Why do you think Paul commits suicide? Do you think there is a way that he may have regretted the decision to end his life?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Paul commits suicide because the perceived banality of his existence is overwhelming.  Once he escapes to New York, Paul recognizes a life that is beyond his world of Cordelia Street.  Cather illuminates how Paul's life prior to his escape to New York is one in which the mere act of living requires him to lie and deceive others as well as himself in order to simply live:  

The mere release from the necessity of petty lying, lying every day and every day, restored his self−respect. He had never lied for pleasure, even at school; but to make himself noticed and admired, to assert his difference from other Cordelia Street boys...

Cather's characterization of Paul is one in which his nonconformity is representative of struggle.  To simply be who he was, Paul had to resort to an endless charade of lies and deception.  This is where life in New York offered him so much in way of release: "He felt a good deal more manly, more honest, even, now that he had no need for boastful pretensions, now that he could, as his actor friends used to say, "dress the part." It was characteristic that remorse did not occur to him. His golden days went by without a shadow, and he made each as perfect as he could."  

When the reality of the world seems to be closing in on Paul, the pressure becomes too much to bear.  It is one in which "the tepid waters of Cordelia Street were to close over him finally and forever."  At the same time, Paul recognizes that there is a terrible feeling in having to see what life could be for him and what happiness might have been present for him only to leave it, returning to deceit.  Paul recognizes that he is overcome with this reality, one in which there is no escape: "It was a losing game in the end, it seemed, this revolt against the homilies by which the world is run."  It is in this light where Paul makes his decision to take his own life, a fundamental statement of non- conformist resistance against the world.

Like so much in the story, Cather provides enough opportunity for one to see indecision in Paul's actions while perceiving certainty in them.  On one hand, Cather makes clear the idea that suicide was the only option that Paul perceived as being acceptable.  Paul recognizes a world of "Cordelia Streets" as not one worth living. Additionally, Paul finds himself unable to revert back to the condition of life where an emotionally deadening existence awaited him.  Cather uses the term "resolution" to describe how Paul perceives suicide.  This helps to convey that Paul did not possess much in way of regret in the course he chose.  However, Cather undercuts this with the inclusion of the "haste of his folly" as Paul jumps in front of the train.  While Paul might have felt convinced that what he believed was true, Cather almost indicates that there might have been more to Paul's life and his actions: "...with merciless clearness, the vastness of what he had left undone." The death of Paul's "picture making mechanism" might be worse than a world in which all he has left is this condition.  Cather suggests that intrinsic to the finality of suicide is the death of dreams, an element that makes life in any condition bearable.  While Cather depicts Paul as sincerely believing in the need to have taken action as he did, there is also a sense of regret evident.

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