In the state of capitalism, money and income level determine an individual’s lifestyle, accommodations, level of safety, and position in society. Although Paul’s Case by Willa Cather was written more than a century ago, the struggles the main character experiences throughout the story and his perception of wealth relate closely to the modern situation. This essay will explore the theme of money and wealth and analyze how money-driven were main character’s actions and priorities.
To analyze the theme of money and wealth in the composition, one should start from the beginning of the story, which provides a descriptive illustration of Pauls’ outfit. Although the young man is facing a suspension from high school, his outfit is not fit for the case. The author emphasizes that Paul’s clothes are “frayed and worn” and outgrown, but there is still “something of the dandy” about his outfit (Cather 34). Later Cather describes to the reader that the situation is an act, and Paul’s politeness to the principal and teachers is insincere.
The author points that working as an usher makes Paul feel like he is the host of a great reception. The reader is provided with information on Paul’s work as an usher and the influence the work has on Paul, as “he grew more and more vivacious and animated” at Carnegie Hall (Cather 37). From the very beginning, the story is intertwined with the theme of wealth. It is evident that Paul tries his best to look dandy despite his old clothes. He highly values his work not only because it is his source of income but also because he gets to be in the spotlight of events of greater significance.
Throughout the story, the author points to the complexity of the main character’s relationships with his father. After Paul leaves the commission the principal notes that part of the reason that “there is something wrong about the fellow” might probably be that his mother died shortly after Paul was born (Cather 35). Coming home makes Paul feel like he is “sinking back forever into ugliness and commonness,” he is depressed by the thought of the “colorless mass of everyday existence” of the street he lives on (Cather 39). Paul’s father unknowingly violates Paul’s state by comparing him daily to another young man that works as a clerk. Paul’s father is not poor, but he does not like getting money requests from his son, as he firmly believes that the young man should have his own income. The approach is accompanied by the lack of meaningful connection between father and son. Paul is constantly reminded by his father of the significance the money makes and is widely exposed to a wealthy lifestyle at work, which forms a contradiction in his mind that results in self-denial.
Paul’s self-denial, introduced by his inability to live a wealthy lifestyle, makes him disregard the school, stalk artists to their hotel, sit in the basement through the night, and consequently steal money from his workplace. The character spends the entire amount of money in New York in just eight days, only to conclude that money was “a wall to everything that he loathed” (Cather 50). The newspaper article on the affair tells that Paul’s father paid back the stolen money to the bank, but Paul decides that coming back to a past lifestyle is worse than prison.
To illustrate the significant role money has played in his actions, in the end, Paul reflects and comes to the thought the last week of his life was the moment he lived fully. The composition emphasizes how radical the decision to take his own life is for Paul, as he compares his life to a short yet beautiful lifespan of a carnation flower. It is unnatural for a young boy to be obsessed with wealth without external interference. Cather’s work illustrates a profound case where negative influence and lack of connection between son and father resulted in Paul’s tragic self-denial.
Cather, Willa. Paul’s Case and Other Stories. Dover Publications, 2012.