Paul Poitier was a strange, young man. I don’t even think he, himself knew his identity. He comes off as being a very intelligent being who knew the Kittridge’s children fondly. Paul continues to make intelligent conversation with Flan and Ouisa, as he cooks them dinner, making them believe he is someone that he is not. After staying the night with them, Ouisa finds Paul in bed with a hustler the next morning. Everything they knew about Paul, all of a sudden, turned completely upside-down.
“That night was the happiest night I ever had…. You let me use all the parts of myself that night…. I was so happy. I wanted to add sex to it. (107-08, 110)”
While we will never know what Paul’s true intentions were that night, we do know that he was a very confused individual. What he thought was socially acceptable and what the wealthy couples thought were socially acceptable were two completely different things. In the beginning he came off as someone who just wanted a free night and to steal some money. A hoodlum off the streets, if you will. As the play progressed, we got to know him a little bit more and realized that he just wanted to be happy and was very confused. I don’t think even he knew what his true intentions were.
“He wanted to be us. Everything we are in the world, this paltry thing-our life-he wanted it. He stabbed himself to get in here. He envied us. We’re not enough to be envied. (117)”
That is the moment when Ouisa finally realized what Paul’s true intentions might possibly be. He didn’t want to scam them or hurt them, he just wanted to be like them and be happy.
The poem “Curiosity” plays an important role in this play. Paul is like a cat in the poem in the aspect that he is constantly curious and persisting until he is happy. He was determined to go from couple to couple to live their lives and be just like them.
“Face it. Curiosity will not cause us to die–only lack of it will. Never to want to see the other side of the hill or that improbable country where living is an idyll (although a probable hell) would kill us all (Curiosity).”
This statement tells us that a lack of curiosity could possibly kill us. Paul somewhat proved that. If he hadn’t been curious, he would have never gone to those peoples’ houses and did what he did. If he had never done any of that, he would have lived on the streets the whole time, and who knows how much longer he would have lasted with no home, food, money, etc. That one night when Trent passed Paul in the doorway completely changed the outcome.
Paul’s lack of authority figures in his life also played a huge role on his actions towards the wealthy families. He didn’t know proper discipline and what was socially acceptable. What was socially acceptable to him greatly differed from that of the wealthy families that he played his little game with.
“An unexamined life is not a life worth living. (Socrates)” Socrates summarizes Paul’s situation very well in that quote. Paul was a drifter in life, if you will, so he never knew proper etiquette or rules. He never had anyone there to tell him what is right and what is wrong. Paul never got the chance to sit down and examine his life and accomplishments. Instead, he lived in the moment and did what made him happy and satisfied him. He never thought into the future, or even tried to better himself and contribute to society.
In conclusion, one could consider Paul a con artist, but I don’t think his sole intention was to con every family he tricked. He showed that whenever he used the money Elizabeth and Rick gave him to take Rick out to a very eloquent and fancy dinner with a horse and buggy ride around the park afterwards, instead of keeping it and using it all for himself. The context clues point to Paul having a very rough childhood. Whether he did or not, no one will ever know for sure. Because of that, he didn’t know what he wanted to do in life and did everything he could to be happy in the current moment. Paul wanted to experience new things and live his life to its fullest, but only in the current moment, never thinking towards the future.