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When Paul appears before the school faculty to get back into school, he is wearing a red carnation. The staff feels this is too bold for someone trying to show humility and repentance. Paul wears it as a way of expressing his artistic side and for this meeting, as a way of expressing his defiance and contempt for the faculty. For Paul, his daily life at home and at school is dull and gray. His fascination with the theater and the art world is full of color and life. The red carnation stands out for its color. It represents this world that Paul longs to belong to. When Paul runs away to the city, he stays in a fancy hotel. He is pleased with the room except for one missing detail: flowers. Here, it is the fragrance of the flowers that brings him to life. In the end, when Paul decides to end his life, the carnation is symbolically drooping. The short life of flowers parallels Paul's brief happiness in life:
It was only one splendid breath they had, in spite of their brave mockery at the winter outside the glass; and it was a losing game in the end, it seemed, this revolt against the homilies by which the world is run.
The narrator makes a clear comparison between Paul and the flowers. The flowers mock the winter as Paul mocked his teachers. The flowers revolt against the homilies. Cather uses the same word ("homilies") to describe the lessons of Paul's teachers. Paul symbolically buries one of the blossoms before he takes his life.
The stage entrance of the theater represents the door between Paul's gray world and the wondrous life of the theater. When he enters, he is transformed. This world is marked by artificiality, which is interesting because Paul chooses this "made up" world to the "real world." When he is banned from entering this world, he chooses to run away. The theater itself is an alternative reality for Paul. It represents the world in which he thinks he belongs. Fittingly, it is the place where things are made up, acted out, performed. It is a place where fiction is presented as an alternative to the real world outside.
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