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Homosexuality In Paul's Case

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What is a homosexual? What is a homosexual in the 19th century? These two questions give completely two different answers. The difference is the time periods, now versus then. In the 19th century, there wasn't an established "homosexual." The topic of homosexuality was not discussed, nevertheless, in American literature (Rubin 130). "The public culture's judgment [of]... same-sex sexuality was a subject to be denied, or even worse, bitterly denounced (Doyle 447)." But Willa Cather subtly brings up the sensitive topic in her 1905 short story, "Paul's Case."

Cather's short story is about a young man named Paul that has troubles at school and his father in Pittsburg. The story describes his mundane life on Cordelia Street but also how he escapes from this life through the theatre and art museums. And when this wasn't enough, he eventually steals some money and leaves for New York. While in New York, he lives his "dream life" of luxurious commodities until he was sought out by his father. Not wanting to go back to the life he despised, Paul resorts to suicide.

One can tell from the story that Paul was different. Paul was different from all the other boys on his street and from the boys he worked with. But how was Paul different? Although, he is first described wearing fitted, worn clothes adorned with an opal pin and a red carnation in his buttonhole, he still looks "dandy" (Cather 112). He has a sparkle to his eye and bares a certain grin on his face. He loves working at the theatre, he loves the museums, and he adores the artists. He keeps a bottle of violet water in his drawer. When he arrives in New York, he instantly shops for the best clothes and accessories including Tiffany's silver with "endless reconsidering and great care (122). He orders flowers for his room. All these signs subtly point out Paul's effeminacy.

Knowing that he is different, Paul must hide his effeminacy. As mentioned, the bottle of violet water is hidden from his father in his drawer. Paul did not have a very good relationship with his father. Paul thinks about a scenario that indicates this poor relationship with his father:

Suppose his father had heard him getting in at the window and had come down and shot him for a burglar? Then again, suppose his father had come down, pistol in hand, and he had cried out in time to save himself, and his father had been horrified to think how nearly he had killed him? Then, again, suppose a day should come when his father would remember that night, and wish there had been no warning cry to stay his hand (118)?

It's no wonder that Paul feels the need to escape to New York. During this time period, how one follows his gender role ultimately determines whether he fits into society (Doyle 449). In the 1920s, it was believed that sexual being and gender role were intimately linked (Mumford 397). Homosexual men were considered as "male inverts." Paul didn't act like a man; he was a male invert. Paul's father would rather have Paul be like the young man from the neighborhood. He married early at 21, has children, and works for a steel company. Paul would rather not become "one of them." He didn't want to produce any more of the same molded person like that young man and his wife, who had "four herself (119)."

This desire to create a "master race" was not uncommon. In Germany, during the Hitler and Nazi reign, a master race was attempted to be established. This race did not include homosexuals and so any sex research and reform was prohibited (Haeberle 270). Nazis considered homosexual behaviors as "moral degeneracy (280)." This group of the population was put into concentration camps along with other "race defilers (283)." These groups were given a special symbol, which the homosexuals were labeled with a pink triangle. The color pink symbolized their apparent weakness and effeminacy (284). Out of the other prisoners, the homosexual groups were generally near the bottom of the "prisoner hierarchy." They often had their lives put on the line for "special tortures and dangerous work (282)." The Nazis did what ever it took to wipe out this population by even establishing the Reichs-Center for the Fight against Homosexuality and Abortion (281). It was also a common belief that homosexuality was a product of a health malfunction and can be cured through surgery. Doctors performed surgeries to homosexuals hoping to succeed in the "elimination of homosexuality." Doctors would implant synthetic hormones into the gay men hoping it would reverse their sex drive (284). Many of these men eventually died from the surgeries.

This oppression of the homosexual population occurred in many places other than Germany. Male homosexual behavior was considered as a crime in the countries of Great Britain, the Soviet Union, as well as the United States (279). This oppression continued far after World War II. In 1952, The United States Congressed had passed a law trying to prevent homosexual immigrants (285). An American man by the name of Bryan Olsen was even sent to a boot camp in the late 1990's after his Mormon family found out he was gay. At this camp, located in Mexico, they had to wear shoes without backs so they were unable to run away. Olsen had resisted by going on a hunger strike and was punished by forcing him to sit cross-legged with his nose touching a wall for two hours (Cloud 48).

To this day, homosexuality is becoming more and more accepted among the new generations. Almost 1 in 10 high schools have gay-straight alliances, totaling to at least 3,000. Surveys also show that 57% of college freshman at UCLA favor same-sex marriages (Cloud 44). But to have a homosexual relationship and to live a homosexual lifestyle in the nineteenth century was impossible (Doyle 451). This is exemplified by the fact that Paul leaves for New York. In the nineteenth century, groups were established in New York that supported the "sexual world turned upside down (Mumford 399)." Paul was able to feel free once he arrived in New York away



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