Study Guide

Paul's Case: A Study in Temperament Summary

By Willa Cather

Paul's Case: A Study in Temperament Summary

We open in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, steel capital of the world. Paul is getting the once-over by a panel of angry teachers. They're trying to decide whether to let him back in school, and their mood is not improved by the saucy red carnation he's tucked into his buttonhole.

After they grudgingly agree to re-admit him—with Paul being like, thanks, but this is not a party I really want to be invited to—Paul heads off to the Carnegie Music Hall for his job as an usher. Music, art, and a snazzy uniform: It's the perfect outlet for an aspirational kid like Paul.

When the concert is over, Paul doesn't want to go home. He follows the lead singer back to her hotel and fantasizes about going inside instead of standing out in the cold rain. (An umbrella and a raincoat might improve things, dude.) Back at his house, he is so totally not into dealing with his dad, so he sneaks into the basement and passes a lovely, rat-filled night.

And here's what Paul is trying to escape from: a really nice-sounding life, where families sit out on their porches on Sundays and hang out with their neighbors. True, their conversations sound deadly—har, har!—boring. Still, it doesn't seem that bad.

Anyway, Paul hangs out a lot with a teen actor, cuts up at school, and is basically acting like a little punk kid, so it's not too surprising when his dad finally steps in, puts him to work, and forbids him from going to theater. End of Act I.

When we next see Paul, he's on a train headed to New York City. (Huh. Didn't see that coming.) It gets even more surprising when he starts dropping some change on a snazzy new wardrobe and checking into the Waldorf. How is he financing this little vacation? With about $3,000 in money stolen from the firm where he works.

You might think that this little flirtation with law-breaking would put Paul on edge, but in fact he feels great. This is the life he was born to lead and he lives it up for just over a week—until one morning he picks up the newspaper to find that he is so totally busted, and his dad is actually on his way up to New York to haul him back to Pittsburgh.

So, the jig is up. Paul spends one more night on the town and then heads back to Pittsburgh—but not to go home. To throw himself in front of a train.