Paul's Case Questions and Answers
by Willa Cather

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What are some unique characteristics Paul displays in his interview before the faculty and principal, including the exit therefrom in "Paul's Case."

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Upon entering the headmaster’s office, Paul seems to have had every intention of causing an immediate reaction among his teachers. Keep in mind that his teachers were there to make a complaint about Paul’s ongoing bad behavior at school. In fact, they were there to talk about everything that Paul has been doing wrong, in front the headmaster. It was not going to be a cordial meeting. 

Still, Paul went in

suave and smiling.

His attitude was not just the only thing that was salient in the meeting. After all, he was about to be verbally admonished and he entered in as if he was going to be given a compliment; it was also his physical appearance that was meant to cause a stir:

His clothes were a trifle outgrown, and the tan velvet on the collar of his open overcoat was frayed and worn; but, for all that, there was something of the dandy about him, and he wore an opal pin in his neatly knotted black four-in-hand and a red carnation in his buttonhole.

What makes this stand out is that, even though Paul wanted to impress folks with his fashion skills, he actually had it all wrong. His clothes were outgrown, somewhat worn out, and he had a red carnation in his buttonhole just to be even more unnerving to the people there. This shows a degree of ignorance about actual sophistication on Paul’s part. Still, he does this because he tries to appear to be greater and mightier than what he is in both pose and behavior.  Most of it really does not work the way that he intends, as it is obvious that he lacks some skills. However, he pulled his dandyism despite of all that.

Paul also lies during the meeting, which is not uncommon for him to do, however, he does it quite politely and almost candidly. He is doing all of this with a smile, while he is being accused, quite angrily and with contempt, about him being impertinent and disorderly. He does this just to make the adults even angrier. 

He stood through it, smiling, his pale lips parted over his white teeth. (His lips were continually twitching, and he had a habit of raising his eyebrows that was contemptuous and irritating to the last degree.)

Therefore, as Paul is being told to his face what things he is doing wrong, and the reasons why he is in the verge of being expelled, he smiles at the teachers while only showing one sign of nervousness, which was toying with the buttons of his overcoat. His expression is described as “conscious”, which means that he is aware of what reaction he is causing with his facial expression. This shows Paul is passive-aggressive, or someone who uses his actions to aggravate people indirectly, more so than by conducting a direct attack.

Even when he finally speaks up and is asked why he treated a female teacher disrespectfully, his answer was anything but apologetic.

“I don’t know,” he replied. “I didn’t mean to be polite, or impolite, either. I guess it’s a sort of way I have of saying things, regardless.”

After the teachers said all that they had to say to him, all in front of the headmaster, Paul was finally told that he could go. In an expression that was as flippant and annoying to the teachers as the red carnation that he wore, Paul bowed to the teachers “gracefully”, and left the room causing just as much anger as when he first got in.  

This sarcastic way to get in and out is unique in that it shows the complete disregard that Paul has toward the adults, particularly those at school. He does not like his father, his neighbors, and most other people that remind him of the "ordinary." This is unique to someone like Paul, who is extremely obsessive and exaggerated about things, and does things that others would never think of doing. 

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