Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Nabokov’s basic theme in everything that he writes is human imprisonment in space and time where there is infinite foretime before birth and infinite aftertime, one would assume, after death. Krug cannot make up his mind with regard to death. Intelligence will not “accept the transformation of physical discontinuity into the permanent continuity of a nonphysical element . . . nor can it accept the inanity of accumulating treasures of thought” and sensation to lose them all at once in black “nausea followed by infinite nothingness.”

John Shade, the poet in Nabokov’s novel Pale Fire (1962), makes precisely the same point:

And I’ll turn down eternity unlessThe melancholy and the tendernessOf mortal life; the passion and the pain;Are formed in Heaven by the newly dead.

The only redemption from the horror of mortal existence is the metaphoric, thematic, and structural harmony of art. Art is a repository of the joy of existence expressed by Nabokov in his loving presentation of minute detail, his passionate concern for pattern, and his delight in style. Thus, at the end of Bend Sinister, the author/narrator removes Krug from the action, commenting that his death is “but a question of style.”