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Symbolism Of Flowers In “Paul’s Case”

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Symbolism of Flowers in Pauls Case In life certain things, to each person, can become increased in value and can provide a momentary release from all that is undesirable. In the short story Pauls Case by Willa Cather flowers become symbolic of Pauls relentless but doomed determination to escape his world of middle class conformity and inhabit an exotic universe of the arts, of beauty, of artificiality and of wealth.

To begin with, early in the story the reader becomes aware that flowers play a large part in Pauls life. Paul is before a committee of teachers to account for his various misdemeanors(141) at school. He appears before the committee sporting a red carnation in his button hole. The reader does not yet know that the flowers symbolize, to Paul, the world he loves, the world of the arts. By wearing the carnation at the meeting he is calmed by its presence. Paul uses the carnation to lessen his dislike of school by bringing a piece of the arts into his real life. The carnation makes him feel like he is part of the rich cultured world. However, it failed to impress the teachers. The teachers felt that the carnation was not properly significant of the contrite spirit befitting a boy under the ban of suspension(142). It just caused the dislike of Paul to grow.

Next, the reader becomes more familiar with importance of flowers, to Paul, in the story when Paul is walking home from Carnagie Hall. He turns onto Cordelia Street and becomes depressed. He begins thinking about all the things that he hates about his life on Cordelia Street. In light of the depression Paul develops …a morbid desire for cool things and soft lights and fresh flowers(148). From this revelation the reader can come to the conclusion that flowers are Pauls saviour from everything that he hates about his true life. Whenever he is sad he looks to flowers to lift his spirits, to guide him through the rough times on Cordelia Street and into the world of the arts.

Also, Paul reveals how flowers help him in overcoming some of the things that he hates about his home on Cordelia Street when he is washing his hands. Paul loathes every last detail about his house even down to the smell of the soap. After washing his hands with the ill-smelling soap that he hated(151) he shook over his fingers a few drops of violet water from the bottle he kept hidden in his drawer(151). From this the reader can see that Paul must be in the presence of flowers or the scent of flowers at all times to remind him of the world he loves. Paul associates himself with flowers as much as he possibly can even down to the small things such as hand soap. By using the violet water for his hands it enables Paul to lessen the effects of reality.

Next, as the story unfolds and Paul more and more involves himself with the arts world the more superior he feels in relation to his teachers at school. Paul thinks that they are unworthy for his high standards and therefore are unworthy for carnations. He describes his teachers as …prosy men who never wore…violets in their button holes(152). He feels this way because he has convinced himself, by using flowers, that he has escaped into the rich cultured life.

Also, Paul has shown thus far in the story that being in the presence of flowers relaxes him and takes his mind off other things. When Paul arrives in his New York hotel room he notices that something very important is missing, flowers. The bell boy is called and ordered to bring Paul some flowers for his room. The bell boy returns with violets and jonquils(155). Now that Paul has escaped from Cordelia Street, for the time being, he wants to fit in with the rich cultured. He now feels that his hotel room, unlike his room on Cordelia Street, is worthy of flowers and requires them to be complete. Paul uses flowers in this situation to allow him to continue his voyage to the world of the arts.

Next, the reader becomes aware that Pauls attempt at making the leap to the world of the arts is doomed when a parallelism is sensed when Pauls carnations in coat start dying. The carnations in his coat were drooping with the cold(162) much like Paul was drooping in his artificial environment. Paul also sees the comparison that he in a sense is the flowers and that It was a losing game in the end(162). Next, Paul took one of the blossoms carefully from his coat and scooped a little hole in the snow, where he covered it up (162). This signifies that Paul is about to bury another drooping flower, himself. Paul failed in trying to conform to the rich cultured. The obsession of flowers blinded Paul from the realities of the arts world. Even they, as they had done in the past, could not help him in the end and gave way to death.

On the whole, to any person, normal everyday objects such as flowers can become sentimental and signify much more than what they appear to. In Pauls Case flowers hold a very special part of Pauls heart and symbolize his relentless and continuous attempts to slip away from his middle class reality and into the rich cultured world.

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