The years from 1900 to 1910 witnessed great growth in business and industry in America. Fortunes were made producing steel and iron: Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, and J. P. Morgan all made vast amounts of money during this period. They were the most famous of the “robber barons,” those whose wealth was created by questionable labor practices and whose businesses were favored by the government since they were fundamental in creating the infrastructure necessary for the United States to become a world power. In “Paul’s Case” such industrial leaders appear in references to the “iron kings” discussed on Cordelia Street on Sunday afternoons.
With fewer government regulations on business than there are now, industry leaders ruthlessly pursued profit. Their profits allowed them to become voracious consumers of material goods. Thorstein Veblen, in The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899), coined the term “conspicuous . . . Read More
“Paul’s Case” centers on a high school student so taken by the life of wealth and culture that he runs away to New York City on stolen money to live lavishly, if only for a while. When his old middleclass life threatens to reclaim him, Paul commits suicide. The narrator’s attitude towards Paul’s actions is ironic. The narrator does not endorse Paul’s decision to steal in order to live grandly. Nor does the narrator affirm Paul’s decision to commit suicide after he realizes that”money was everything.” The authorial voice often seems to be talking to the reader, reflecting on what the characters do not realize. For instance, while Paul despises Cordelia Street, it is described as a “perfectly respectable” middle-class neighborhood. Similarly, Paul’s starry-eyed response to the world of the arts is directly contrasted to cruder realities: references to a”cracked . . . Read More
“Paul’s Case” is a story about a young man who loves art and beautiful things so much that he steals money and goes to New York to live a life of opulence and grandeur. When his crime is discovered, Paul commits suicide rather than return to the dreary, middle-class life he escaped in Pittsburgh. The story’s major themes revolve around questions about Paul’s character. Was he driven to his fate by the destructive values of America, or is he morally corrupt, responsible for his actions? Is Paul, as his teachers, father, and friends agree, a “bad case,” an abnormal personality, or do the others have an overly narrow view of what is “normal”? Do the worlds of business and industry, represented by Cordelia Street, destroy appreciation of culture and aesthetics, or does Paul choose to live in a world of illusion, destroying his grip on reality? The
The American Dream is . . . Read More
Charley is a young actor, the “leading juvenile” of a Pittsburgh stock theater company, and a friend of Paul’s. He encourages Paul’s interest in the theater, inviting him to the company’s Sunday rehearsals and allowing him to hang around. When Paul’s school situation worsens and Paul’s father puts him to work, Charley “remorsefully” promises not to see Paul again. After Paul leaves home, Willa Cather explains that Charley had helped Paul plan his trip to New York.
Paul is the protagonist, or main character, of the story. A “motherless lad,” he was born in Colorado, where his mother died of illness in his infancy. He is a thin, pale, dreamy adolescent who feels a need to set himself apart from his conventional surroundings in Pittsburgh. Whereas those around him are concerned about making a living and coming . . . Read More
“Paul’s Case” by Willa Cather is, as the subtitle states,”a study in temperament.” The story chronicles a few months in the life of Paul, a student at Pittsburgh High School, who would rather be at the opera than in class.
Part I: Paul in Pittsburgh
The story begins with Paul’s faculty hearing one week after he has been suspended from school. Paul is smiling, and his accusers find his appearance—especially the red carnation in his lapel— “not properly significant of the contrite spirit befitting a boy under the ban of suspension.” The teachers, full of ill will, list disorder and impertinence as two of the charges against him, but they feel it”scarcely possible to put into words the real cause of the trouble.”
Paul is described as “suave,” having eyes with “a certain hysterical brilliancy,” shuddering from a teacher’s casual touch, . . . Read More
Ursula Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” was first published in 1973 in New Dimensions 3 and has been published in many anthologies since. When it appeared for the second time in 1975 as part of her short story collection The Wind’s Twelve Quarters, Le Guin added a two page preface in which she addresses her subtitle, “Variations on a Theme by William James,” and its connection to the story’s theme. Le Guin writes in this preface: “The central idea of this psychomyth, the scapegoat, turns up in Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamozov, and several people have asked me, rather suspiciously, why I gave the credit to William James.” She goes on to say that not having re-read Dostoevsky since she was twenty-five, she had “simply forgotten he used the idea. But when [she] met it in James’ ‘The Moral Philospher and the Moral Life,’ it was with a shock of recognition.” Le Guin’s preface is friendly . . . Read More
The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas was first published in 1973 in New Directions 3. The late 1960s and early 1970s were a time of enormous political, social, and cultural upheaval in the United States, and most likely the events of this period influenced Le Guin’s writing of the story. America’s involvement in the Vietnam War, particularly from 1964 to 1973, caused much domestic unrest. Many young people protested the war, and these demonstrations reached their peak in 1969, when 250,000 people marched in Washington D.C. A year later, on May 4,1970, four students were killed at Kent State University in Ohio by National Guardsmen during a war protest.
The late mid to late 1960s also saw the rise of the “counterculture” in America. A movement that developed largely as a reaction against the war, the counterculture was made up of young people who called themselves hippies or flower children. Believing that it was possible to build a society based on . . . Read More
The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas is the story of Omelas, a city where everyone seems to be happy and to live in peace and harmony. Toward the end of the story, however, the narrator reveals that the happiness of Omelas is dependent on the existence of a child who is locked in a small, windowless room and who is abused and mistreated. Although most of the citizens accept the situation, a small number of people leave Omelas forever after seeing the deplorable conditions in which the child lives.
The story is divided into two fairly distinct sections. In the first section, the narrator attempts to describe Omelas even though he/she notes more than once that the description is inadequate and does not capture the joy and happiness of Omelas. In the second section, the narrator reveals the existence of the child and matter-of-factly describes the awful conditions in which it is forced to . . . Read More
Ursula K. Le Guin’s classic short story is of a Utopian society whose survival depends on the existence of a child who is locked in a small room and mistreated. Although all of the citizens of Omelas are aware of the child’s situation, most of them accept that their happiness is dependent on the child’s “abominable misery.” Sometimes, however, a few people, after visiting the child and seeing the deplorable conditions under which it lives, leave Omelas forever.
Morals and Morality
One of the major themes in “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” is morality. Le Guin once wrote in a preface to the story that it is a critique of American moral life. She also explained the story’s subtitle, “Variations on a Theme by William James,” noting that she was inspired to write the story by something James, an American psychologist and philosopher, stated in his “The Moral Philosopher and . . . Read More
The child, whose existence is revealed toward the end of the story, is abused and mistreated so the other citizens of Omelas can live in prosperity and happiness. Locked in a small room or closet with no windows, the child is dirty, naked, and malnourished. It receives only half a bowl of corn meal and grease a day and often sits in its own excrement. The narrator states that the child “could be boy or a girl. It looks about six, but actually is nearly ten. It is feeble-minded. Perhaps it was born defective, or perhaps it has become imbecile through fear, malnutrition, and neglect.” All of the citizens of Omelas know of the child’s existence, but they also “know that it has to be there. . . . [They] all understand that their happiness.. .[depends] wholly on this child’s abominable misery.” The child, therefore, is the scapegoat of the story; it is sacrificed for the good of the others in the . . . Read More