What is Paul's behavior? Why is he acting this way?

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Paul despises his teachers at school. He is indifferent to their teaching and tries hard to make them aware of his disdain for them in "polite ways." For instance, he wears a "red carnation in his buttonhole" on the day that he attends the hearing of his disciplinary case. Through...

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Paul despises his teachers at school. He is indifferent to their teaching and tries hard to make them aware of his disdain for them in "polite ways." For instance, he wears a "red carnation in his buttonhole" on the day that he attends the hearing of his disciplinary case. Through the carnation, he hopes to send the message that he is not bothered by his suspension from school and that he still is the "every day Paul." He is rude to his teachers and does not attend to his lessons well.

Paul hates common things. He has a "shuddering repulsion for the flavorless, colorless, mass of everyday existence." He likes "cool things and soft lights and fresh flowers." He particularly likes the arts—theater and music. He loves working as an usher at Carnegie Hall: it is here that he really comes to life. He is a “model usher,” for he loves to play host. He is to be seen running up and down his section of the concert hall, talking to visitors, passing on programs, and being the most helpful usher in the entire hall. He also loves to listen to the symphony, not just for its sake, but because it represents genius and a freeing up of the senses.

In spite of his adoration for the arts, he is not interested in a career in any field of art: "He has no desire to become an actor, any more than he has to become a musician." He aspires to live a glamorous life: traveling to big cities, living in big expensive hotels, wearing expensive clothes, and eating exotic food. Yet, he does not want to work hard at achieving this kind of life. When he is not able to reform into a good student at the school, his father withdraws him from his studies and makes him take up formal employment. He does this for a short time before he decides to steal money from his employer to treat himself to the glamorous things in life, if only for a short time.

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Paul acts the way he does because he has a sense that he was meant for better things than the meager life available to him on Cordelia Street. The story begins with him facing a disciplinary panel at his school; he is in trouble for being disrespectful, but his drawing master has a different insight -- "I don't really believe that smile of his comes altogether from insolence; there's something sort of haunted about it.... There is something wrong about the fellow." Part of what is "wrong" is that Paul has an imagination that can't easily be controlled, and he longs for the fine life he sees second hand as an usher at Carnegie Hall. He will lie or do anything that will offer him a glimpse of that glamorous life. After one concert, he follows a famous opera singer to her hotel, gazing after her: when the singer entered the hotel "it seemed to Paul that he, too, entered. He seemed to feel himself go after her up the steps, into the warm, lighted building, into an exotic, tropical world of shiny, glistening surfaces and basking ease." This in stark contrast to his own home, and his domineering father, who terrifies him. Paul is suffocated by the middle class life he leads, and becomes desperate to get out, and find for himself the life he believes he is entitled to. That is why he steals the money and runs away -- he decides it is better to live a few days the way he thinks he was meant to, than spend a whole lifetime in fear and misery and self-loathing.

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