Maternal Stability In Willa Cather’s story, “Paul’s Case,” Paul suffered setbacks and dilemmas because he never knew his mother as she died around the time of his birth. Therefore he is lacking the maternal guidance of emotional stability that every child needs to grow mentally. Paul is withdrawn from society, and he resorts to the arts and music to feel comfortable and free from his disassociation and sense of loneliness. One should not be confused and believe that his father was not loving or caring of Paul because his father did what he could to support Paul and to do all he could to get Paul out of problem situations. He just was not very keen on Paul’s needs, especially his manners or clothing. The narrator described Paul’s clothes as being “a trifle outgrown, and the tan velvet on the collar of his open overcoat was frayed and worn” (67). Men are not the gender who is as observant and uptight about people’s attires. Men tend to desire less than women do, and this was inflicted upon Paul since it was his father who was overseeing Paul’s limits on material well-being. It takes more of a female’s point of view to judge if something looks perfect, and Paul and his father did not have this type of direction around. A master of Paul’s noticed “what a white, blue-veined face it was; drawn and wrinkled like an old man’s around the eyes, and stiff with nervous tension . . .” (69). The wrinkles apparently came from the stresses that ruled Paul. HE was constantly dealing with the pain of no mother and his nervous tension was that he knew how he did not fit in with all the other boys his age. He lacked the maternal stability and Paul 2 reassurance that most children had in order to be string mentally and emotionally. This stood out when he was around others and was withdrawn in personality. Paul’s aggression intimidated others and caused for his lack of friends. Hostility was another one of his ways to avoid his shame and embarrassment in not knowing how to achieve appropriately. He was jealous of what other people had or knew. He was a step behind others about the knowledge of distinguishing the difference between right and wrong. All he has been able to teach himself is what is effective and what is not. When on of his teaches tried to give his assistance, “Paul started back with a shudder and thrust his hands violently behind him” (68). He had felt belittled from her action and used this tactic to avoid humiliation. He was on his own and thrived on his independence, which helped him in achieving his desires and meaning of self - confidence. Paul had no indication as to how he was supposed to treat those who were older than him. His morals were lower than those around him because nobody had taken the time to explain them to him. He learned from his emotions that stirred inside. He just acted off his feelings, which were usually ones of bitterness of the world around him. “In class he habitually sat with his hand shading his eye; in another he always looked out of the window during the recitation; in another he made a running commentary on the lecture, with humorous intention” (68). Little understanding did Paul have that this gave off signals that he was uninterested in what was going on, and that he was an angry child. He made his attitude out to be one of resentment towards others. Nobody wants to be associated with someone who is so unpleasant and vain. Unintentionally Paul was Paul 3 bringing his disassociation with society on himself. He did not have the attention at home to be educated or treated any differently. There was also more evidence that shows how Paul was not all together in the long run due to deficiencies from his past. He had appeared to have an issue with lying to others for a long time. When Paul was talking with the principal and other teachers of his, he was asked to explain why he was there. Paul just stated that he wanted to return to school and that this was his way of trying to be allowed back (68). In reality, “this was a lie, but Paul was quite accustomed to lying; found it, indeed, indispensable for overcoming friction” (68). In order to avoid who he really was and to gain the attention that he lacked, Paul turned to lies because he is shallow and very sensitive. He had limitations to his life on Cordelia Street, especially since his family did not have the amount of money Paul desired in order to be happy. Paul had few ways of escaping the dreariness of his home, and in result, he held hatred towards most people. His hatred rose from his lack of self - esteem – that is linked to the missing motherly love and low confidence of self worth in his world. Paul’s vivid imagination of what it could be like in another place tended to overtake his realism in conversation. Lies gave him the boosted self-assurance that he dreamed of as well as making him become noticed, whether it is negative or positive. He felt in charge and in control when someone was looking up to him and listening to what he had to say. Since he had no proper background of how to adequately interact with people, and respect others beliefs and values regardless of ones status, Paul lied to fit in. Paul 4 Yet another one of Paul’s teachers declared, “The boy is not strong. He was born in Colorado, only a few months before his mother died out there of a long illness. There is something wrong about the fellow.” (69). Paul knew no better because he was so lost inside himself in his feelings of depression and loneliness. He had been living on Cordelia Street forever and always held “the hopeless feeling of sinking back forever into ugliness and commonness that he had always had when he came home” (71). There was no satisfaction or happiness in Paul’s life. Even his home, away from the association with others, made Paul feel miserable inside. Every place he went gave him a “repulsion for the flavorless, colorless mass of everyday existence” (71). As a critic, I felt that Paul was able to find fulfillment (to an extent) when he went to Carnegie Hall or to the theatre. This was where he was able to recognize his maternal instincts that he involuntarily has inside him. He looks suave when he goes to these places, in order to impress. He is physically and emotionally different while in these situations. “He grew more and more vivacious and animated and the color came back to his cheeks and lips” (70). The theatre and Carnegie Hall provided for forms of the arts where all people are alike in their appreciation for the entertainment. It is times for people to relax and let the art take over their mind. Interpreting the artistic skills is in the mind of the beholder. Nothing is right or wrong, and nobody has the upper hand. Even though Paul was still alone on the outside, he had finally found something that he would let inside to his spirit, and in that sense he was not alone here. Paul kept returning to Carnegie Hall and the theatre for the freedom it permitted. He was able to lose himself when the symphony began at the Hall, and it “seemed to free some hilarious and potent Paul 5 spirit within him; something that struggled there . . .” (70). He was releasing the pains and sadness that held him down, and for once he felt life inside of him. His struggles in life were set free by the beauty of the sounds and imagery. These forms of art gave him excitement and enjoyment for the moment. I believe this was his mother emerging from inside him – it was qualities and likings of hers that made Paul feel complete. Even the red carnation that often he had sported on his coat was the symbol of his mother that he could not let go of. It was the part of his outfit that gave him a hint of neatness. Things of the feminine nature, such as flowers, music, paintings and champagne that all appealed to him. He had lacked this form of appreciation because he had no mother, and when he came in contact with such materials, he almost felt the sense of oneness with something womanly; something that he was missing. It all seemed to make his stronger and able to recognize more about life and appreciation of the world. This is how I came to the assumption that all he needed was the motherly nurture to be able to feel life in an optimistic view. Paul had never been a participant, but always on the outside because of the fear and dread of disapproval in society. He was repressed and paranoid that people could see through him and see his insecurity. Once people could see this about him, Paul would completely fall apart. It was this secret that he had inside that kept him together. He knew something nobody else did, and he wanted to keep that security. At the sight of the soloist in the choir he described her as “the mother of many youth . . . that worldshine upon her, which, in Paul’s eyes, made her a veritable queen of Romance” (70). He replaced her for a moment as the mother he longed for. He felt love Paul 6 for her and become lost within that thought as well as the music. She was numbing his pain for the instants that she was in sight. She was the mystical part of his soul that he missed inside. Psychoanalytically speaking, Paul was depressed and it only worsened through his lies and physical aversion. This anxiety had closed in on him and caused him to feel even more alone. “What he wanted was to see, to be in the atmosphere, float on the wave of it, to be carried out, blue league after blue league, away from everything” (75). He was never able to distinguish from wrong and right; he lacked that guidance from his mother’s tone of voice. He took his life because he figured that being out of the world was better than being in it. Paul still had a lot to learn, and yet more to overcome from his loneliness. Could his mother have been able to cure this if she were present?
Works Cited Cather, Willa. “Paul’s Case.” The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction. Eds. R.V. Cassill and Richard Bausch. Shorter 6th ed. New York: Norton, 2000. 198-207.