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Alienation in “Paul’s Case” By Willa Cather

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Alienation, as defined by the Webster’s Dictionary, “is the act of estrangement or withdrawing affections” – www.dictionary.com. There are many factors that lead to the alienation of humans and alienation can take many forms, within a family or within society. When a person is considered ‘different’, they are pushed out of society and because of this become withdrawn and eventually find themselves even more abnormal. In the short story, “Paul’s Case” by Willa Cather, the main character Paul struggles with societies limited view of ‘normal’. Paul is jaded by society; he does not fit in as an individual and therefore becomes a different person. Society causes people to create a fantasy world or a lie that they can escape to in order to find happiness when they feel they are not accepted by those around them.

People try to fit in so that they are accepted by others. When a person cannot fit in they adapt so that those around them will accept them. Many people make up things about themselves, or make up a separate lifestyle, when they do this they are changing who they are and are therefore making it harder for society to accept them for who they truly are. By trying to be someone they are not, they make it difficult for others to see them as an individual and instead see them as a follower. People change themselves and all that they stand for so that others will change others their views of them, by changing their morals no longer fit with this persons ‘image’. In the beginning of the story the reader is introduced to Paul as an abnormal adolescent; his teachers, pupils and even his family view Paul as someone who clearly does not fit into the “American Dream”.

Paul possesses the insight to see beauty others can not; He has a strong affection for the arts, which stereotypes him as a person who is not manly. This misunderstood affection for the arts causes Paul to live in two worlds; one The Arts where he is happy and the other is a reality where he is not comfortable. By separating his love for the arts from his real life he has caused himself to become alienated by those around him. Due to others view of Paul, he finds himself as different and he is then forced into a fantasy realm to find comfort. Paul tries to fit into the arts world, because he has a love for the beauty that is contains, but he does not quite fit in there because he has ties to the ‘other world’, these ties hold him back and cause him to be a misfit by both cultures. Being an outcast causes Paul to create an escape for himself when he feels the pressures of society on him. This escape becomes his fantasy world.

The old quote “A lie told often enough becomes truth” – Lenin, is more than just a saying, it is in fact a reality. In the same way that society cause one to change themselves, it also causes one to change the truths about himself. Paul finds himself not only allowing his life to drift in to his fantasy, but allowing his fantasy to drift into his reality. By doing this Paul causes his real truths to become hidden and lost between reality and fantasy. For Paul to escape the harshness of society he creates a fantasy that he can progress to at will in order to find comfort. In the time that this story was written, The Arts were looked down upon; many of the hard working Americans saw The Arts as feminine and not a worthwhile career. Paul’s father was one of these men. The Arts gave Paul a sense of happiness that he could not find anywhere else, when he was not involved in The Arts he found himself down and depressed so he creates a fantasy in which he could enjoy. Whenever he felt the pressures of society on him he would retreat to a vision of all things that gave him joy.

Just the same that Paul creates a fantasy world, people create a lie that they live in. This lie separates them from the pain of society. Similar to the way that Paul found happiness from his fantasy; people find a lie that makes them feel content. Paul would create his fantasy to create satisfaction. The returning to a life where Paul was rejected, hopeless and insignificant was too much for him. His infatuation with the theater allowed him to live forever in a single moment. This is true with so many people that they can’t stand the world that they live in so they retreat to a dream to live in happiness. Paul spent most of his life in his dream world that comforted him and accepted him; Paul never once felt embarrassed or not liked because it was his imagination and he could create any situation he desired. One of the problems is that when one is not in their own fantasy world, they are unable to find happiness or acceptance in reality and therefore have created a false happiness for themselves.

When society forces someone to change it gives them the feeling of pain for being an outcast, people like Paul then turn and create a fantasy world for happiness, but instead of bringing in true joy, they bring themselves more pain. This is because when they are in the moment of their dream the are happy, the life around them is perfect, they have friends and family that love them; but when they return to reality the are struck by society. The realization that nobody there loves him or her, and that nobody is like them; gives them grief and more pain so they escape back into their imagination. Every time that they let themselves return to the real world they are hit by the idea that they are not accepted and each time this thought occurs they are hurt more. This cycle continues until the thought of being isolated in their fantasy is worse than the thought of change to conform to society.

Society pushes people to become outcasts; it alienates against those who are different from the norm. For every person who has ever been judged as someone they are truly not they know the feeling of being alienated. Society causes one to create a false happiness, which gives them false hope. In the long run, all those that are alienated by society could end up living alone.

“To dare to live alone is the rarest courage; since there are many who had rather meet their bitterest enemy in the field, than their own hearts in their closet.”


-Charles Caleb Colton, Lacon, 1825

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