Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027503, Wed, 6 Sep 2017 16:03:39 -0700

WIP: Orphans All
from WIP: "Art, Alchemy and Failed Transcendence: Jungian Influences in Nabokov's Pale Fire"

Kinbote, like Shade, has little memory of his parents. Gradus also lost his parents at an early age. All three characters are essentially orphans. Mythologies and stories are filled with orphan-heroes. Carl Jung created 12 basic “character archetypes”, the source for the later “Meyers-Briggs” personality tests. Among them is "The Orphan”. Jung called the “Orphan” type the “Everyman”; he is the “common man”. He is simple, foursquare, centered, a solid citizen. Despite his genius this fits Shade and his “singularly uneventful life”, but Kinbote and Gradus? There is a shadow side to the type: they are manipulating, phony, envious, victim mentality, masochistic, cynical. What both positive and negative orphans share, at the core, is a need to belong. We have seen how all three characters had lonely misfit childhoods. Nabokov was not an orphan (although his father was killed when he was nearly grown), but one need not be to be the type; it is the feeling of not belonging that characterizes the Orphan.

“They accused me of not conforming to my surroundings; of ‘showing off’ (mainly by peppering my Russian papers with English and French terms, which came naturally to me)” (VN, Speak Memory, P.185)

Interestingly, Jung had a similar experience:

“I began making friendships, mostly with shy boys of simple origins. My marks in school improved. During the following years I even succeeded in reaching the top of the class. However, I observed that below me were schoolmates who envied me and tried at every opportunity to catch up with me.” (Jung, Memories, Dreams Reflections, P.43)

Jung considered himself an “Orphan” type. The Orphan type either remains satisfied with trying to be “normal” and accepted, or some catalytic event will spur them to break from the pack, becoming heroic. This is the path of Individuation. It is no longer necessary to “belong”, but to actualize one’s individuality. Of the three characters, Kinbote (as ego) is actually the one who begins the “hero’s journey”: a revolution, an underground escape, a “night sea journey”, climbing mountains. He is representative, then, of the Ego’s path towards Individuation. He remains in resistance to and at the mercy of, the forces that propel him, however.

As a child the orphan, John Shade, suffered from not fitting in. He led a very conventional, conforming life, living in the house he grew up in, in the same small town, married for 40 years, same job for nearly as long. Kind, wise, affable and sociable, as an adult he seems to fit well into his community. The “explosion” in his nice normal life does not happen until his 60th year – the death of his daughter throws him into a metaphysical crisis. Interestingly, this event happens at the same time as the Zemblan glass factory explosion. Unlike Kinbote, John Shade has a higher awareness and begins to actively seek answers.

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