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Imagery used in “Paul’s Case” by Willa Cather

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  • Pages: 3
  • Word count: 569
  • Category: Life

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The imagery used in a composition has a profound effect on perspective and interpretation. Just as one may see a rotten apple differently if it were described in flowery terms, the use of imagery can turn one’s perspective in a different direction. In Cather’s “Paul’s Case,” Paul’s choice of suicide is thus justified through the juxtaposition of his two lives, that of the stage and of his home.

The first comparison that one comes across when reading the story is of the red carnation against Paul’s overcoat. Throughout the story, Paul is symbolized by flowers, whether they are in a shop window, his hotel room, or against his overcoat. The vibrant carnation provides a look at Paul’s spirit compared to the life he is forced to live by his father and teachers. Paul is eccentric and bright, just as the carnation, while he is forced to live a dreary life, void of any excitement and beauty. For further insight into Paul’s spirit, one can look at his admiration for the art in Carnegie Hall. While waiting to begin work, Paul visits the picture gallery and quickly becomes lost in the beauty of the paintings. His admiration of the art continues with Cather’s explanation “that symphonies, as such, meant anything in particular to Paul, but the first sigh of the instruments seemed to free some hilarious and potent spirit within him…. He felt a sudden zest of life,….” Cather’s wording seems to imply that Paul, in his natural state outside Carnegie Hall, was not really alive at all, at least in spirit.

Paul’s life outside Carnegie Hall could be described as boring at best. The description of Paul’s room with it’s horrible yellow wallpaper, creaky bureau with it’s greasy plush collarbox, and the paintings of George Washington, John Calvin, and the framed motto all were described in a lethargic and sullied manner. It is in the next paragraph, however, that one can truly see the true life lived by Paul. Cather explains that even on the most respectable streets, Paul saw nothing but sterility and dullness. The way the houses all seemed the same, even in their inhabitants, seemed to kill Paul’s spirit. Cather’s description of Paul’s house seems to further slay whatever spirit may be left within Paul. In this sense, as was said before, Paul is dead.

After Paul is forced to quit Carnegie Hall, he no longer had a reason to live. All the beauty and excitement that he once found asylum in are gone. As his last feat, he decided to live the life that he always thought that he should have, one of glamor and importance. With this, Paul takes the money from the stock company and flees to New York. New York was heaven to Paul, serving all the he had ever wanted to accomplish. He lived in the fancy hotels, ate the fancy food, and of course, attended all the concerts. As Paul’s time was ending in New York, he finds that no life at all was better than the life that he was being forced to live.

Paul’s suicide can be rationalized through the life that he had and the life that he wanted to have. Paul was never truly alive while at home, he was just there. The use of the imagery that described these two lives thus justifies his choice, that of life and death.

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