Paul’s Case

by

Willa Cather

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Cordelia Street Symbol Icon

In Pittsburgh, Paul lives with his father and sisters on Cordelia Street, part of a middle-class neighborhood some distance from downtown. On Cordelia Street, the houses all look the same and contain the same kind of people—businessmen whose families dutifully attend church and have few interests outside gossip and business. Cordelia Street represents all that Paul despises about his home—its shabbiness, its humdrum concern for moneymaking, its embrace of the common and the ordinary, and its ethic of limited improvement. As with many aspects of Paul’s life, the street is associated with a visual characteristic—that of colorlessness—as well as with an odor: that of daily cooking. The story refers to “Cordelia Street” as a shorthand for everyday life itself, one that Paul dreams of leaving behind for a life of luxury and excitement. But the story also represents Cordelia Street as possibly worse than just dull: its values leave no room for difference, including sexual difference, and thus exacerbate Paul’s feelings of alienation. Cordelia Street is variously imagined as a jail or as a place where Paul might drown, and by the end of the story, when he imagines that Cordelia Street has become the entire world, the infinite expansion of this dreary place underlines just how trapped Paul has come to feel in his failure to escape his hometown and its values.

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Cordelia Street Symbol Timeline in Paul’s Case

The timeline below shows where the symbol Cordelia Street appears in Paul’s Case. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1
Art and Artificiality vs. Reality  Theme Icon
Alienation and Homosexuality Theme Icon
Money and Wealth  Theme Icon
Paul takes the streetcar home to respectable Cordelia Street , where the houses are identical, filled with moderately successful businessmen with large families that... (full context)
Art and Artificiality vs. Reality  Theme Icon
Money and Wealth  Theme Icon
...violet-water hidden in his drawer onto his hands, and boards a downtown car. Immediately the Cordelia Street stupor leaves him, as he looks forward to the Sunday-night rehearsals of the stock company... (full context)
Part 2
Art and Artificiality vs. Reality  Theme Icon
Alienation and Homosexuality Theme Icon
Money and Wealth  Theme Icon
...glasses. When his champagne is poured, he doubts once again that he ever lived in Cordelia Street with its businessmen—men who now seem “mere rivets in a machine” to him. Paul feels... (full context)
Art and Artificiality vs. Reality  Theme Icon
Alienation and Homosexuality Theme Icon
Money and Wealth  Theme Icon
Paul sinks to his knees, knowing that the waters of Cordelia Street , his jail, will now close over him forever. Years of Sabbath-school, the repulsion of... (full context)
Art and Artificiality vs. Reality  Theme Icon
Alienation and Homosexuality Theme Icon
Money and Wealth  Theme Icon
...exaggerated version of “the old depression” overtakes him. It seems the whole world has become Cordelia Street . He feels calm; “he had looked into the dark corner at last and knew.... (full context)