The term: 'Paper Chase.'

I'm not sure if it's explained in the novel, but I've always assumed that the title "The Paper Chase" was basically just a metaphor for "a hollow pursuit," such as getting validation from outside rather than from within (i.e. from grades, professors or the accumulation of life milestones).

In the 1973 film, Lindsey Wagner has speech about all the milestone documents (paper) that Hart can expect to accumulate and put in his "little box" right up to his death certificate.

The somewhat counter-culture theme of the movie, at least, would seem to be that one has to grow beyond the need "succeed" within such narrow limits if one is to become a true individual instead of a cog in the machine. Indeed, the film's poster featured artwork of figures in cap & gown with windup keys in their backs.

Still, I have never heard the term "paper chase" outside of this film - until I watched Orson Wells' 1946 film "The Stranger."

In that film, Connecticut college students engage in a game in which one student runs into the woods dropping shredded paper while the others race behind him trying to follow the trail (like leaving a trail of breadcrumbs). The students say they are going on a "paper chase."

Is this "game" the origin of the phrase "Paper Chase?" Is it a New England thing? Outside of these two movies, I've never heard it used elsewhere.


The term was in use and can be found in literature and speeches as far back as the mid 1800's. It's pretty literal in it's meaning, chasing after paper documents for official or professional purposes, usually a diploma or accreditation. It's also been used to describe stock and Ponzi schemes, where the victims are said to be chasing paper (profits on paper only.)

The game in the film is "hare and hounds", the hares leave a scent trail (paper) and the hounds follow the scent (paper) and need to catch the hares before they reach their rabbit hole.

The title can be both literal and figurative as you described.

Man without relatives is man without troubles. Charlie Chan



I found a slang dictionary that dates "paper chase" as used for "hare and hounds" to at least 1856. Seems possible that the schoolboy term for a game involving the pursuit of paper might have morphed into a term for bureaucratic "games" involving the pursuit of paper (i.e. as the those schoolboys grew up to become bureaucrats).




I like that, and it can apply to the paper they generate too. Like Ford's (I think it was Ford, been awhile) massive outline, the paper goes flying out the window and the chase is on.

I hope I'm remembering that correctly, it's been many years since I've seen the film.

"Man without relatives is man without troubles." Charlie Chan