Social Pressures in Willa Cather's Pauls Case and Alice Munro's Boys and Girls

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Ambition—the desire to achieve, will to succeed. Every character is defined by his dreams, his goals, and his passions. As individuals, we are confronted with social codes and implications that cause us to revolt and break free from the grasp of uniformity. Oftentimes dreams and ambitions clash with the unwritten laws of civilization. In Willa Cather’s short fiction “Paul’s Case” and Alice Munro’s “Boys and Girls”, the protagonists challenge expectations and rebel against settings governed by uniformity and gender-specific roles. Paul rejects conformity and the uniformity of Cordelia Street, while the girl resists the gender roles placed upon her by her mother. Despite being placed in two very similar situations, both characters come to…show more content…
Through such actions of defiance and revolt, she manages to keep herself “free” from the social gender pressures imposed upon her. This girl feels imprisoned by her family, as she thrives on what is accepted as “a man’s job”. Furthermore, it is through her imagination that she is able to escape reality, inventing a “world that is recognizably [her] own”. She imagines “opportunities for courage, boldness and self-sacrifice,” where she can ride horses and save lives. This young girl’s ambitions and dreams to live a man’s life are impeded by her mother and grandmother’s protests to “act like a girl”.
Imposed expectations, social pressures and uniformity are also thematic concerns paralleled in “Paul’s Case”. Paul, like the girl, is an aspiring individualist, trapped in the conformist-stricken city of Pittsburg. The setting, for one, is a time where wealth and industry ruled the nation. Paul is secluded to the “tepid waters” of Cordelia Street, a microcosm of the “commonness” of the world he despises. Cordelia is depicted as a “respectable street”, where “all the houses are exactly alike” and where “all of whom are exactly as their homes.” This young boy wishes to deviate from the “accepted” view that education is key and every son must follow in his father’s footsteps. Paul thrives on being a “model usher” at a local theatre as opposed to devoting himself to arithmetic and school. While his father wants him to be a “model man”, looked upon as a “man with a
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