This short story was written by Willa Cather around 1905 when she was living in Pittsburgh; it is the only one of her stories with that city as a background. During her time there she taught in a high school and she said the story was based on experience with two boys in her classes. It also has connections to her own background of growing up in a small town in Nebraska where she hungered for a broader life experience.

Paul, a sensitive high school student, felt very frustrated with his home life and his family's expectations that he would grow up to work in a factory or the steel mills as his father and most of his neighbors did. He was not close to anyone in his family and had no neighborhood or school friends. Instead, he spent his evenings ushering at the symphony hall or backstage at a local theater.

Paul dreamed of living the life of the performers he saw. He was without discipline and without direction. He had problems at school and was surly when called before a school committee. Eventually he was pulled out of school and sent to work by his father. He devised a scheme to steal money from his employer and then ran away to New York City where he stayed at the Waldorf Astoria, living for a few days the life of his dreams. When he realized that he would have to return home and accept his punishment he killed himself. The poignancy of the story is intense.


This is the most anthologized of all of Cather's writing and was the first to be adapted for television. It has been called a "study in temperament." It is a testimony to the reality of youthful dissatisfactions and the common failure of families to understand and of schools to be helpful. Paul was a misfit and was unable to accept the drab reality of his daily life. His solution was most unfortunate. "Paul's Case" is useful in student discussions of adolescent issues and adolescent suicide.


First published: 1905

Primary Source

Collected Stories

Place Published



New York

Page Count