What techniques does the author use to establish the reader's sympathy for Paul? "Paul's Case" by Willa Cather

1 Answer | Add Yours

mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Willa Cather's most powerful technique for developing Paul as a character is direct exposition as an authorial voice that presents information about Paul to the reader in thorough detail. With this authoritative narrator, every aspect of Paul's exterior and inner reality is portrayed and analyzed. for the reader. Through this voice of Cather, the reader perceives the poignant yearning after the arts and their beauty that is innate to the motherless Paul.  In addition, the reader also realizes Paul's disengagement from reality, a detachment that effects his destruction since he cannot conceive of having any choice but that of living in the arts.

In the exposition of the story, Cather describes Paul as having large pupils "as though he were addicted to belladonna."  When he is called to the principal's office, he is accused of disorder and disobedience, but after the meeting, the reader's sympathy is aroused for Paul when the teachers are ashamed of their accusations, especially when the drawing master

voiced the feeling of them all when he declared there was something about the boy which none of them understood.  He added:  'I don't really believe that smile of his comes altogether from insolence; there's something sort of haunted about it.  The boy is not strong for one thing.  There is something wrong about the fellow.'

After he says this, his teachers feel somewhat like bullies, 

dissatisfied and unhappy; humiliated to have felt so vindictive toward a mere boy, to have uttered this feeling in cutting terms, and to have se each other one, as it were, in the gruesome game of intermperate reproach.  One of them remembered having seen a miserable street cat set at bay by a ring of tormentors.

That Paul is so elated when surrounded by beauty and art and so terribly unhappy and "irritable" in the grey environment of the material world, touches the sympathies of the reader, as well.   As he stands outside the concert hall, Paul's thoughts are these:

There it was, what he wanted--tanglibly before him, like the fairy world of a Christmas pantomime; as the rain beat in his face, Paul wondered whether he were destined always to shiver in the black night outside, looking up at it.

Cather's repeated mention of Paul's aversion to the mundane and his touching yearning for the aesthetic that provides him an "indescribable thrill that made his imagination master of his senses" makes Paul's death all the more poignant.  In fact, the ambiguous ending--whether Paul's death is an accident or a suicide--also gives the reader a sense of Paul's victimization as part of "the immense design of things."

We’ve answered 318,915 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question