Conflict Between Inward Traits and Outward Circumstances in Paul’s Case by Willa Cather
It is hard to disagree that many teenagers and young people are desperate dreamers and believers. They are rarely satisfied with their parents’ destiny and life choices, which makes these young people try to achieve more, seek other opportunities, and rise against the will of their mothers or fathers. Generally, there are three main options for the future of such teenagers. Someone eventually achieves their dreams and lives a happy life. Some young people get disappointed with the world and their abilities and surrender to the will of their parents. Finally, it also happens that internal traits and external circumstances are in such an intense conflict that a young person does not see any meaning in their future life. An example of such a situation is described in the story “Paul’s Case” by Willa Cather.
A prominent literary critic Patrick Current-Garcia commented on the main idea of Cather’s literary work: “The story embodies the concept that human fate is determined by the interplay between inherited or inward traits and environment or outward circumstances.” Current-Garcia also added that “when the inward and outward forces conflict, the character is doomed to suffer tragic consequences.” To prove that the short story fits the outlined concept, it is essential to analyze the personal characteristics of Paul and the circumstances in his life. It is important to refer directly to quotations from the text to support my point of view and the literary critic.
At first, it may seem that Paul is full of ambition, talented, and incomprehensible to his peers, such as teachers and his father: “All he needed was a spark, an indescribable thrill that made him.” He has high hopes for the future, admires art, wants to belong to the upper class, and believes that his life can be much better than the one that others promise him. However, Paul is not so ambitious and determined. He accepts his life and constantly dreams about the future but forgets how brutal reality can be.
His rejection of reality, eternal confrontation with it, and disrespect for the majority of people who surround him create prerequisites for a sad outcome. Paul himself made such a choice – to suffer, building his identity on other values and views. Demonstrative disrespectful behavior at school is different from his behavior at work, where he lives and is inspired. He rejects that life is a compromise, most often with himself; it is a forced interaction with the outside world that needs to be accepted.
The path he chooses is full of lies, envy, arrogance, and negative thoughts: “he was constantly tormented by fear, a kind of anxious fear that in recent years, when the networks of lies he told closed around him, tightened the muscles of his body tighter and tighter.” His inner qualities are immortal, and it can assume that changing and developing more positive qualities would allow Paul to live a happy life. He was talented and ambitious enough; his resources would be enough to realize his full potential.
Creative personalities are always tricky to understand and evaluate, but this is a standard reaction to such people. And such personalities as Paul always face a sad fate because of their unwillingness to adapt to the outside world, to its circumstances. His story happens to many people his age; this is the transition period when everyone chooses what he wants to strive for. Some give up their dreams and are content with something mundane; others turn a plan into a goal and take a step toward it every day. Everyone is born with a talent for something, but someone is working on its development, and someone is waiting for it to be realized. Without constant work, even insignificant, it is tough to achieve anything.
From the words of Paul’s father and teachers, it became apparent that achieving success and happiness is possible, but hard work and dedication are required. Paul does not want to be hardworking and start his career as a cashier; there is an internal conflict. Paul realized that he would not live carefreely and become part of the upper class without much effort. Even a temporary return to his daily life is unbearable for Paul. This realization allowed him to look into a dark corner of his mind and realize that he had made every effort for a better life: “Now he knows more than ever that money is everything, the wall that stood between everything he laughed at and everything he wanted.” The honest Paul is revealed, which is experiencing fear and anxiety about his future.
Perhaps the problem was in Paul’s father, although he was not wrong. He had several children who looked quite happy and satisfied with their own lives. The conflict was that Pavel’s father did not listen well and heard him. Pavel could not be frank with him, so any heart-to-heart conversation was excluded. It was easy for the father to plan his son’s life, and he did not understand when he expressed dissatisfaction about such a path. The primary role is not to choose for his child but to help him achieve what he wants.
He is afraid to live like his father, like many guys and teachers from his school. The only thing he considers a way out is a suicide, which only highlights his weakness. The truth is, he wasn’t even going to put in the effort for the rest of his life. His soaring in the clouds only reinforced the conviction that his current life did not create for him, and he would not do anything about it. Readers can understand his choice and sincerely sympathize with him, but he does not deserve it. Paul’s difference between the house and its “fairy-tale world” is significant. He wanted to escape normality and the life happening to him right now.
One may say that the “Paul’s Case” short story embodies the concept described by Patrick Current-Garcia. Sometimes, a person’s ambition and stamina, together with a friendly and favorable environment, make it possible to achieve great results and have a successful life. At the same time, if one is lazy and lacks the ability or desire to achieve a goal or unfavorable outward circumstances, there may be a solid and destructive conflict, and a person suffers tragic consequences. In “Paul’s Case,” this concept applies to the main character’s situation. If he could change his outlook on life and develop more positive and moral inner qualities, the outward circumstances would help Paul achieve his dreams. If Pavel had lived in our time, he would probably have been diagnosed with a mental disorder personally, and working with a specialist could have saved his life. Like most people of his age, he lived by the principle of “all or nothing,” which divided the world into black and white colors. Perhaps, having at least one close person, a kindred soul, his life would have turned out differently.