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A Prototypical Narcissistic Case English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2021 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Personality disorders defined as a "pervasive chronic psychological disorders, which can greatly affect a person's life" (Dombeck 1). They range from mild to severe in terms of their consequences and effects. People with personality disorders tend to have an "inner experience that is quite different from the norms of the individual's culture" (1). As a result, victims frequently expose to conflicts with the community they live with and feel alienated most of the time. On her story, "Paul's Case," Willa Cather presents the inscrutability of a teenager boy who seems to suffer from yet unrecognized personality disorder, which is universally identified almost a century after she published her work.

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The short story opens with Paul, the protagonist, who is a student at Pittsburg High School, alleged with "various misdemeanors" and insolences that also baffle his father (Cather 492). Now, before the Principal of the school, his teachers, who are his indicters, are reacting with him very bitterly and furiously. Even if he claims that he wants to be allowed to go back to school, his appearance and his adornment suggests that he does not have a "contrite spirit befitting a boy under the ban of suspension" (492). In the first glimpse, it gives the impression that the school faculty is dealing with a usual haughty teenager who seems in trouble for disturbances in classroom. Nevertheless, as Cather carries on she reveals how extremely chronic his situation is and how it constituents "a bad case" (499).

Paul was born in Colorado and he became a "motherless lad" even before he lights up his very first birthday candle (503). He is pale, skinny and tall. Most of the time, he feel at odds with his family, the community at school and the society at Cordelia Street which he consider it as "worse than jail" (503). The only places Paul feel "[breathing] like a prisoner set free" is in the theater and in the Carnegie Hall, where he can satiate his indulged fantasies and back up his inner depleted self-esteem (498). Fantasies are "element" of "Paul's world" of "artificiality" which beatifies the "ugliness" in his real empty life (498). He is also obsessed with art and theater. For him they are like drugs and the only way to escape actual life's realities. Moreover, even though, he is in the "lowest step" of achievement level as per Cather's scale, he imagines to be recognized as a superior and famous (497). Thinking himself as a special being among the "colorless mass of everyday existence," he entitle himself to deserve to sit "on the top step" without going through "the cash-boy stage" (496-7).Lie is his powerful instrument to "assert his difference from other Cordelia Street boys" (503).

Selfishness is also another attribute that Paul possesses. The only scenario he manages to pursuit a real joyful life is while he feels "no figure [is] at the top of the stairs" (501). Paul also believes that "money [is] everything" (504). He does not felt any guilty for stealing somebody else's money for his trip to New York. Even after squandering the money there, his lack of empathy leaves him ruthless. Rather, he convinces himself that, "he [has] mad the best of it and that he [has] lived the sort of life he [is] meant to live" (504). Paul has also an envy tendency. Even if he does want to work to succeed, he "snapped his teeth" out of envy for seeing the "young man with a future" up at the top of stair (497). Paul is also self-importantly proud. His arrogance manners are apparent from the beginning of the story for wearing something inappropriate before the Principle. The red carination, the way he twitches his eyebrows and lips, the way he responses and acts out during classes are all evidences to show how actually disrespectful he is.

When he realizes he runs out of money and that his father is looking after him so that to bring him back to his lifeless hometown, he conceives that he is "losing game in the end" (504). Specially, the thought of returning to Cordelia Street depressed him so intensely. Finding nothing to feed his low self-esteem and emptiness deep in his heart, he projects himself before an accelerating locomotive and commits suicide. At the final split of seconds, he becomes conscious that he might have survived if he had not so quickly admitted defeat.

Paul's case is complex. His alienation from the society is vivid and that he is unfitting. Comparing to the real tragedy happens to him, Paul's unbearable behaviors and unrealistic characterizations leave most readers untouched at the end. Our reaction to the story tends to steal our sympathy and forces us to jump to a conclusion that everything was in his free choices. From the beginning, it was apparent that his situations confused his father and annoyed his teachers. Student at school were bored of his boasts. He was liar and thief too. However, his abrupt move to the extreme puzzles us to inquire what actually happen to him.

Even though his teachers guessed that he was probably "perverted by garish fiction," the truth is revealed that, "he scarcely ever read at all" (498). One of the "offenses" remarked when he appeared before the faculty was "[d]isorder" (492). Paul's drawing teacher sensed that there is something that none of them able to discern or to deduce about the boy's problems. He suspects that Paul's "white teeth and … forced animation [of] eyes" might be hindering to figure what is really going on with him: "'I don't really believe that smile of his comes altogether from insolence; there's something sort of haunted about it'" (493). It is obvious that Paul is depressed and withdrawn. There was something abnormal about the young man and the whole situations seem incomprehensible. Yes, these inscrutable circumstances force Cather to leave the incident as a 'case' to be studied rather than labeling or ending it as 'bad case'- as what his teachers concluded.

In 1997, ninety-two years after the story is published, Rob Sarri, by then a doctor candidate in Clinical Psychology from Texas Tech University, claimed that Paul's behaviors and misfortunes shows every signs of a Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) and that the same reasoning is the exasperating factor for Paul horrible demise. As it is published in the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) of the American Psychiatric Association, Narcissistic Personality Disorder is described as:

[a] pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:

has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)

is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love

believes that he or she is "special" and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)

requires excessive admiration

has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations

is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends

lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others

is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her

shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes (Dombeck 14)

Sarri assessed and concluded that Paul's case is "a prototypical case" (1). According to DSM-IV, to make a narcissistic-personality-disorder diagnosis, a person must at least meet five of the nine criterions stated above. Surprisingly, as Sarri analysis it, Paul is found to be "meeting all nine" the criterions (1). It is vivid that Paul has an extreme sense of self-importance, an endless preoccupation of success, a sharp uniqueness among others, an indisputable entitlement to superior things, a rooted egotism, an utter apathy, an unrealistic envy and a visible contempt.

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Sarri specify that, it is in particular Paul's lack of empathy and contempt that "incites his teachers and leaves the reader tearless about his suicide" (3). He relates these with the typical reactions that therapists who work with narcissistic patients manifested: "therapists sometimes react to the narcissist's air of superiority and contempt with 'self-protectiveness' and 'anger'" (2). Therapists, psychologists, social workers, and psychiatrist reported that they have "negative feeling towards [personality disorders] patients" as the patients "often evoke in their physicians dislike or even outright hatred" (Vaknin). Even more specifically, they declare that, "[b]y far, the worst is the narcissistic" (Vaknin). These attribute to the fact that why Paul's teachers were so infuriated and why "they [fall] upon him without mercy" (Cather 492).

However, the difference between the therapists and the teachers is that, the "therapist recognizes that the narcissist is disturbed" (Sarri 2). Nevertheless, the teachers do not understand Paul's situations. Even though Paul's drawing-master notices something "haunt[ing] about" the boy, no body give it attentions and the drawing teachers either has nothing further to say about (493). As Sarri summarized it, even if the term 'narcissism' was incorporated in the psychiatric literacy as early as 1914, it was only on the DSM-IV, which was punished in 1994, that "scientists reached a firm, empirically validated consensus" of its criterions (1).

Sarri was stunned by how Willa Cather able to "intuitively set forth the diagnostic criteria for a narcissistic personality disorder about ninety years before" it was reached scientifically (1). It invites to ponder how that could be possible! Was it a mere coincidence or it was a foreshadowing that was revealed to her about the future? That is what only Cather knows. However, Sarri contended that, "Paul's Case" is an ideal case and that, in reality, the chance to find a narcissistic who meets all the nine criterions is very minimal:

The actual number of ways to be narcissistic, given that five criteria out of nine must be met, is 256:

number of combinations = 9!/5!(9-5)! 9!/6!(9-6)! ... 1 = 256

The likelihood that a person with a narcissistic personality disorder would meet all nine criteria is slim, and the likelihood that we would meet a character who is both narcissistic and meets all nine criteria is even slimmer since the current epidemiological research estimate on the prevalence of narcissistic personality disorder in the general population is less than 1%. (4)

Even though still currently there is "no medications specifically used to treat narcissistic personality disorder," I believe that Paul would have been beneficial if he had live in the current contemporary world ("Narcissistic …"). Today, psychotherapy for narcissistic personality disorder helps "to address such issues as …depression, low self-esteem…" and "to reshape ….personality, at least to some degree, so that [the narcissist] can change patterns of thinking that distort [his/her] self-image and create a realistic self-image" ("Narcissistic …"). Further, the same reference stated that 'suicidal' is one of the complications of untreated narcissistic personality disorder.

Paul, who faces problems to understand and to fit the societies he lived with, whom, in turn, were unable to understand his problems and sufferings, decided to segregate himself out of this world. Even if "Paul's Case" can be reduced to "A Prototypical Narcissistic Case", it should still be kept as an open case as Cather left it, as we do not yet have comprehensive answers for the disorder causes, treatments and preventions.


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