Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

As in two of Vladimir Nabokov’s novels, Priglashenie na kazn’ (1935-1936 serial, 1938; Invitation to a Beheading, 1959) and Bend Sinister (1947), the main theme here is collectivist tyranny. The story illustrates how an imaginative, sensitive individual is forced to conform to the vulgar Philistinism of the unimaginative collective. Although the word “Nazi” is never mentioned, the story is obviously a condemnation of the Nazi regime under which Nabokov himself lived for a time in Berlin. It also is an implicit condemnation of collectivist oppression in the Soviet Union and of a widespread human inclination to stifle creative eccentricity.

“Cloud, Castle, Lake” may also be an allegory of life, which is a sometimes unpleasant “pleasure trip” through time toward inevitable death. Before his departure, Vasili has a dim vision of some perfect, timeless world full of happiness. That world seems attainable when he comes on “the lake with its cloud and its castle, in a motionless and perfect correlation of happiness.” Here, so he senses, he can stop time, abandon the “pleasure trip” of life, and enter into the realm of motionless serenity. As he is soon horrified to discover, however, one is not allowed to abandon the journey. Furthermore, nothing really is motionless; even beautiful nature is constantly changing. The ideal of static serenity, for which Vasili yearns, does not exist on earth.


(The entire section is 541 words.)