Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Only Vladimir Nabokov could have written “That in Aleppo Once,” an unusually complex short story with several levels of meaning. Chief among these are geometric patterns, word games, human relationships, and allusions to other authors. From its title through its end, “That in Aleppo Once” mimics the pattern of William Shakespeare’s Othello (1604), and Nabokov’s story follows a similar theme of love, perceived betrayal, and the progressive decline of the hero until he is consumed, like Othello, by despair and delusion.

When he is late for a train, he loses his wife for a week. When his wife shows up, she tells him that she has slept with three refugee women. Later, she changes her story to having slept with a hair-lotion salesperson. Shortly afterward, she tells other people that an aristocrat was courting her, and that the narrator had threatened to shoot her and himself if she left him. On another level, the narrator marries (gains) her, loses her on the train, gets her back, loses her again when she leaves, almost gets her back through the friend on the boat who saw her in Marseilles, and loses her definitively when he sails without her.

In his quest for a visa, the narrator talks about the hopeless spiral: “We were trying to get . . . certain papers which in their turn would make it lawful to apply for a third kind which would serve as a steppingstone towards a permit enabling the holder to apply for yet other...

(The entire section is 546 words.)