Accuracy of Life Through Symbolism

Critical Interpretation of a Digital Story

In the digital story “Signs and Symbols,” by Vladimir Nabokov, a Russian couple are on their way to the nearby sanitarium to wish their mentally ill son a happy birthday.  The opening paragraph helps explain the most significant theme of the story which is suffering.

In the beginning on the story it states that the couple have moved to New York to seek refuge since Germany has come under attack from Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. The family is fully dependent on the husband’s brother Isaac who they have nicknamed the Prince. The boy suffers from a mental illness called “referential mania” which allows him to believe everything happening around him is tied to his existence.  The mother of this child goes through emotional suffering as she “remember[s] the shame, the pity…and the ugly, vicious, backward children he was with in the special school…” Aunt Rosa had her fair share of trouble in life as well since she had to deal with bankruptcies, train accidents and cancer until the Germans killed her.

The symbol of the bird is of paramount significance in this story due to the time and place when it is mentioned. As the couple exit the sanitarium and wait for the bus to arrive the couple see a helpless bird twitching in the puddle. A reader is left to imagine the couple think their son is going through the same suffering especially since the husband is later moaning and wants the boy to come home. Another thought left to the reader’s imagination is that of the third call which might make one believe the boy has succeeded in committing suicide.

This story is converted into a fiction podcast and is read by Mary Gaitskilli. This digital format explores the theme of suffering by the emotions expressed and the various voices projected by Mary. Mary also accentuates the hardships the characters face and lets the listener sympathize with them.

Mary Gaitskill reads Vladimir Nabokov from Conde Nast Publications. Retrieved February 19, 2017, from

Naturespeak. (n.d.). Retrieved February 19, 2017, from