Cather uses the color purple, much like she uses the red carnations, to represent Paul’s flamboyant dandyism and his queerness. Apart from the fact that the color purple has historically been associated with homosexuality in a broad range of contexts, Cather associates the color purple with Paul’s homosexuality in several passages. When Paul visits the Metropolitan Opera, Cather writes that “He felt now that his surroundings explained him. Nobody questioned the purple; he had only to wear it passively.” Elsewhere she asks whether Paul was not, “after all, one of those fortunate beings born to the purple.” In this way, Cather employs the color purple to symbolize Paul’s particular strangeness and quirk, which is attributable in part, it would seem, to the fact of his sexual difference. It is perhaps worth noting that purple is opposite, on the color wheel, to the yellow of Paul’s wallpaper.
The timeline below shows where the symbol Purple appears in Paul’s Case. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.