29 pages 58 minutes read

Vladimir Nabokov

Signs and Symbols

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1948

A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more.


Authorial Context: Russian Expatriates

Content Warning: This section of the guide contains outdated references to psychiatric conditions, including the concept of “madness.” This section of the guide also discusses the Holocaust.

Like the family at the center of “Signs and Symbols,” Vladimir Nabokov was an immigrant from Russia to America. When the mother reviews the old photographs of her son during his upbringing, Nabokov’s life is closely reflected. Like the family, Nabokov lived through the Russian Revolution of 1917, which forced his family to flee their homeland for western Europe. Also like the family, Nabokov’s family then lived in Germany, before being forced to flee once again, this time due to the rise of the Nazi regime. The mother’s reminiscences about Aunt Rosa, who died in the Holocaust, echo the fate of one of Nabokov’s brothers, who died after remaining behind when most of the family emigrated from Europe to America in 1940.

The shared history between Nabokov and his characters grants him insight into the feelings of isolation, alienation, and emptiness that his writing often ascribes to immigrants like himself. The mother, for example, stoically faces the tragedies of her past and present, accepting that life means the “loss of one joy after another” (Paragraph 11).