnation to his meeting with the faculty over his behavior. His flower is described as "flippant" and "scandalous", especially since it almost seems as if Paul is proud to be in that predicament.
Paul keeps a bottle of violet-scented water hidden in his room in order to hide away the cooking odors of his home, which are horrid, in his opinion. He seems to have sometimes what is described in the story as a "morbid desire" for fresh flowers, and soft scents.
When Paul enters the Waldorf Astoria and sees his suite, he realizes that it is not complete without fresh cut flowers, for which he sends the valet to get them. It is the scent of the fresh flowers and the coolness of the December air what drives Paul into a deep sleep his first night alone.
In the end, Paul takes another red carnation and buries it in the snow just prior to his suicide. He realizes that the flower is welting and, rather than seeing the beauty of a flower go away slowly, he buries it in the snow to preserve the image forever.
Along with the flowers, the motif of smell comes automatically.
Paul's sensitive nature makes him quite susceptible to the sense of smell. He clearly detests the smells that come out of his house in Cordelia Street. He cannot stand the smell of cooking. He loves the smell of artificiality that comes out of the theater
The moment he inhaled the gassy, painty, dusty odour behind the scenes, he breathed like a prisoner set free, and felt within him the possibility of doing or saying splendid, brilliant things. The moment the cracked orchestra beat out the overture from Martha, or jerked at the serenade from Rigoletto, all stupid and ugly things slid from him, and his senses were deliciously, yet delicately fired
With the text above we see clearly how smell plays an important role in Paul's life. Artificiality is important to Paul
Perhaps it was because, in Paul's world, the natural nearly always wore the guise of ugliness, that a certain element of artificiality seemed to him necessary in beauty. Perhaps it was because his experience of life elsewhere was so full of Sabbath-school picnics, petty economies, wholesome advice as to how to succeed in life, and the inescapable odours of cooking, that he found this existence so alluring, these smartly-clad men and women so attractive, that he was so moved by these starry apple orchards that bloomed perennially under the lime-light.
Therefore, the sight and scent of flowers are extremely important to Paul. These are motifs that recur in the story in order to accentuate the unique and sensible nature of Paul. These also help us to understand his behavior and, ultimately, his final choice.