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Themes

Absolute power corrupts, but lack of power corrupts even more absolutely. Paul feels thoroughly trapped by his teachers, his church, his father, and even his house and street—plus his secret life of lies and omissions. The only way he can see to gain any sort of power is money, and since earning it honestly takes too long, he ends up stealing it. Lack of power is the fundamental tragedy of "Paul's Case." Is this just an amplification of the ordinary teenage condition? Or is Paul's powerlessness something special?

Questions About Power

  1. Does the story offer any suggestions for how Paul might have gained more power over his life? Or is the trajectory of Paul's life fated to end in front of a train?
  2. What actions does Paul take that seem to contribute to his sense of powerlessness? Which stem from that same feeling?
  3. How might Paul's secret life factor into his feeling of powerlessness?

Chew on This

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

According to Cather, Paul's feelings of powerlessness are rooted in his lack of money.

"Paul's Case" suggests that a greater feeling of power might have prevented Paul's suicide.

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