Study Guide

Paul's Case: A Study in Temperament Quotes

  • Art and Culture

    After a while he sat down before a blue Rico and lost himself. (1.11)

    The "blue Rico" is probably a painting by Martin Rico y Ortega (1833-1908), a Spanish painter most famous for his paintings of Venice, Italy. This is a two-for-one: beautiful art and pictures of a great vacation spot.

    He was always considerably excited while he dressed, twanging all over to the tuning of the strings and the preliminary flourishes of the horns in the music-room; but to-night he seemed quite beside himself, and he teased and plagued the boys until, telling him that he was crazy, they put him down on the floor and sat on him. (1.12)

    This is…an oddly sexual response to music, particularly given that it ends with a bunch of boys actually sitting on him.

    When the symphony began Paul sank into one of the rear seats with a long sigh of relief, and lost himself as he had done before the Rico. It was not that symphonies, as such, meant anything in particular to Paul, but the first sigh of the instruments seemed to free some hilarious and potent spirit within him (1.14)

    So, today Paul could just sit in his room and crank up the iPhone. In 1905, though, hearing music live was pretty much your only option. There was some primitive recording technology, but it hardly fit in a cabinet, much less your pocket.

    It was at the theatre and at Carnegie Hall that Paul really lived; the rest was but a sleep and a forgetting. This was Paul's fairy tale, and it had for him all the allurement of a secret love. (1.29)

    This passage suggests that all the lying and hiding Paul is doing really is to cover his involvement in the art world, but it seems like there really has to be something more going on.

    Several of Paul's teachers had a theory that his imagination had been perverted by garish fiction, but the truth was that he scarcely ever read at all. The books at home were not such as would either tempt or corrupt a youthful mind, and […] he got what he wanted much more quickly from music; any sort of music, from an orchestra to a barrel organ. (1.32)

    So the way people think about violent video games and hip-hop music today? They (probably the exact same people) used to say the same-but-different things about novels: corruptors of the youth, destroyers of the social fabric. And now you can actually major in them!

    He had no desire to become an actor, any more than he had to become a musician. He felt no necessity to do any of these things; what he wanted was to see, to be in the atmosphere, float on the wave of it, to be carried out, blue league after blue league, away from everything. (1.32)

    Maybe if Paul had any real artistic leanings, his life would have ended a little more happily—he'd have had something to work for. It's a little surprising that, surrounded by all these creative and artistic people, he essentially just said, "Yo, all I want to do is listen to music and watch movies when I grow up." So do we all, Paul.

    The manager at Carnegie Hall was told to get another usher in his stead; the doorkeeper at the theatre was warned not to admit him to the house; and Charley Edwards remorsefully promised the boy's father not to see him again. (1.35)

    This seems to be a turning point for Paul. From now on, he's not obsessed with art and theater so much as he is obsessed with having money—and the power it brings.

  • Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

    There it was, what he wanted—tangibly before him, like the fairy world of a Christmas pantomime, but mocking spirits stood guard at the doors, and, as the rain beat in his face, Paul wondered whether he were destined always to shiver in the black night outside, looking up at it. (1.17)

    This is our first hint that Paul's major life goal is to spend all his time at fancy hotels. If the alternative is wet boots, sure, we get it. But maybe there's a happy medium?

    Suppose his father had heard him getting in at the window and come down and shot him for a burglar? Then, again, suppose his father had come down, pistol in hand, and he had cried out in time to save himself, and his father had been horrified to think how nearly he had killed him? Then, again, suppose a day should come when his father would remember that night, and wish there had been no warning cry to stay his hand? (1.21)

    Okay, so Paul maybe cares about his relationship with his father after all—but this sure is a funny way of showing it.

    When these stories lost their effect, and his audience grew listless, he became desperate and would bid all the boys good-bye, announcing that he was going to travel for awhile; going to Naples, to Venice, to Egypt. (1.33)

    If nothing else, Paul's stories are probably entertaining—but his classmates can't possibly be buying them, right?

    Not once, but a hundred times, Paul had planned this entry into New York. He had gone over every detail of it with Charley Edwards, and in his scrap book at home there were pages of description about New York hotels, cut from the Sunday papers. (2.41)

    Usually, you don't put your scrapbook together until after the vacation. Not Paul, though.

    The flowers, the white linen, the many-coloured wine glasses, the gay toilettes of the women, the low popping of corks, the undulating repetitions of the Blue Danube from the orchestra, all flooded Paul's dream with bewildering radiance. (2.51)

    We're seriously questioning Paul's financial planning skills, here. Three thousand dollars sounds like a lot of money until you blow it all on silk underwear and champagne.

    He reflected drowsily, to the swell of the music and the chill sweetness of his wine, that he might have done it more wisely. He might have caught an outbound steamer and been well out of their clutches before now. But the other side of the world had seemed too far away and too uncertain then; he could not have waited for it; his need had been too sharp. (2.59)

    Look, we get agitated if our email takes longer than two second to load, so we totally get this need for instant gratification. At the same time, maybe this inability to plan for the future has something to do with Paul's feelings of powerlessness.

    The thing was winding itself up; he had thought of that on his first glorious day in New York, and had even provided a way to snap the thread. It lay on his dressing-table now; he had got it out last night when he came blindly up from dinner, but the shiny metal hurt his eyes, and he disliked the looks of it. (2.61)

    Proving Chekhov wrong (maybe), here's a gun that never goes off. Paul is after a way more dramatic gesture.

  • Lies and Deceit

    The end had to come sometime; his father in his night-clothes at the top of the stairs, explanations that did not explain, hastily improvised fictions that were forever tripping him up. (1.18)

    Huh. It doesn't seem like Paul did anything especially terrible except get his feet wet staring at an opera singer, so why does he feel like he has to lie about it?

    He registered from Washington; said his mother and father had been abroad, and that he had come down to await the arrival of their steamer. He told his story plausibly and had no trouble, since he volunteered to pay for them in advance, in engaging his rooms; a sleeping-room, sitting-room and bath. (2.40)

    Lies, lies, lies. Maybe Paul should have been a novelist—he's certainly good enough at making up stories.

    There had always been the shadowed corner, the dark place into which he dared not look, but from which something seemed always to be watching him—and Paul had done things that were not pretty to watch, he knew. (2.42)

    Here's another one of those brain-busting passages. What is Paul so afraid of? Who is watching him? What has he done that's so terrible? It definitely seems like there's more to his secret than art appreciation, though.

    When the roseate tinge of his champagne was added—that cold, precious, bubbling stuff that creamed and foamed in his glass—Paul wondered that there were honest men in the world at all. This was what all the world was fighting for, he reflected; this was what all the struggle was about. (2.51)

    Is this an implicit suggestion that rich people get rich through lying and violence? It certainly doesn't seem to Paul that living honestly gives you much chance of making it.

    He doubted the reality of his past. (2.51)

    Hate to break it to you, Paul, but it's still there.

    He could not remember a time when he had felt so at peace with himself. The mere release from the necessity of petty lying, lying every day and every day, restored his self-respect. (2.55)

    There's nothing like expensive clothes to make you immune to other people's judgment. Except maybe some good old-fashioned self-esteem.

    He had never lied for pleasure, even at school; but to be noticed and admired, to assert his difference from other Cordelia Street boys; and he felt a good deal more manly, more honest, even, now that he had no need for boastful pretensions, now that he could, as his actor friends used to say, "dress the part." (2.55)

    For Paul, not dressing the way he wants to is like lying to the world. Living on borrowed time (and "borrowed" money), he's actually more honest than he's ever been.

    On the eighth day after his arrival in New York, he found the whole affair exploited in the Pittsburgh papers, exploited with a wealth of detail which indicated that local news of a sensational nature was at a low ebb. The firm of Denny & Carson announced that the boy's father had refunded the full amount of the theft, and that they had no intention of prosecuting. (2.56)

    Finally, the truth comes out, even though we kind of wish it hadn't. As messed up as he is, we like Paul and want to see him doing better.

  • Wealth

    His clothes were a trifle outgrown and the tan velvet on the collar of his open overcoat was frayed and worn; but for all that there was something of the dandy about him, and he wore an opal pin in his neatly knotted black four-in-hand, and a red carnation in his buttonhole. (1.1)

    If you can read this without a single tear in your eye, congratulations on your cold, dead heart. The neatly tied tie, opal pin, and carnation—details that show Paul cares a lot about his appearance—contrast with the fact that his clothes are worn-out and too small. Paul's father probably has money to buy Paul better clothes (we learn that he's not poor), but obviously doesn't think it's a priority.

    [H]is father, on principle, did not like to hear requests for money, whether much or little. […] He was not a poor man, but he had a worthy ambition to come up in the world. His only reason for allowing Paul to usher was, that he thought a boy ought to be earning a little. (1.26)

    Look, something Paul and his father can bond over: money. Paul's father loves money just as much as Paul does, but for practical reasons.

    He spent upward of two hours there, buying with endless reconsidering and great care. His new street suit he put on in the fitting-room; the frock-coat and dress-clothes he had bundled into the cab with his linen. Then he drove to a hatter's and a shoe house. His next errand was at Tiffany's, where he selected his silver and a new scarf-pin. (2.39)

    This is like the millionaire's edition of What Not to Wear. Out with the too-small, faded clothes, and in with the frock coat and silk boxers.

    [I]n his scrap book at home there were pages of description about New York hotels, cut from the Sunday papers. When he was shown to his sitting-room on the eighth floor, he saw at a glance that everything was as it should be; there was but one detail in his mental picture that the place did not realize, so he rang for the bell boy and sent him down for flowers. (2.41)

    This is how we know that Paul is living out a fantasy: He actually makes sure that the reality matches his second-hand vision of what rich people do.

    There were a score of cabs about the entrance of his hotel, and his driver had to wait. Boys in livery were running in and out of the awning stretched across the sidewalk, up and down the red velvet carpet laid from the door to the street. (2.48)

    Look, an actual red carpet! Yes, the people thronging outside the Waldorf (where Paul is staying) are so rich that they can't soil their feet by walking on concrete or asphalt or whatever streets were made of in 1905. Paul is totally jealous.

    He felt now that his surroundings explained him. Nobody questioned the purple; he had only to wear it passively. He had only to glance down at his attire to reassure himself that here it would be impossible for anyone to humiliate him. (2.52)

    "Purple" is a code for rich, rich, rich. Way back in the day, only rich and powerful people (nobleman and officials high in the church) could wear this color, because it was expensive to produce. Paul isn't actually wearing purple clothes, here—but he sure does feel like royalty.

    He doubted, more than ever, the existence of Cordelia Street, and for the first time he drank his wine recklessly. Was he not, after all, one of those fortunate beings born to the purple, was he not still himself and in his own place? He drummed a nervous accompaniment to the Pagliacci music and looked about him, telling himself over and over that it had paid. (2.58)

    Paul has almost totally convinced himself that evil fairies switched him at birth and that he really belongs here, "born to purple." So, basically we know that everything is about to come crashing down.

    He had not a hundred dollars left; and he knew now, more than ever, that money was everything, the wall that stood between all he loathed and all he wanted. (2.61)

    You might think that having lots of money would teach Paul that money isn't everything, but in fact it just teaches him that money is everything. How's that for a moral?

  • Power

    Once, when he had been making a synopsis of a paragraph at the blackboard, his English teacher had stepped to his side and attempted to guide his hand. Paul had started back with a shudder and thrust his hands violently behind him. The astonished woman could scarcely have been more hurt and embarrassed had he struck at her. The insult was so involuntary and definitely personal as to be unforgettable. (1.3)

    It's totally a power play to try to move someone's hand, but Paul has even more power—the power to hurt her feelings.

    Older boys than Paul had broken down and shed tears under that baptism of fire, but his set smile did not once desert him, and his only sign of discomfort was the nervous trembling of the fingers that toyed with the buttons of his overcoat, and an occasional jerking of the other hand that held his hat. (1.4)

    This is maybe the most admirable that Paul is ever going to be. He's got a room full of adults trying to break him, and he still manages to keep his cool.

    His teachers left the building dissatisfied and unhappy; humiliated to have felt so vindictive toward a mere boy, to have uttered this feeling in cutting terms, and to have set each other on […]. Some of them remembered having seen a miserable street cat set at bay by a ring of tormentors. (1.10)

    At least some of the teachers seem to realize how messed up they're being. Still, all the adults in this story need a serious dose of empathy.

    He was horribly afraid of rats, so he did not try to sleep, but sat looking distrustfully at the dark, still terrified lest he might have awakened his father. (1.21)

    So, it's not too weird that a teenager would get in trouble for coming home late. It's a little freakier that Paul is so terrified of waking up his father that he sits awake all night in a cold, rat-infested basement.

    The manager at Carnegie Hall was told to get another usher in his stead; the doorkeeper at the theatre was warned not to admit him to the house; and Charley Edwards remorsefully promised the boy's father not to see him again. (1.35)

    Paul maybe shouldn't be so quick to sneer at his father if the dude has this much power. He's managed to take away every single thing that Paul loves—no wonder the kid goes rogue.

    Above, about, within it all was the rumble and roar, the hurry and toss of thousands of human beings as hot for pleasure as himself, and on every side of him towered the glaring affirmation of the omnipotence of wealth. (2.48)

    This isn't one of those stories where the guy steals the money and then realizes that money isn't actually everything. Nope. Turns out, having money is exactly as awesome as Paul thought it would be.

    The Cumberland minister had been interviewed, and expressed his hope of yet reclaiming the motherless lad, and his Sabbath-school teacher declared that she would spare no effort to that end. The rumour had reached Pittsburgh that the boy had been seen in a New York hotel, and his father had gone East to find him and bring him home. (2.56)

    At this point, you have to think that Paul would rather be sent off to prison or a work camp or something other than back to the clutches of the very people he's been trying to escape.

    When the right moment came, he jumped. As he fell, the folly of his haste occurred to him with merciless clearness, the vastness of what he had left undone. (2.65)

    At the last minute, Paul realizes that there just might be other ways to take control of his life than throwing himself in front of a train. Oops. Felt powerless before? Well, how do you feel now that there's a giant train rushing at you?