Paul’s Case: A Study in Temperament

by: Willa Cather


Red Carnations

The red carnations Paul often wears in his buttonhole represent Paul himself. At the beginning of the story, when Paul wears a red carnation to meet his teachers and principal, the adults correctly interpret its presence as evidence of Paul’s continued defiance. They want him to show remorse, but the jaunty flower proves that he feels none. At the end of the story, Paul buys red carnations. As he walks to the train tracks, he notices that they have wilted in the cold. He buries one of the flowers in the snow before leaping in front of a train. The carnation’s burial is a symbolic prelude to Paul’s actual suicide.