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Written by Timothy Sexton
Everywhere Paul goes, there are flowers, usually because he brought them. He purposely wears a red carnation in his lapel to tick off the teachers for whom he has no respect. Violets become a common part of his everyday attire. And, of course, there is the carnation he buries in the snow prior to his suicide. What all these examples have in common is that they out of place. A carnation belongs neither in a meeting to discuss your attitude with teachers nor in the frozen tundra. The flowers are a symbol of Paul himself: perpetually out of step with the natural course of things.
Portrait of John Calvin
John Calvin is a major figure in the world of Protestantism whose symbolic value here is his promotion of the concept of predetermination. Calvin’s ideas that everyone’s fate is already mapped out at birth is that would naturally become an ever-increasing irritant for a person like Paul. And, in fact, nearly every action described can be seen as a rejection that one’s life is predestined to play out in a way that cannot be challenged or changed.
Pittsburgh/New York City
Pittsburgh is a blue collar, industrial town; bleak, cold, gray and without any of the romanticism of life that Paul seeks to desperately. New York City is…well…New York City. It is the opposite of Pittsburgh, at least in the eyes of Paul.
Paul is happiest inside the theater. It is a world of artifice, unreal and representative of the dreams and illusions that Paul prefer to the mundane and prosaic world outside its door. When that special access into his world of make-believe becomes denied to him, he makes his fateful decision to run away to New York.
It is not by mere happenstance that of all the ways that Paul could commit suicide, it is by throwing himself beneath a train. The locomotive channel back to Pittsburgh and its place as the center of steel production. The train—probably constructed using steel from Pittsburgh—is a symbol of both 20th century industrialism which Paul wants to escape and its material rewards which he cannot afford.
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