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Themes

In "Paul's Case," Paul has a rich fantasy life—so rich that he actually seems to believe the stories he tells about himself. But these daydreams are dragged down by the fact that Paul doesn't have a plan. Well, he manages a pretty good plan for getting the money, but, like someone who just won the lottery, he could really use some good financial advice for managing it. It seems like the only real plan he's ever been able to carry all the way through is ending his own life.

Questions About Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

  1. How long does Paul seem to have been considering suicide? Does the story present his life as heading toward an unavoidable end, or are there stops along the way where Paul could have gotten off the runaway train of his miserable life?
  2. Why does Paul regret his decision to jump in front of the train? Is his regret believable in the context of the story?
  3. Does Paul's rich fantasy life interfere with his ability to live accept certain realities of life, like cooking smells, hairy legs, and bathrooms? Or is his horror at the grimier aspects of life related to a deeper problem?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

"Paul's Case" paints a fairly negative picture of hopes and dreams.

Cather suggests that a major obstacle in Paul's life is the presence of an adult—like possibly his mother—who would have been sympathetic to his hopes and dreams.

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