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Chrysanthemums" by John Steinbeck, and "Paul's Case" by Willa Cather. Specifically, it will discuss a thematic connection between the two stories. These two short stories highlight the themes of loneliness, unfulfilled desires, and dreams. Both main characters have dreams of something better that are never realized, and they live tragic and unfulfilled lives because of this. These stories might not seem related, but underneath two very different characters lays the same basic problem - a dreamer's soul that is unfulfilled and desperately unhappy with real life.
Themes in Two Related Short Stories
These two short stories seem totally unrelated at first glance, but underlying two very different characters is a common theme of dreams, unfulfilled desires, and loneliness. Paul in "Paul's Case" is a lonely and misunderstood boy whose only joys are the theatre and the arts. He loves to watch performances, it is the only time he feels entirely alive. "He had the feeling of not being able to let down, of its being impossible to give up this delicious excitement which was the only thing that could be called living at all" (Cather). The rest of his life is blackness, despair, and loneliness, because no one really understands him and his emotional needs. He lives in a dream world where the only good things are the theater and his friends who are actors or work in the theater, and everything else is ugly and forlorn. "There it was, what be wanted -- tangibly before him, like the fairy world of a Christmas pantomime -- but mocking spirits stood guard at the doors, and, as the rain beat in his face, Paul wondered whether he were destined always to shiver in the black night outside, looking up at it" (Cather). Paul really was destined to "look up at it," because once he finds "it" he cannot hold on to it, and his life is not better for it.
The theme of loneliness, unfulfilled desires, and dreams is woven throughout this entire story, and it leads to the inevitable conclusion that often comes from living in a dream world. Paul's dreams outweigh his life, and he can never live up to the dreams he has set up for himself. He cannot cope with his real life; he finds it ugly and depressing. "He approached it tonight with the nerveless sense of defeat, the hopeless feeling of sinking back forever into ugliness and commonness that he had always had when he came home" (Cather). Once he leaves his home in Pittsburgh, he can never return, because he has lived the good life, and he can never return to the drab life of his family. There is something inside Paul that can never be satisfied with second best or second rate, which is why he loves the theater and the fantasy of it so much. "It was not that symphonies, as such, meant anything in particular to Paul, but the first sigh of the instruments seemed to free some hilarious and potent spirit within him; something that struggled there like the genie in the bottle found by the Arab fisherman" (Cather).
In "The Chrysanthemums," Elisa Allen is at first glance far unlike Paul and his troubles. However, just like Paul, Elisa is lonely and has dreams of a different life. She actually envies the tinker's freedom and his ability to simply pick up and move wherever he wants whenever he wants. "It must be nice,' she said. 'It must be very nice. I wish women could do such things'" (Steinbeck). Elisa's life is unfulfilled, she is desperately unhappy, and in this, she and Paul are very alike. The theme of loneliness and dreams unfulfilled is woven into "The Chrysanthemums" just as it is woven in "Paul's Case." Both characters show what can happen when loneliness takes over, and the people surrounding them do not take the time to understand their needs and wants. Both characters are sad and pathetic, and seem to have no choices in their lives, because of the constraints placed on them by others.
While Paul is constrained by his age and society's expectations for him, Elisa is constrained by society's expectations for her, too. Women did not run off to be tinkers, and young boys did not grow up to be actors, they grew up to follow their fathers in business and industry. This is another underlying theme…[continue]
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