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Paul's Case: A Study in Temperament

Paul's Case: A Study in Temperament


by Willa Cather

Paul's Case: A Study in Temperament Chapter 1 Summary

  • We meet Paul when he's heading in to sweet-talk a bunch of teachers into letting him back into school after his suspension last week.
  • Paul's clothes are a little threadbare, but he's tucked a saucy red carnation into his jacket, anyway,
  • As soon Paul opens his mouth, he starts lying. Lying is pretty much his default mode.
  • Are we supposed to like this kid, or what?
  • Here comes the list of crimes: "disorder and impertinence" and "insolence" and being "defiant" (1.3), not to mention clowning around. Translation: He's got a big mouth and acts like he's too cool for school. In other words, not exactly suspension-worthy crimes these days.
  • Okay, but maybe the worst offense is that red carnation. Why? Check out "Symbols, Imagery, and Allegory" for a rundown on why this flower is such bad news.
  • Paul keeps his cool while the teachers rip him a new one, mostly because they can't think of any other way to deal with him.
  • Eventually, they decide to let him back in school. Paul's drawing teacher, who seems to be the only adult with any sense in this story, says that he doesn't think Paul exactly means to be insolent. There's just something wrong with him.
  • Like maybe he never got over his mother's death? She died when he was a little baby, only a few months after he was born.
  • They were out in Colorado when he was born, which at the time was basically code for "she had tuberculosis."
  • The teachers do have the grace to feel a little ashamed of the way they've all ganged up on this poor kid.
  • Meanwhile, Paul is like "see ya!" and runs down the hill toward Carnegie Music Hall where he works as an usher.
  • We know that something's really off about Paul when he gets to work early and, instead of killing time on his iTouch or Nintendo DS, he goes upstairs to look at art.
  • When it's time to get dressed, he gets so rowdy that the other ushers have to sit on him to calm him down a little.
  • Yes, they sit on him.
  • Paul is all over this usher job. Need a program? Paul's got it. Want to send a message to that pretty girl sitting in row K? Paul will take it.
  • (Sidenote: In the revised 1920 edition, Cather includes a little scene where, right before the show starts, Paul's English teacher shows up with borrowed tickets. Forgetting that he's an usher, he gets all snooty when he sees she isn't dressed right.)
  • When the orchestra starts, Paul is swept away by the music.
  • Paul finds the female soloist incredibly romantic, even though she's not exactly young…or unmarried.
  • Feeling even more "restless" (1.15) than he usually does after a show, Paul follows her carriage over to the Schenley Hotel.
  • (Quick brain snack: The Schenley is now the William Pitt Union, the student union at the University of Pittsburgh's main campus.)
  • When she walks in, he fantasizes about enjoying himself in the luxurious dining room he's only seen pictures of.
  • Paul must have a good imagination, because he's actually standing out in the freezing rain.
  • When he gets tired of standing outside like a stalker, he heads home. He's totally bummed that the night is over.
  • As he closes in on his ugly house on ugly Cordelia Street, he starts to get really afraid of his dad, since he's broken his curfew by hours.
  • He just can't take a fight with dad tonight, so he sneaks into the basement through a window and sleeps there. With the rats.
  • Next Sunday is the last Sunday in November, and November in Pittsburgh can be pretty grim.
  • Paul goes to church and Sunday school. You have to imagine he's not thrilled about it.
  • Afterward he sits out on the steps of his house. All his neighbors are out on their steps, too. It's like an awesome block party, only without the awesome.
  • His sisters are there gabbing with neighbors, and Paul's dad is talking to the guy he keeps nagging Paul about being like.
  • The guy works for a wealthy company and is married to a woman way older than he is, who's already had four children. All this at the ripe old age of 26.
  • Paul is like, no way.
  • After eating dinner and helping with the dishes, Paul hits his dad up for public transit money so he can go to his "friend George's house" for "help with his homework."
  • In other words, he's seriously not going to do geometry.
  • Instead, he heads to the theater to hang out with Charley Edwards, who's the "lead juvenile actor" (1.28).
  • These nights full of music, art, and beauty make his ugly school and the ugly people in it seem worse than ever.
  • Paul tells wild and totally made-up stories to his friends about his adventures in the theater and plans for travel to faraway places.
  • Naturally this doesn't go over too well at school. Neither does his bad attitude with his teachers. Paul even brags to one teacher that he doesn't have time for his lessons because he's so busy hanging out with his fancy friend at the theater.
  • The principal finally gets fed up and has a talk with Paul's dad. His dad takes him out of school, puts him to work, makes him quit his job, and ensures that he won't get to hang out with his theater friends any more.
  • Way to go from bad to worse.

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