Vladimir Nabokov

PF's Ozero and "Signs and Symbols"

By matthew_roth, 18 February, 2020

As someone said, an interesting association belatedly realized:


1. PF: "the three conjoined lakes called Omega, Ozero, and Zero"


2. "Signs and Symbols": "I will tell you what you are doing; you are turning to the letter O instead of the zero."


While I have no doubt thought about the zeros in both works, and their relationship to death/afterlife/nothingness, I guess I hadn't specifically put the exact phrase from the short story together with PF's Ozero. The effect heightens the association with suicide and the worry of parents for the fate of their child.

Matt Roth

Alexey Sklyarenko

4 years 5 months ago

Of course, Kinbote said this.


Describing the night of his daughter's death at the end of Canto Two, Shade twice mentions the phone (but it is not ringing):


"Was that the phone?" You listened at the door.
More headlights in the fog. There was no sense
In window-rubbing: only some white fence
And the reflector poles passed by unmasked.

"Are we quite sure she's acting right?" you asked.
"It's technically a blind date, of course.
Well, shall we try the preview of Remorse?"
And we allowed, in all tranquillity,
The famous film to spread its charmed marquee;
The famous face flowed in, fair and inane:
The parted lips, the swimming eyes, the grain
Of beauty on the cheek, odd gallicism,
And the soft form dissolving in the prism
Of corporate desire.

                                "I think," she said,
"I'll get off here." "It's only Lochanhead."
"Yes, that's okay." Gripping the stang, she peered
At ghostly trees. Bus stopped. Bus disappeared.

Thunder above the Jungle. "No, not that!"
Pat Pink, our guest (antiatomic chat).
Eleven struck. You sighed. "Well, I'm afraid
There's nothing else of interest." You played
Network roulette: the dial turned and tricked.
Commercials were beheaded. Faces flicked.
An open mouth in midsong was struck out.
An imbecile with sideburns was about
To use his gun, but you were much too quick.
A jovial Negro raised his trumpet. Trk.
Your ruby ring made life and laid the law.
Oh, switch it off! And as life snapped we saw
A pinhead light dwindle and die in black

                Out of his lakeside shack
A watchman, Father Time, all gray and bent,
Emerged with his uneasy dog and went
Along the reedy bank. He came too late.

You gently yawned and stacked away your plate.
We heard the wind. We heard it rush and throw
Twigs at the windowpane. Phone ringing? No.

I helped you with the dishes. The tall clock
Kept on demolishing young root, old rock.


"Midnight," you said. What's midnight to the young?
And suddenly a festive blaze was flung
Across five cedar trunks, snowpatches showed,
And a patrol car on our bumpy road
Came to a crunching stop. Retake, retake! (ll. 444-487)


Midnight and a festive blaze bring to mind the unexpected festive midnight tea of the boy's parents in Signs and Symbols.


4 years 5 months ago

Thanks, Alexey. Yes, when you put the two scenes side-by-side, they really do resonate. And great catch noting how "festive" appears just before the end of each scene.



4 years 5 months ago

Thanks to both of you, Alexey and Mathew. I get it: O-zero = O0!  and the parallel of ringing telephone does resonate! This would seem a strong indication that the son does commit suicide in Signs & Symbols.



4 years 5 months ago

It occurs to me that another similarity of these two scenarios is the disconnection of the parents with their child. The telephone is a symbol of connection/disconnection. The boy's parents are ‘good’ people who take life as it comes, enduring but not questioning. They love their son but do not understand him, which, it could be argued, is actually the source of his alienation. Likewise, the Shades care for but do not really understand their alienated daughter.

I know you, Matt, have argued about the Shade's disconnection with Hazel. I believe that is indicated in many between-the-lines places and is also part of my argument that Shade is not all he seems.

Also, about ‘festive’: The ‘festive’ car lights in Hazel’s scene is clearly ironic. Although it seems that the old couple in S&S are really celebrating, joy is so foreign to their existence that it has a poignant sense that is also almost ironic.