The members of the stock company were vastly amused when some of Paul’s stories reached them—especially the women. They were hardworking women, most of them supporting indigent husbands or brothers, and they laughed rather bitterly at having stirred the boy to such fervid and florid inventions.
This quotation appears midway through the story, after Paul has been removed from school, and reveals one of the subtler tragedies of “Paul’s Case”: the nonexistence of the art world that Paul dreams of. The art world exists, of course, but it is not the land of romance, happiness, and elegance that Paul imagines. He thinks of theater people as far more refined and elegant than his neighbors are. Ironically, the professionals in the art world must work harder than Paul’s neighbors. The women on Cordelia Street have conscientious husbands and are free to relax on their porches on the weekends; the women of the theater must toil to support their “indigent husbands or brothers.” When these theater women hear about Paul’s “fervid and florid inventions” concerning their livelihood, they laugh “rather bitterly,” a phrase that suggests their impatience with Paul’s unrealistic dreams. It is distressing to reflect that Paul’s hatred of his own life is founded on a misunderstanding. If he knew the truth about the art world, Cather suggests, he would see that it is not more desirable than the world of Cordelia Street.