Analysis

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

While many cite the famous Lolita as the work that made Nabokov famous in the United States, it was actually Pnin, which was published a year earlier. This is very fitting, as the work concerns a Russian man struggling to make his way in the western world.

The episodic nature of the novel suggests that much of Pnin's experience was reflective of Nobokov's own when teaching at Cornell and other institutions. According to his peers and students, Nobokov was capable of making blunders similar to Pnin, such as lecturing in the wrong classroom.

It is interesting to contrast Pnin with Humbert Humbert, Nabokov's most famous protagonist from Lolita who was being written simultaneously. The two are opposites in every sense. While Humbert's inviting nature hides a deviant, rough-around-the-edges Pnin has a heart of gold. It is perhaps true that one of these novels was born as an exercise to balance out the emotional upheaval from the other.

Pnin contrasts almost sitcom-like humor with a deep and poignant tragedy. Despite one's view of the title character, there can never be a moment where the reader does not see some sort of beauty in the mundane, particularly where his relationship with Victor is concerned.

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