Willa Cather's "Paul's Case" is a story about a young 16 year-old man, Paul, who is motherless and alienated. Paul's lack of maternal care has led to his alienation. He searches for the aesthetics in life that that he doesn't get from his yellow wallpaper in his house and his detached, overpowering father figure in his life. Paul doesn't have any interests in school and his only happiness is in working at Carnegie Hall and dreams of one-day living the luxurious life in New York City. Paul surrounds himself with the aesthetics of music and the rich and wealthy, as a means to escape his true reality. In Paul's true reality he has a lack of interest in school.
His disinterest in school stems from the alienation and isolation he has in life. This disinterest in school reflects Paul's alienation because of the unusual attention he receives there that he doesn't get at home. In class one day he was at the chalkboard and "his English teacher had stepped to his side and attempted to guide his hand" (Cather 1). Paul, at the moment of being touched, stepped backwards suddenly and put his hands behind his back.
In other classes he looks out the window during lectures and pays little attention to his teacher's lessons. Paul, growing up without a mother figure in his life, is unaccustomed to any affection or care from his teachers that mothers tend to give. Therefore, his alienation is portrayed in his attitude toward school, and the foreign maternal attention he receives there. Paul's motherless house and the way he describes his house with all the different features shows his manifested alienation. He feels like he doesn't belong there with his father, a detached dominating presence in the house. He despises his ugly room with its horrible yellow wallpaper and pictures of George Washington and John Calvin hanging over his bed.
Paul can not stand the cold bathroom with the cracked mirror. Paul comes to his house on Cordelia Street and knows his father would be at the top of the stairs with his hairy legs in his night-shirt and slippers. "Paul stopped short before the door. He felt Jones 2 that he could not be accosted by his father tonight; that he could not toss again on that miserable bed" (Cather 5).
Paul is longing for the beauty and aesthetics pleasures in life. He does not get any of that in his house with the yellow wallpaper and pictures of his father's forced icons of Washington and Calvin over his bed. The only place Paul is able to escape his reality and unfulfilling life is at Carnegie Hall. Carnegie Hall is a haven for Paul and gives him the classy atmosphere of the arts that he lacks in his life.
He has an usher job at Carnegie Hall and unlike his house and school, Paul enjoys going there to work. He is able to escape and be with the rich and attractive people that come to the hall. It was at the theatre and at Carnegie Hall that Paul really lived; the rest was but a sleep and forgetting. The moment he inhaled the gassy, painty, dusty odour behind the scenes, he breathed like a prisoner set free, and felt within him the possibility of doing or saying splendid, brilliant, poetic things. The moment the cracked orchestra beat out the overture from Martha, or jerked at the serenade from Rigoletto, all the stupid and ugly things slid from him, and his senses were deliciously, yet delicately fired. (Cather 6) Paul enjoys the aesthetics of Carnegie Hall with all the people and atmosphere.
While listening to the music he is able to leave his life behind and go off into another life and place that he dreams of. A lifelong dream of Paul occurs when he makes the trip to New York City. The trip to New York City gives Paul the opportunity to live the life he always dreamed of. After being forced to leave his job as an usher at Carnegie Hall Paul gets a job working at Denny and Carson's office firm. He gets the money to go to New York City by taking the money he was supposed to deposit in the bank from Denny and Carson's deposit and pockets it.
Paul arrives in New York and lives the luxurious life by buying fancy clothes and checking into a nice hotel. After eight days in New York his fun runs out when he discovers in the Pittsburgh papers that his father had reimbursed the firm and was coming to get him. "Paul had just come in to dress for dinner; he sank into a chair, weak to the knees, and clasped his head in his hands. It was worse than jail, even; the tepid waters of Cordelia Street were to close over him finally and forever" (Cather 11).
After succeeding Jones 3 in his quest to the live the life he always wanted, Paul not wanting to face his father and his true reality takes his own life by jumping in front of a train. He could not live with going back to Cordelia Street with the yellow-wallpaper on the walls and the detached, overpowering father anymore. Paul's case proved to be a fatal one. Born without a mother, and detached from his overpowering father, Paul became alienated. He went to school but the maternal affection he received there was foreign and furthermore alienated him. Paul, even at his own house, felt out of place and he looked down upon the yellow wallpaper and the pictures of George Washington and John Calvin.
Paul's only escape was Carnegie Hall, a place where he could basque in the aesthetics of the music and the rich and wealthy. When the one joy he had in life was taken away from him, he totally let his dream world take over, and he acted out his dream of living the luxurious life in New York City. Paul not having a mother meant that he was forced to find the love and affection that would fill the void in his life. He filled this void and alienated himself by absorbing himself in a dream world as a means of escape.
When he finally was able to fulfill his ultimate dream he could no longer go back to his true reality and thus he took his life.