Style and Technique

The story’s most obvious message, a condemnation of collectivist tyranny, is subtly convincing because the author distances himself from the brutality rather than blatantly condemning it. He describes it in matter-of-fact tones and even tempers it with humor. One cannot help laughing when Vasili loses the nonsensical game on the train and is forced to eat a cigarette butt as punishment. The genuine horror of his situation is epitomized by the black humor in the description of how he is beaten: “The post-office clerk, who had been to Russia, fashioned a knout out of a stick and a belt, and began to use it with devilish dexterity. Atta boy! . . . All had a wonderful time.” Here the irony is obvious. When used in descriptions of brutal events, humor intensifies the shock effect on the reader and makes the horror even more palpable.

Descriptions of nature also play an important stylistic role throughout the story, contrasting the beauty of human beings’ surroundings with the beastliness of their lives. In this tale about human inhumanity, it is significant that only the beautiful nature Vasili loves seems to have any sympathy for him in his plight.

The overriding theme of most of Nabokov’s works is the artistic process itself, and “Cloud, Castle, Lake” is no exception. The narrator of the story is a central character, and the most interesting stylistic features involve the way he insinuates himself into the action as he tells it. The reader is shocked (or should be) from the...

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