Pale Fire: Theme Analysis
Kinbote claims to dislike poetry that tries to synchronize two sets of events and demonstrate how they are happening at the same time. He is annoyed by Shade's use of this device when he parallels Hazel's activities the night she died with her parents' activities. "The whole thing strikes me as too labored and long, especially since the synchronization device has been already worked to death by Flaubert and Joyce," he writes (note to 403-404). In other words, it is a clichd and outdated effect, he claims.
However, Kinbote himself engages in synchronization. Throughout the poem, he tries to synchronize Gradus's actions with Shade's writing, even in the note immediately following his censure of Shade for the same activity. "On July 10," he writes, "the day John Shade wrote this, and perhaps at the very minute he started using his thirty-third index card for lines 406-416, Gradus was driving in a hired car from Geneva to Lex" (note to 408). If Gradus actually exists, there is no reason to assume that Shade's actions correspond so specifically with Gradus's actions, yet he tries to connect them, anyhow. He has less justification for his attempts to synchronize events than does the poet, but he does so anyhow.
Clearly, Kinbote does this to assert his authority as a writer. He writes: "I have staggered the notes referring to [Gradus] in such a fashion that the first. is the vaguest while those that follow become gradually clearer as gradual Gradus approaches in space and time" (note to 171). Since he has probably invented Gradus's entire journey, this device allows him to assert his artistry in fabricating a perfect parallel. Unfortunately, at times his fabricated correspondence falls apart, and he admits that Gradus might not be moving in perfect concordance with Shade's writing.
Throughout the notes, Kinbote contrasts delicious descriptions of homosexuality with gross descriptions of heterosexuality. For example, his first affair created a "tingle of misbehavior, and the foreglow of another such night" (note to 130), yet the advances of a young woman "flooded her embarrassed companion with all the acridity of ungroomed womanhood" (note to 149). Often, young boys and his relations with them are described as so lovely while the sexuality of the women he encounters is disgusting to him.
His dislike of female sexuality may explain his antipathy towards Sybil, who as a wife is a symbol of the domestic side of heterosexuality. Heterosexuality leads to marriage, such as his with Disa, but homosexuality can be brief encounters and fantasies. However, Kinbote finds that the actuality of his encounters is not as lovely as he would like to imagine. He faces rejection by his roomer and his ping-pong partners.
Shade, however, describes heterosexuality as beautiful. His first love for Sybil came when he sat behind "your slender back and watched your neat small head/Bend to one side" (255-6), and his adoration of her comes from their shared life and from her beauty. Kinbote's descriptions of brief homosexual fantasies are tantalizing, but Shade has found fulfillment in his relationship with Sybil. The two men live in a society that forces homosexuals to resort to brief flings and denies them satisfying relationships like the one between the Shades.
Shade rejects religion, asserting that he has no concrete proof of its existence. "I cannot disobey," he told Kinbote, "something which I do not know and the reality of which I have the right to deny." Kinbote, however, is distraught by this concept because "with no Providence the soul must rely on the dust of its husk" (note to 549). The two men disagree on whether there is more to life than the corporeal, whether the body is all there is.
Although Kinbote exists largely in his own head, he is attempting to bring the world of fantasy and the world of reality together. The text questions where the real stops and the intangible begins. Thus, it is fitting that Nabokov makes repeated reference to physical bodies and their role in human existence. Not only does Kinbote turn his fantasies into physical descriptions of people, such as the young men he claims to have had affairs with, but physical existence has a very large impact on the psyche of the characters. Kinbote's rejection by boys and the accusation that he has halitosis, for example, hurt him emotionally. Hazel Shade's physical appearance leads to her emotional instability. And Shade's love for his wife begins with the physical while Kinbote's relationship with his wife ends due to the physical.