Pale Fire

by

Vladimir Nabokov

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Jakob Gradus Character Analysis

According to Kinbote, Jakob Gradus is one of the extremists who takes over Zembla and overthrows King Charles, after which he tries to hunt down the exiled King and kill him. In Kinbote’s account, Gradus is incompetent to a humiliating degree; he’s stupid, fanatical, uncoordinated, and utterly inept at his one job, assassination. Nonetheless, Kinbote narrates at length Gradus’s long journey from Zembla to New Wye, synchronizing the story of Gradus’s travels with John Shade’s progress on “Pale Fire.” While Kinbote is utterly convinced that Gradus killed John Shade while attempting to kill Kinbote himself, Nabokov suggests that this is utterly delusional. In fact, there is no such person as Gradus (Zembla itself is a delusion of Kinbote’s); Shade’s murderer is a man named Jack Grey whom Judge Goldsworth (Kinbote’s landlord) once sentenced to an asylum. Grey escapes from the asylum and hitches a ride to New Wye where he intends to kill Goldsworth. Since Shade looks a bit like Judge Goldsworth, Grey mistakes him for the judge and kills him. Kinbote claims that he interviewed Gradus in prison where Gradus recanted the story about being Jack Grey, but his story doesn’t add up. Grey ultimately kills himself in prison.

Jakob Gradus Quotes in Pale Fire

The Pale Fire quotes below are all either spoken by Jakob Gradus or refer to Jakob Gradus. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Identity, Delusion, and Loneliness Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of Pale Fire published in 1962.
Commentary: Lines 1-48 Quotes

We shall accompany Gradus in constant thought, as he makes his way from distant dim Zembla to green Appalachia, through the entire length of the poem, following the road of its rhythm, riding past in a rhyme, skidding around the corner of a run-on, breathing with the caesura, swinging down to the foot of the page from line to line as from branch to branch, hiding between two words (see note to line 596), reappearing on the horizon of a new canto, steadily marching nearer in iambic motion, crossing streets, moving up with his valise on the escalator of the pentameter, stepping off, boarding a new train of thought, entering the hall of a hotel, putting out the bedlight, while Shade blots out a word, and falling asleep as the poet lays down his pen for the night.

Related Characters: Narrator/Charles Kinbote (speaker), Jakob Gradus, John Shade
Page Number: 78
Explanation and Analysis:
Commentary: Lines 49-98 Quotes

At times I thought that only by self-destruction could I hope to cheat the relentlessly advancing assassins who were in me, in my eardrums, in my pulse, in my skull, […].

Related Characters: Narrator/Charles Kinbote (speaker), Jakob Gradus
Page Number: 97
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Pale Fire LitChart as a printable PDF.
Pale Fire PDF

Jakob Gradus Character Timeline in Pale Fire

The timeline below shows where the character Jakob Gradus appears in Pale Fire. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Foreword
Identity, Delusion, and Loneliness Theme Icon
The Nature of Art Theme Icon
...death revealed some secrets that forced the narrator to leave New Wye just after interviewing Shade’s killer in jail. He wrote the Commentary to the poem disguised in “quieter surroundings” and then... (full context)
Commentary: Lines 1-48
Death, Mystery, and the Afterlife Theme Icon
Patterns, Fate, and Coincidence Theme Icon
...desire to synchronize the start of the poem with the departure of the “would-be regicide” Gradus, but actually Gradus left Zembla five days later. (full context)
Death, Mystery, and the Afterlife Theme Icon
Patterns, Fate, and Coincidence Theme Icon
The Nature of Art Theme Icon
...that he would meet for a “fatal moment” three weeks after writing these lines. Jakob Gradus also goes by Jack Degree, Jacques de Grey, and various other aliases. Gradus, who loved... (full context)
Identity, Delusion, and Loneliness Theme Icon
...pictures of people whom Goldsworth had sent to prison, including a homicidal maniac who resembles Jacques d’Argus . Goldsworth also left annoyingly detailed instructions on how to care for the house, which... (full context)
Commentary: Lines 101-143
Death, Mystery, and the Afterlife Theme Icon
The Nature of Art Theme Icon
...to check this, but the division seems off. On the day Shade wrote this line, Gradus was about to leave Zembla. (full context)
Death, Mystery, and the Afterlife Theme Icon
Patterns, Fate, and Coincidence Theme Icon
The Nature of Art Theme Icon
...lines repeat the music of the opening, leaning into assonance. They also evoke “doom,” as Gradus was—in the moment of their composition—coming closer and closer, closing the “feigned remoteness” between him... (full context)
Commentary: Lines 149-214
Death, Mystery, and the Afterlife Theme Icon
Patterns, Fate, and Coincidence Theme Icon
The Nature of Art Theme Icon
...than strategy, the extremist government—and a political group called the Shadows—began plotting Charles’s death. During Gradus’s time with various leftist organizations, he had come close to killing people but had never... (full context)
Identity, Delusion, and Loneliness Theme Icon
Loss and Longing Theme Icon
...work after his guests left. Kinbote watched him from the window. On that same day, Gradus departed Zembla for Copenhagen, and Kinbote was having a bad time. He’d taken an interest... (full context)
The Nature of Art Theme Icon
Line 209: gradual decay. Gradus is moving westward from Copenhagen to Paris. After having “sped through this verse,” he is... (full context)
Commentary: Lines 230-348
Identity, Delusion, and Loneliness Theme Icon
...A jet’s pink trail above the sunset fire. On the day Shade wrote this line, Gradus flew to Paris, where he was to try to learn King Charles’s location from the... (full context)
Identity, Delusion, and Loneliness Theme Icon
To confirm that Gradus was a fellow Royalist, Bretwit asked for the secret hand signal: the sign for “X.”... (full context)
Commentary: Lines 367-434
Identity, Delusion, and Loneliness Theme Icon
Line 408: A male hand. Perhaps at the very moment that Shade wrote this line, Gradus was driving to the villa of Joseph Lavender, an art enthusiast who was possibly harboring... (full context)
Identity, Delusion, and Loneliness Theme Icon
Loss and Longing Theme Icon
When Gradus first arrived at the extravagant villa, he didn’t find anyone. Then, a mysterious footman introduced... (full context)
Commentary: Lines 469-629
Identity, Delusion, and Loneliness Theme Icon
Line 469: his gun. As he drove to Geneva, Gradus wondered when he would get to use his gun. Back at his hotel, he called... (full context)
Identity, Delusion, and Loneliness Theme Icon
Patterns, Fate, and Coincidence Theme Icon
...these lines appears the phrase “Tanagra dust,” which can be combined to make the word “gradus”—Shade’s murderer. While an average reader might chalk this up to coincidence, Kinbote can hardly find... (full context)
Identity, Delusion, and Loneliness Theme Icon
On the day when Shade composed those lines, Gradus wasn’t doing much—just waiting in his hotel in Geneva. Without a hearty mind to entertain... (full context)
Commentary: Lines 662-872
Identity, Delusion, and Loneliness Theme Icon
Line 697: Conclusive destination. Gradus arrived in the Côte d’Azur on July 15th. His hotel was somewhat squalid, but he... (full context)
Identity, Delusion, and Loneliness Theme Icon
Back at the hotel, Gradus had a telegram from headquarters telling him to pause his work and have fun for... (full context)
Identity, Delusion, and Loneliness Theme Icon
Patterns, Fate, and Coincidence Theme Icon
Line 741: the outer glare. While Shade worked on July 16th, Gradus was bored, sitting in his hotel lobby in Nice. He flipped through the paper and... (full context)
Commentary: Lines 873-1000
The Nature of Art Theme Icon
Line 873: My best time. When Shade began this line, Gradus was boarding an airplane and then flying, “desecrating the sky.” (full context)
Identity, Delusion, and Loneliness Theme Icon
Patterns, Fate, and Coincidence Theme Icon
...all the time. Shade began these lines on his final day alive. It’s possible that Gradus woke at the exact same time. (full context)
Patterns, Fate, and Coincidence Theme Icon
The Nature of Art Theme Icon
Line 949: and all the time. Gradus arrived in America to a thunderstorm unlike anything that Gradus, Jacques d’Argus, or Jack Grey... (full context)
Identity, Delusion, and Loneliness Theme Icon
Death, Mystery, and the Afterlife Theme Icon
Gradus then flew to New Wye (the trains would be too slow), and as he came... (full context)
Identity, Delusion, and Loneliness Theme Icon
Loss and Longing Theme Icon
On the flight, Gradus’s stomach was quite unsettled, and in a taxi to the Wordsmith campus he was so... (full context)
Identity, Delusion, and Loneliness Theme Icon
After getting lost again, Gradus went to the bathroom and then returned to the library desk, where the woman told... (full context)
Identity, Delusion, and Loneliness Theme Icon
Death, Mystery, and the Afterlife Theme Icon
Patterns, Fate, and Coincidence Theme Icon
...and right before Shade died, the gardener had a premonition that made him walk towards Gradus on the porch. (full context)
Identity, Delusion, and Loneliness Theme Icon
Death, Mystery, and the Afterlife Theme Icon
...towards the porch. Two bullets flew past Kinbote, but it’s “evil piffle” to say that Gradus was aiming at Shade rather than Kinbote. No, he was aiming at Kinbote and missing—one... (full context)
Identity, Delusion, and Loneliness Theme Icon
Death, Mystery, and the Afterlife Theme Icon
Patterns, Fate, and Coincidence Theme Icon
The poem was fine, but Shade was laying on the ground bleeding. Dazed, Gradus sat on the porch holding his bloody head. Kinbote ran inside and hid the poem... (full context)
Identity, Delusion, and Loneliness Theme Icon
The Nature of Art Theme Icon
...drafts, and the woman at the library desk will have been instructed not to remember Gradus asking for Kinbote’s address. (full context)
Identity, Delusion, and Loneliness Theme Icon
Death, Mystery, and the Afterlife Theme Icon
Patterns, Fate, and Coincidence Theme Icon
...to the cabin where he is currently writing, but before leaving town, he did interview Gradus (perhaps even twice) in prison. Kinbote claimed that he could testify at trial to help... (full context)
Identity, Delusion, and Loneliness Theme Icon
Death, Mystery, and the Afterlife Theme Icon
The Nature of Art Theme Icon
...No matter what happens, though, someone will be coming for him—a more effective version of Gradus. (full context)