Re: [NABOKOV - LIST] : signs and symbols, chapter three and four
They have failed to protect the son: left him in a hospital which is “so miserable and understaffed” that they are afraid to leave some jars of jelly lest they get lost. Protective of the pots of jelly, but what about their son! It is only through chance that he is still alive: saved by another patient and not the staff who should have been observing him, protecting him. The whole world is watching him, except for those people whose duty it is to do so.
The murderous war of Europe is over, and they have survived to enjoy a rebirth, a new spring in America. Yet the wife presents “a naked white countenance to the fault finding light of spring days.” Even in this new spring, her faults are exposed. She does not have the will nor the dishonesty to disguise them , as does the artificially clad Mrs. Sol, “whose face was all pink and mauve with paint and whose hat was a cluster of [artificial] brookside flowers”. (Why brookside flowers? A reference to Ophelia?)
It is a rainy spring day, a Friday. The day could very well be in April, possibly Passover and possibly Good Friday. “That Friday everything went wrong” --as it certainly did for Jesus on the Friday before Easter. The next sentence is “The underground train lost its life current between two stations…” The word “stations” brings to mind the twelve stations of the cross in Jerusalem on Easter Friday, each bringing new suffering to Jesus. Like the story of Jesus, this couple finds their own trials that day. The underground train recalls Europe, and their Aunt Rosa, an “old lady, who had lived in a tremulous world of bad news, bankruptcies, train accidents, cancerous growths—until the Germans put her to death together with all the people she had worried about.” Aunt Rosa undoubtedly arrived at her place of death by underground train: underground because it was a train from hell. “Train accidents” are gently inserted in the list of Aunt Rosa's minor worries to point the reader to her manner of death.
Directly after Aunt Rosa, without a pause, we learn that “Age six—that was when he drew wonderful birds with human hands and feet”. God like, and Sirin like creatures, which might save him from his Aunt Rosa’s fate, since he accurately sees that his parents cannot protect him . They could not save him from “the ugly vicious backwards children.” Nor did they save him from the pneumonia, which precipitated his collapse.
After four years, on this Friday, or by now Saturday, it occurs to his father to show some resolve: “To the devil with the doctors! We must get him out of there quick!” But it can wait until morning. His wife returns to her cards, which are like Tarot cards. Some cards and photos drop to the floor and she retrieves a hand of five: knave of hearts, nine of spades, ace of spades, the German maid, and her “bestial beau.” The last card is “the beast.”
The couple lives in their own closed circuit of rain and false suns and faded memories. (Mrs. Sol the artificial neighbor, Dr. Solov, thrown to the devil, the weeping woman on the bus who resembles “Rebecca Borisovna whose daughter married one of the Soloveichiks—in Minsk, years ago.” ) They are broken people. They have left their only son (their real sun) in the care of a nurse “they knew” (they cannot plead ignorance) “and didn’t like.” Now they can only reap the consequences as the telephone rings.
“This, and much more she accepted—for after all living did mean accepting the loss of one joy after another, not even joys in her case—mere possibilities of improvement. She thought of the endless waves of pain she and her husband had to endure; of the invisible giants hurting her boy in some unimaginable fashion; of the incalculable amount of tenderness contained in the world; of the fate of this tenderness which is either crushed, or wasted, or transformed into madness; of neglected children humming to themselves in unswept corners…” The monster reappears as the “simian” shadow of a farmer who is reaping the field, but also mangling flowers “as the monstrous darkness approaches.” Monsters and beasts. How does an old broken couple, like the broken flowers, stand a chance?
Express yourself wherever you are. Mobilize!
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