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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 2 Summary

  • We begin in medias res.
  • It's now January, and Paul is on a train in a snowstorm early in the morning.
  • He's been traveling all night. He's nervous, especially about something in the breast-pocket of his coat, but he's feeling pretty good.
  • New York, New York! You get the sense that Paul has been waiting all his life for this.
  • The first thing he does, besides eat breakfast, is go blow some change on a sweet new wardrobe.
  • After the shopping spree, Paul arrives at his hotel 'o dreams, the Waldorf.
  • He gets a room by telling a little white lie about how his parents have been traveling and he's just come to wait for their boat.
  • Paul has obviously planned this trip down to the last detail—with the help of his friend Charley Edwards and lots of careful reading of newspaper articles about New York.
  • Paul's room is just as swank as he expected, but it's missing one detail: fresh flowers.
  • Clearly, you have to have fresh flowers if you're staying in a fancy hotel room, so Paul sends the bell-boy off for flowers.
  • When they arrive, Paul can finally relax. He takes a hot bath and then lounges around in a red robe and silk undies.
  • There's snow outside, but he and his flowers are nice and toasty.
  • He sits back and relaxes, finally free from the fear that's been with him all his life. Paul reflects on how he came to be in this fantasy hotel in New York City. (Flashback time!)
  • After all the adults in Paul's life conspired to take away everything he cared about—music, art, cute boys (maybe)—he didn't have much of a choice but to steal money from his job and run off to New York. Right? Right.
  • Here's how he did it.
  • Yesterday, Paul was supposed to make a deposit for Denny & Carson, the firm where he works.
  • Well, usually Paul has to bring the bankbook back right after he deposits, but this time he's supposed to leave the firm's bankbook with the accountants at the bank so they can balance them.
  • So, since nobody will find out about it until later, Paul helps himself to about three thousand dollars.
  • Yeah, yeah, today that would barely buy you a new suit, but back in the day it could keep you going for at least a week.
  • Paul then coolly headed back to work and asked for the next day off of work.
  • Oh, by the way? The next day was Saturday. Remember to thank your local union representative (and Henry Ford, apparently) for the five-day workweek.
  • Anyway, no one's going to figure out that he never made the deposit until at least Monday, and his dad will be out of town for most of the week. So, basically the stars have aligned for this bit of white-collar crime.
  • Congratulating himself, Paul falls asleep.
  • Paul wakes up a couple of hours later ready to head out and show off his new duds. He spends hours getting ready…to sit in a carriage and drive up 5th Avenue. It's all about the experience, we guess?
  • The best thing is the flower stands on the street corners, "whole flower gardens blooming under glass cases […]; violets, roses, carnations, lilies of the valley—somehow vastly more lovely and alluring that they blossomed thus unnaturally in the snow" (2.47).
  • Back at the hotel, things are heating up. Rich people are driving in, bellboys are running around, and actual red carpets are being rolled out.
  • Everybody is just as "hot for pleasure" (2.48) as Paul is. This is the life he was born to lead, and he is on fire, baby.
  • Paul heads to dinner. The dining room is just as spectacular as he figured it would be. He loves everything from the sounds of the corks popping to the orchestra music playing to the champagne.
  • Especially the champagne.
  • It's like Cordelia Street never exited.
  • So you'd think Paul might be lonely or uncomfortable, but he's just fine sitting on the side and taking it all in.
  • On Sunday, Paul has a late breakfast and then parties all night doing who-knows what with a rowdy college guy.
  • Everything is going beautifully. It's like living on the set of Gossip Girl.
  • Then, on the eighth day of Paul's New York vacation, Paul is horrified but not exactly surprised to read all about himself in the morning papers.
  • You might think that the police are after him, but it's even worse: Paul's dad is on his way to haul him back to Cordelia Street, and the minister and Sunday school teacher are on a mission to save him.
  • Ugh. This is just the worst.
  • After pitying himself for a few minutes, Paul heads to the dining room and starts drinking a little too fast. It's too bad he got caught, the whole thing has been totally worth it.
  • Well, maybe he should have been a little smarter about it and used the money to hit the road—but, too late for that now. It was pretty awesome just the way it was.
  • The next morning, Paul has a bad hangover, a vengeful dad in pursuit, and only $100 left.
  • The game is no longer afoot. It's actually at an end, and Paul knows just the thing to end it with.
  • A revolver.
  • On second thought, nah. Not a revolver. Something better.
  • Paul heads back to Pittsburgh and gets a driver to take him way out on the train tracks.
  • The carnations in his coat are wilted from the cold and Paul takes one of them and buries it in the snow.
  • Hm, think this might be symbolic? We're going to go with a yes. Check out "Symbols, Imagery, and Allegory" for more on that.
  • Paul falls asleep. When he wakes up, there's a train coming.
  • Paul realizes this is all a huge mistake and decides to try escaping his life some less deadly way.
  • J/K. Unfortunately, Paul jumps. He does think that maybe this isn't such a good idea, but it's way too late to change his mind.
  • We get a rather vivid description of his chest and brain being crushed, and then Paul is back in "the immense design of things" (2.66).

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