Graeme Arkell’s note entitled “Mislaid or Misdial: Misplacement of the Jelly Jars in Nabokov’s ‘Signs And Symbols’” attempts to approach – once again – the irresolvable ending of Nabokov’s most enigmatic short story. According to Arkell, the parents’ inoffensive birthday gift of jelly jars for their institutionalized son take on an ominous meaning in Nabokov’s short story, “Signs and Symbols” when the “mislaid” jars are linked by anagram to the “misdial” of telephone calls. Through a misunderstanding, the parcel is first mislaid by the mother who sends her husband back to their apartment alone with the gift instead of keys to enter their apartment. After waiting outside for his wife to arrive, the jellies are misplaced yet again when they are laid upon a table inside the parents’ apartment where the father proceeds to misuse them as though they are his own gifts. A correlation between these instances of the jars being mislaid and telephone misdials made by a girl to the parents’ residence becomes apparent. Both errors occur twice and, like the wrongly dialed telephone calls, a jelly jar label is also incorrect. Through these similarities, the mislaid jars foreshadow the two misdials and serve as a portent that the third call will be correctly dialed by a doctor informing them of their son’s suicide.
Mislaid or Misdial: Misplacement of the Jelly Jars in Nabokov’s “Signs and Symbols”
Periodical or collection
Nabokov Online Journal