Pale Fire

by

Vladimir Nabokov

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Pale Fire: Index Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The index is an alphabetized list of topics referenced in the Foreword, poem, and Commentary. Mostly, the index lists Zemblan people, words, and places—but it also has entries for Kinbote, each member of the Shade family, and V. Botkin, the Russian scholar at Wordsmith. Hazel Shade’s entry notes that she “preferred the beauty of death to the ugliness of life.” In the entry for “variants,” Kinbote notes that several of the referenced drafts are “K’s contribution,” and the entry for “waxwing” notes the “Bombycilla shadei.”
This index is (like much of the commentary) a sort of joke—instead of indexing the content and references of the poem “Pale Fire” (which Kinbote is supposed to be interpreting), this index is eclectic and self-centered, almost entirely concerned with Kinbote’s own stories about Zembla. In other words, he has completely abandoned his duties as a scholar, focusing instead on himself (not a surprise, of course, considering the Commentary). Nabokov has hidden a few really important things in this index, the most important of which is a major clue to Kinbote’s identity. The only non-Zemblan people with index entries are the Shade family and Professor V. Botkin—the fact that Botkin (barely mentioned in the Commentary) rates an entry at all suggests what a careful reader might already have suspected, that the book’s narrator is not the exiled King of Zembla who is disguised as Kinbote. In fact, the narrator is the insane professor Botkin, a Russian immigrant to America; both Kinbote and Charles the Beloved are Botkin’s delusions. Another important revelation in the index is Kinbote’s explicit confession that some of the draft variants that he quoted and attributed to Shade in the Commentary are actually Kinbote’s own writing—presumably he wrote the references to Zembla that he wished he’d found in the poem, conveniently giving himself an excuse to digress in the Commentary about his Zemblan delusions. Kinbote’s praise of Hazel Shade’s suicide hints at his own fate. Finally, the reminder that Shade’s father had a type of waxwing named after him (the Bombycilla shadei) draws the reader’s attention to the first line of “Pale Fire,” showing that Shade was not merely referencing a dead bird, but also his dead father. The index contains many other jokes and pieces of trivia, including a suggestion that the crown jewels are hidden at an old Zemblan resort called Kobaltana.
Themes
Identity, Delusion, and Loneliness Theme Icon
Death, Mystery, and the Afterlife Theme Icon
The Nature of Art Theme Icon
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