A Case of Affliction

Critical Interpretation of a Digital Story

In ‘Mary Gaitskill reads Vladimir Nabokov’s “Signs and Symbols,”’ Gaitskill tells the story of a Russian couple who are visiting their mentally ill son who has been receiving treatment within a nearby sanitarium. Nabokov creates a central theme of suffering throughout the story.

To start off, the couple are Russian Jews who were forced to flee Germany during the rise of Adolf Hitler and seek refuge in another country. The parents are now forced to live on the earnings of the husband’s brother, who is known to be “The Prince.” Aunt Rosa was eventually killed by the Germans after facing many difficulties throughout her life such as bankruptcies, train accidents, and even cancerous growths. The most obvious, the boy who suffers from an illness known as “referential mania,” is also another example of hardship that is faced by the characters through the story.

Symbols in the story such as the helpless bird who is about to face death represent the characters of the story (i.e. the boy and Aunt Rosa) as they are also experiencing adversity and distress within their lives.

Having listened to the story “Signs and Symbols” through the medium of a podcast, Gaitskill evokes the reader’s feelings and understand the emotions of the characters.  With special appeal for auditory learners, it helps emphasize the difficulties that the characters were going through at the time. The emotion helps us to truly realize the amount of distress that there is in the lives of the characters and in the story as a whole.


“Mary Gaitskill reads Vladimir Nabokov.” The New Yorker Fiction Podcast from Condé Nast Publications, 21 April 2015, http://www.newyorker.com/podcast/fiction/mary-gaitskill-reads-vl adimir-nabokov

Miller, Benjamin. Bird Water. N.d. Free Stock Photos. Web. 18 Feb. 2017. <http://www.freestockphotos.biz/stockphoto/766&gt;.