Response - Signs And Symbols

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Short story: Signs and Symbols Author: Vladimir Nabokov The short story ‘Signs and Symbols’ is a tragic story of an elderly Russian couple having a deranged son in a sanatorium. The entire story revolves around the theme of tragedy. Despite the simple story plot, much of the little family’s background is revealed to the reader. The story begins with the couple, “they”, thinking of what they should get for their son on his birthday. This is apparently a problem to them, for the boy had no desires, given his incurable mental illness, “Mad-made objects…could be found in his abstract world.” The couple finally picked a basket with jellies for their son. This makes the reader deeply sympathise the boy’s plight, for a “young man” like him would usually have no interests in jellies which are a suitable present for children. It reflects what his sickness has reduced him to – a teen with intelligence of a child. The boy repeatedly contemplates suicide, and has had yet another failed attempt to do so, and the couple is unable to see him, for fear that “a visit might disturb him”. The couple is revealed to be at a rather old age, “At the time of his birth…now they were quite old.” Their son’s illness has put a huge financial burden on the little family – the father used to be a successful businessman, but is now “wholly dependent on his brother Isaac”. The mother’s dressing is a symbol of their financial difficulties – she wore “cheap black dresses”. Poverty is another aspect of their background that encourages readers to pity the family. The entire story is based on symbols. The writer uses metaphors to create a sense of hopelessness in escaping from the hardship the family was in. For example, the boy had a strong desire to “tear a hole in his world and escape”, and he did this by attempting suicide. Moreover, when the couple walked home on a rainy day, “under a

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