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Thread: In Willa Cather's short story "Paul's Case" is Paul's sexuality that important?

  1. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ratgirl View Post
    I have read and taught "Paul's Case" many times.

    It seems to me that one part of Paul's "case" is that he is gender-variant. There are NUMEROUS indications of this both in Paul's actions and in the wording Cather often uses when describing him. For instance, on the first page alone, she uses "hysterical" twice and "peculiarly offensive in a boy." Hysterical comes from the Greek "hyster," meaning womb. Could anything be MORE feminine?!

    Paul does things which are more "typically" feminine than masculine-- looks at women only for their clothing, goes shopping the first thing upon his arrival in NYC, uses violet water (which he hides at home, indicating he knows it's not "right"), etc., etc. To miss these and as many more such details is inexplicable in any reader, in my opinion.

    As in real life, though, Paul's case and ultimate suicide are determined not just by gender non-conformity but also by the rampant capitalism and fairly rigid class structure of his time, not to mention family issues. Paul also exhibits elements of narcissistic disorder and ADHD, both of which could make school frustrating in the extreme for him. But I cannot see how any of these other factors are asprominent as is his being gender-variant (which is often but not always indicative of homosexuality, as recent studies have shown).

    Paul may also be representative of the American who wants to "reinvent" himself -- and perhaps his life thus far has not prepared him to do it. But I still think the real hitch, even here, is that he acts -- due to his very nature -- outside the bounds of what society considers ok for males.

    Remember, he seems to always be looking around him and to see if people are watching him and trying to notice something. What could be more typical of the feminine boy (or masculine girl) in a society where gender-variance is considered a reason for people to kill you?! The very way he moves his eyes is considered "peculiarly offensive in a boy"-- I don't think any valid reading of the work can ignore that.
    I totally disagree with the educated assesment that Paul was Gay. I think because the author was a lesbian, (I don't personally know the validity of this fact because I havent researched Cather) most people's gaydar goes off on presumption. This work was written in the early 1900's and the time period can not be ignored. An Englishman dude "Dandy" acts the very same way as that of Paul. Just because a man in the eyes of civility that Paul aspired to be doesn't by no way convict him as an homosexual. Cather might have been lesbian, but I dont think it was her intent to make Paul gay, that she may have wrote the work through her own perception of femminism. Although I will consent that Paul had mental issues of various forms of affliction thus labeled in modern society. Paul had all the characteristic traits of that of a sociapath had he lived into adulthood. Paul does show remorse and implies he has made a mistake by suicide at the very end of the story.


  2. #17
    Dance Magic Dance OrphanPip's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Celtik View Post
    Rather the writer was a lesbian is not an important factor to the anyalsis of this story. I don't see Paul as gay at all. The above is a correct assesment, Paul did not require the company of anyone but himself and his warpped sense of reality. If you will recall, "The members of the stock company were vastly amused when some of Paul's stories reached them-especially the women." Suggests he had a vivid imagination of women which denounces the fact he was gay. Celtik
    That's a bit of a stretch, it could just be the women at the theater company were more insensitive to his delusions. It has been a bit too, but if I remember correctly my impression was the women were more amused because they worked in the theater to support themselves and it was his romantic ideal of the theater as an escape more than anything else that amused them.

    Also, it's a bit of a stretch to conclude that homosexuals don't have "vivid imaginations of women," many women have been idealized in the gay community from Judy Garland to Cher.

    Edit: As response to the second post, whether Paul is gay or not is speculation, but certainly a possibility. What isn't speculation is that Paul does not conform to traditional male gender identity expected within a Pittsburgh working class neighbourhood. The ideal of masculinity within the USA was well established as the rugged pioneer man, the soldier, the career man by the time Cather wrote the story.

    How closely gender nonconformity was associated with sexual orientation for Cather isn't really an answerable question. The possibility of Paul being gay is certainly there, but I don't think it's key to understanding the story. The point being Paul is "different," whether he's different for being gay depends on how you want to take the story. Most take it as an attack on rigid industrial society, and forced conformity, rather than a revolutionary story supporting gay rights.
    Last edited by OrphanPip; 08-01-2010 at 10:37 PM.

  3. #18
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    Jun 2011
    Paul has effeminate mannerisms, "peculiarly offensive in a boy." People in the 1920s thought to be gay suffered as much discrimination as those who were the real thing.

    I don't think it's entirely irrelevant that Cather dressed like a man and wore her hair short when few women did c. 1900 as a Nebraska college student, nor that she was an English teacher in a Pittsburgh high school.

  4. #19
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    Sep 2007
    There has been too much focus on Cather's 'lesbianism', a question that can't be answered definatively anyway. Women of Cather's day did not have the option of having both family AND career. As the oldest daughter in her family, she had probably had enough of childcare before she left home. She was a career woman and sensibly wanted a reliable companion, a sort of 'wife', to free her for her work. "Paul's Case" is a beautifully written story of a young person's longing to escape from the dreary and mundane into the world of art, which Cather herself did. (Like Paul, Cather found Pittsburg and its Calvinism stutlfying) Ironically she found the beauty she was looking for at home, in the prairies and canyons of the west and the people who struggled there. Paul represents the failure of artistic ambition, just as Lucy Gayheart is the dark version of the story of Thea Kronberg(Song of the Lark) who was an international success. A toss of the dice, we don't know which side will come up - creative genius or lonely failure.

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