Time on my hands: Paul's Case by Willa Cather

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Forgive me, I am the same Annie who posted the "Piano Man" analysis. And no, to answer the question I was recently asked, I was not an English major. However, a few weeks ago when I was reading on this site, someone casually referred to the Paul Sobricki storyline as "Paul's case". That immediately reminded me of the Willa Cather short story by the same name, and I may have gotten a little carried away as a result. I will try to remember enough details of the story to explain what I am thinking about.

In Cather's story, Paul is a lonely young man with not much going for him. The only thing that seems to give his life any meaning is going to look at the art work hanging in the lobby of a local theater. So Paul gets a job as an usher at the theater so he can look at the paintings he loves on an almost daily basis. But something happens (I forget) and he loses the job and is asked to stay away from the theater. Thus, Paul feels that his life has lost all its meaning. He decides there is nothing left for him and determines to kill himself. He goes to a railroad crossing and jumps in front of a train. As soon as he launches himself irrevocably in front of the train, he wishes that he had not done so, but it is too late. The story basically ends there.

Paul Sobricki's life has meaning through his law studies and his ambition to be a lawyer. He can realize his goals by studying which he does at the library and a diner. But due to a fear of muggings (whether real or imagined) he often avoids these places. Therefore, he may perceive that his life is beginning to lose meaning. At the hospital, he commits an irrevocable act when he stabs two people, one fatally. The attacks he made can be viewed as an attempt at suicide or self annihilation because, whether he is criminally responsible or not, the acts will forever change his life as he knew it. Perhaps if Paul ever recovers his sanity or can be made to understand what he did, he will wish to undo the past, which is impossible.

When I started thinking about Cather's plot and the fact that her Paul jumps in front of a train, I thought of another ER episode, "Night Shift". In this episode, Dennis Gant dies after jumping in front of an El train (I'm not sure the audience ever knows for sure that he did this on purpose, but I think he did). Dennis may have decided to kill himself after he is yelled at by Benton and then betrayed by his friend, Carter. Just as Lucy may have died at Paul Sobricki's hands because Carter could not give her the patience, understanding and support she needed to deal with Paul S., so Dennis needed Carter's friendship to overcome his frustration and feelings of inadequcy after Benton chews him out.

So, yes, I have time on my hands--I commute! But it's interesting to look for parallels, whether real or imagined. Thanks for reading!

-- Annie (GoldenLaur@aol.com), March 04, 2000


My goodness Annie! I got my BA in English. (I changed to nursing later! Not much work in English!) You sure can do analysis with the best of them! I think your parallals between ER episodes and other works are entertaining! You could practically do a master's thesis on ER! LOL!

-- 2222 (rachelrr@ivillage.com), March 04, 2000.

Annie, I enjoy reading your analyses, with the "interesting parallels, real or imagined. I think that is what contributes to the quality of this show- all the words and events, even the music, are not random and thoughless. When its good (all, except some of S5) its full of connections and is Deeper than the literal events- the writers know more and are expressing more than just the actual words. Looking forward to your next brainstorm.

-- May (archerl@cadvision.com), March 04, 2000.

Annie, hope you continue to have so much time on your hands if it means you'll share thoughts like these. Whether an English major or not, you should consider writing!

-- Diana (DILYNNE@juno.com), March 05, 2000.

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