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Willa Cather's Lost Boy: "Paul's Case" and Bohemian Tramping
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TERRELL SCOTT HERRING Willa Cather's Lost Boy: "Paul's Case" and Bohemian Tramping Put on your slumming clothes and get your car Let's go sightseeing where the high-toned people are Come on, there's lots of fun in store for you See how the other half lives on Park Avenue Let us hide behind a pair of fancy glasses And make faces when a member of the classes passes Let us go do it, they do it Why can't we too? Let's go slumming, nose thumbing, on Park Avenue Irving Berlin, "Slumming on Park Avenue" (1937) ILLA CATHER ALWAYS HAD A SPECIAL INTEREST IN BOYS, but it certainly wasn't sexual. Turn-of-the-century typologies of male adolescence, however, anxiously circulated alongside typologies of (homo)sexual perversion. The paramount instance of this connection occurs in child psychologist G. Stanley Hall's widely popular Adolescence (1904), an encyclopedic overview of "boyology" that practically invents its subject matter ex nihih. Hall argues throughout that "adolescence is a new birth, for the higher and more completely human traits are now born" (xiii); yet various disorders—neuroses, psychoses, and abnormal morphologies—frequently mar the individual's journey Arizona Quarterly Volume 60, Number 2, Summer 2004 Copyright © 2004 by Arizona Board of Regents issN 0004-1610 88 Terrell Scott Herring to adulthood proper. "The momentum ofheredity often seems so insufficient ... so that every step of the upward way is strewn with wreckage of body, mind, and morals" (xiv). As a result, we cannot simply negleet arrested developments, shrug our shoulders, and invoke the folk wisdom that "boys will be boys," for natural bodily changes potentially engender unnatural tendencies. "There is not only arrest," Hall ominously warns his readers, "but perversion, at every stage, and hoodlumism , juvenile crime, and secret vice seem not only increasing, but develop earlier in years in every civilized land" (xiv). In a lightning-quick logical twist, particular acts crystallize into peculiar identities: juvenile delinquency is but a step removed from juvenile delinquents.1 The adolescent, however, was not the only novel type to find itself inclined to perversion, criminality, and abnormal development; these traits also typify the late nineteenth-century white middle-class homosexual male. In a well-known claim, Foucault characterizes the emergent homosexual as "a personage, a past, a case history, and a childhood , in addition to being a type of life, a life form, and a morphology, with an indiscreet anatomy and a possibly mysterious physiology" (43). Just as Adolescence makes the mysterious pubescent body intelligible, so it was the sexologist's goal to make this mysterious body discernible, to make it speak the inverted soul. Consequently, no matter how diligently he may hide or deny them, the homosexual's desires invariably voice themselves through this loquaciously "indiscreet" body. Ifyou are looking for a physically and psychically imbalanced, vice-ridden pervert , you know him when you see him. And given widespread rumors about the prevalence of homosexuality in adolescence, this pervert is oftentimes an arrested—and arresting—young lad. Take, for instance, the opening moments of Willa Cather's 1905 short story "Paul's Case: A Study in Temperament," one of the first literary attempts to question turn-of-the-century discourses on perverse sexuality and male adolescence. "Always smiling, always glancing about him," Paul lives his days in constant paranoia, "seeming to feel that people might be watching him and trying to detect something" (222). These fears are not unwarranted, since Pittsburgh High's faculty and his father have just verbally pounced upon the adolescent like "a miserable street cat set at bay by a ring of tormentors." In their attempts to make sense of—to specify—Paul's particularity, the elders force the adolescent to account for his hoodlumism, "his various misdemeanors" WiIk Cather's Lost Boy 89 (221). Yet throughout this grand after-school "inquisition," we hear only one direct quote from the boy: "? don't know,' he replied, ? didn't mean to be polite or impolite, either. I guess it's a sort of way I have of saying things regardless'" (222). Judging from his claim that he didn't intend to "be polite or impolite," it appears...