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The teen age is a time of self-discovery and gaining a self-identity. It is a time young people are searching for an identity of who they would want to be and how they would want society to view them. They look up to people they admire and who they would want to be like. They imitate their lifestyle and literally become them. Parents, guardians and teachers should be very supportive, accommodative and understanding to teens during adolescence to ensure they influence them in the right way so that they choose the right role models and live responsibly. It is even more crucial for adolescents who may have faced difficulties in their childhood which may have resulted in low self-esteem. This is because they go overboard to prove themselves to society and to gain acceptance. This paper is going to evaluate “Paul Case” by Willa Cather to illustrate how a troubled adolescence can lead to self-destruction. The paper will demonstrate that Paul’s self-destructive nature is due to a troubled childhood and lack of support as an adolescent as opposed to being a crook.

Paul’s Case details the life of an adolescent boy who is having trouble at school and at home. Paul is at best restless which does not make him feel comfortable at home and at school. As the story opens, Paul is on suspension from his high school in Pittsburg. He attends a meeting of the school’s teachers and the principle dressed in a manner that does not impress them and worse, with a red carnation worn in his buttonhole. His dressing is thus summed: “His clothes were a trifle outgrown, and the tan velvet on the collar of his open overcoat was frayed and worn.” The faculty members think that the red carnation sums up his flippant attitude.  

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Asked to mention Paul’s misdeeds, the faculty members are at a loss. They just find it difficult to mention them yet they all feel he is badly behaved. They believe Paul treats them with contempt, loathes them and shows little regard to them. They lash at him with all manner of accusations but Paul is unmoved. Instead of showing any emotion he smiles throughout the session which irritates the faculty members even more. The principal is the only one who shows sympathy for the boy. He gives the boy a chance to defend himself against the criticism but the boy does not have anything to say so he bows down and goes away. Instead of the faculty members finding a way of helping him out of the problem he is in, they just scolder him and send him away. He seems to contain himself better than them as this description show; “his set smile did not once desert him, and his only sign of discomfort was the nervous trembling of the fingers that toyed with the buttons of his overcoat.” It goes to show that his problems are magnified by lack of support structures; somebody to wear his shoes.

It is after Paul leaves that the drawing master brings up a very important point concerning the boy; that his mother died just after giving birth to Paul. He says that “the boy is not strong, for one thing. I happen to know that 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." This could imply the boy was brought out without the love of a mother something likely to have given him a difficult childhood which is associated with low self-esteem, obsessive attention seeking behavior which both constitutes a recipe for a troubled adolescence. It is common knowledge that children who were neglected should their childhood or who were denied love end up with troubled adolescence. This is a key point that is nevertheless ignored.

Paul heads straight to Carnegie Hall where he works as an usher. One wonders why the high school boy belonging to the middleclass is permitted to work and worse still in a theatre. By any standard Paul’s father is not a poor man; he belongs to the wealthy middleclass. Nevertheless we are told elsewhere he rarely gives money and that he allowed the boy to work so that he can make money for himself. The narrator says “he was not a poor man, but he had a worthy ambition to come up in the world. His only reason for allowing Paul to usher was that he thought a boy ought to be earning a little.” It looks like parental negligence of some sort. Later on Paul begs his father for taxi fare to his friend’s place which begs the question of where he takes his money. By all means it is unwise for the father to allow a high school kid who seems mentally troubled to go out at night to work in a theatre. It is literally putting him in temptations too great for him to bear.

He arrives at the theatre a bit early and being that the theatre is not yet open he goes to the gallery where he passes time admiring paintings of Paris and Venice. These are towns he fancied about due to their perceived high life, developed art theatres and riches. He later goes to the changing room where he looks more excited than normal and after roughing up the rest of the boys, they decide to pin him down and sit on him. The narrator says this of him; “he teased and plagued the boys until, telling him that he was crazy, they put him down on the floor and sat on him.” Since the narrator points out that the boy had homosexual tendencies, it seems like this is part of it. Disturbing boys while they are naked and them sitting on him himself from while naked sounds fishy. It is this homosexual tendency that made him segregate the rest of the students.

He dresses up and goes to his job which he is described as being very good at. He knows what is expected of him, he delivers and customers like him a lot due to his attention to detail and the fact that he could remember them by name. He is described as “a model usher; gracious and smiling he ran up and down the aisles; nothing was too much trouble for him; he carried messages and brought programs as though it were his greatest pleasure in life.” This goes to show that he is not a good-for-nothing sort of a person; there are areas he can excel in possibly because he liked the job and was positive about it unlike school and home which he loathed. It goes on to show that with the necessary support, Paul could have made it.

After the show is over, he goes home which is located along Cordelia Street. It is a middleclass neighborhood described as having houses that look the same. This commonness disgusts Paul; loathes the place and its people too. Being that it is late at night he fears facing the father and so he decides to slip in the basement and sleep there. He does not sleep but remains awake all night terrified of what would happen if his father mistook him for a thief and killed him. It is said “he was horribly afraid of rats, so he did not try to sleep, but sat looking distrustfully at the dark, still terrified lest he might have awakened his father.” The father, the only remaining parent, whom would be expected to be a friend to the son, instills fear in his son to the extent that the thought of him causes the son sleepless night.

The following day the family, just like the rest in the neighborhood, is all out relaxing. Children from the neighborhood gather to play in their numbers. The people are described to be as monotonous as the neighborhood itself. Older men talk about business, money and jobs. His father engages the young man he tells Paul to emulate in a conversation. He is prosperous in his work place. He married at the age of twenty one a wife who is older than him and shortsighted. The wife has borne him children who are also shortsighted. He started as a junior clerk in the company but after six years of work is can be considered to be richer than many of his contemporaries. It is said of him that six years ago “he had been a trifle dissipated, but in order to curb his appetites and save the loss of time and strength that a sowing of wild oats might have entailed, he had taken his chief’s advice, oft reiterated to his employees, and at twenty-one had married the first woman whom he could persuade to share his fortunes.” His case seems like it was worse than Paul but unlike Paul, he got a mentor who helped him out.  Paul admires his riches but the whole idea of starting to work as a cash boy does not impress him.

Eventually Paul is employed by Denny and Carson’s. In course of duty he is sent to the bank to make deposits. He went and deposited checks only and withheld the cash worth $1000. This he uses to go for a shopping spree in New York. He buys expensive clothing and a gun. He also rents a room in a hotel. The next day he meets a rich boy whom they spend the night with. After a week of merrymaking, Paul learns from newspapers that his theft had been discovered and his father had paid the money back. He also learns that his father is on the way to New York to look for him. The following morning he takes a cab to Pennsylvania where he commits suicide by throwing himself in front of a train. The narrator says “he felt something strike his chest, and that his body was being thrown swiftly through the air, on and on, immeasurably far and fast, while his limbs were gently relaxed.” The story of Paul is the story of a young teenager who is dire need of support but does not get it leading him to self-destruction. 

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