Narrating the unspeakable. Person marking and focalization in Nabokov’s short story 'Signs and Symbols'
SourceJournal of Literary Semantics, 43, 2, (2014), pp. 87-108
Article / Letter to editor
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Algemene Cultuurwetenschappen (ACW)
Journal of Literary Semantics
SubjectEurope and its Worlds after 1800; European Literary History
This article investigates the interaction of person marking and focalization in the short story ‘Signs and Symbols’ (first published 1948, The New Yorker) by Russian-American author Vladimir Nabokov. This story has been studied extensively for its symbolism, its metafictional aspect, and its narrative structure. However, researchers have consequently ignored its most striking linguistic features: the almost exclusive use of pronouns in referring to the main characters and their characterization solely through lexical expressions focusing on outward appearances. This article offers a cognitive-stylistic analysis of these linguistic features in order to explain why many readers of ‘Signs and Symbols’ report a feeling of uncanniness while reading. Drawing on insights both from empirical linguistics and literary studies, the article aims to explain the role of pronominal expressions and deictic descriptions in reader's theme-construction and affective response to the text.
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