terror Essay


An Analytical E ssay about the Paradox, Ambiguity

and Ambivalence in Vladimir Nabokov’s Terror

From the very beginning , the title Terror somehow suggests fear and struggle that

might be elaborated in the story, and as we continue to dive into the text we find out that

this terror is deeply embedded in the main character’s mind and soul , a feeling of terror ,

that is c onveyed through the narrator’s words and w hich the story can not find the exact

words to fully explain .

Instead, the narrator resorts to comparisons such as comparing

himself to an unrecognizable friend or to a man who is having a heart attack or

comparing the thought of death to the screams of people or even his brain to a house.

So, this is all to express his mixed and contradictory emotions from which the story’s

theme and a range of ambiguous, paradoxical as well as ambivalent meanings can be

extracted and studied.

Throughout the story , the narrator or main character continuously reveals his feelings of

terror and how they are induced by his attempts to identify not only his unrecognized

self but also others and everything surrounding him and also by his attempts que stion

the existence and morality from which we can conclude that the main theme of the story

is the theme of terror. This theme is mentioned from the beginning as the narrator states

that he sometimes gets this feeling of terror inside of him, a feeling that comes to him

particularly in the middle of the night , as he becomes disacquainted with himself after

long hours of work, when he would examine his unrecognizable face after accidentally

glancing at his reflection on the mirror on his way to bed , he would become startled at

the sight of himself in the mirror, someone that he does not identify as himself but rather

as a stranger or as an old friend whom he has not seen in years . So, the fact that he

sometimes feels stranger to himself and some other times easily recognizes his identity

and also is aware of the terror he regularly experiences, demonstrates ambivalence for

these both conflicting emotions coexist together in a one man’s mind and soul. Another

example of ambivalence in the story is when he recalls his contradictory feelings after

seeing the woman he loves the most at the station , he remembers the torture of their

separation as well as the happiness and easiness he once has felt with her. Again from

this, it is asserted that it is ambivalent for the person who has made him feel happy has

made him unhappy as well. Also, the same th ing goes for the terror he feels after

analysing her face features while she is darning a pair of stockings but also the easiness

that comes over him as she rises her head and smiles at him which explains how she

makes him terrified but also at ease. Moreover, the fact that a pleasant dream of this

woman laughing becomes so frightening in his waking state is another example that

shows ambivalent meaning . Finally, the last example of ambivalence is that he himself

is ambivalent as he sometimes is in terror and some other times is relaxed and no longer

terrified. Most of these of feelings of terror are usually hard to be described. So, to

explain them more, the main character compares his terror when lying supine at night

thinking about death to the screams of the theater’s audience when the lights go off ,

because the terror he feels is not only induced by the disability to recognize himself or

others but also by the thoughts of death that haunt him at night which might give another

major theme of life and death. In addition, it seems that his explanation of terror through

this comparison is because he as sociates the screams of the audience of which his

beloved woman has been once scared with the thoughts of death for she is dead now.

So, they both scare him and remind him of death. From this, we assume that this

comparison implies ambiguity as the screams in the dark and the thoughts of death both

demonstrate feelings of terror. Another comparison that depicts ambiguity is the

comparison this main character makes to compare himsel f to a man who is having a

heart attack and whose only concern is to breathe, but for the narrator, his only concern

is not to go crazy. It has an ambiguous meaning as both men feelings express a condition

of struggle and helplessness. This concern of not ge tting mad will later subside when

his most beloved woman dies, her death would save him from insanity giving him

human emotions of grief which would stop him from being terrified by other thoughts

but only thinking of he death. But later, as time begins to pass by and memories of her

start to fade away and disappear from his mind , the narrator, again, compares this

disappearance of memories to the way lights go out one by one in the house rooms at

night as if comparing his brain to a house and his memories to the rooms which can be

seen as a form of ambiguity as well. Finally, the last and most obvious ambiguity in the

story is that of the identity of the ‘she’ he always talks about. For instance, we do not

understand who this female character really is when the narrator says ‘I had a girl ’, does

he mean a daughter ? Or probably a girlfriend or wife? Or when he says ‘no wonder

lunatics don’t recognize relatives’, does he again mean that she is a sister? Or perhaps

his mother?. Also, at other times, he refers to her as a mistress or maiden. Moreover, his

saying that ‘I know that many people would not u nderstand our relationship’ hints at the

fact that we, as well, will not be able to understand it and that her identity is ambitious

to everybody. Going back to the main theme, terror, this state of fear in which the

narrator is living, is causing him slee pless nights and he knows that well for when the

night comes he always becomes frightened and wants to control his fear by whistling

and humming but the slightest noise behind him would make him tremble in panic. From

this, it is obvious that the night and darkness are associated with fear and terror, whereas

the day time or morning is simply the time when everything is clear and true which

shows a paradox of clarity and easiness versus vagueness and terror. Yet later, because

of having trouble sleeping at night, the main character’s morning becomes also full of

dread as he tries, in vain, to recognize his surroundings while going for a strol l terrified

by the world and it’s absurdity and hoping to reconstruct its notion as he knows it and

to get things clearer the same way he has done many mornings before. But instead,

everything becomes more absurd and unclear leaving him as just an eye movi ng and

glancing rather than a man. So, it is paradoxical the morning which is a time of easiness

has become a time of terror similar to that of the night or in other words, the morning is

now the night. Furthermore, during his stroll, he detaches himself and his existence from

the world and its elements observing them from an outside angle and perceiving them

as just somethings without meanings, functions and relations to the human life.

Certainly, this gives the idea that he is in the wor ld but out of it for he is one of its

components but still separated from it which depicts the paradox of connectedness and

disconnectedness . Moreover, this idea draws the attention back to when this main

character or narrator endeavours to recognize the r eflection on the mirror as his own

while feeling a s another person. So, this shows that even if he is unable to mentally

recognize himself, he is still himself physically or in other words, being him and not

him at the same time which indicates a paradoxical connotation . Lastly , his continuous

questioning of existence and mortality highlight s paradox of life and death as well.

Coming to the end of the story, the terror he regularly feels, throughout the whole story,

suddenly disappear s when he hears the news about the death of the woman who means

the most to him. As a result, we notice that most of the times he is no longer in panic , is

the times when somebody or something comforts him or shakes him out of his trance.

For instance, it is at the times when he turns over in bed and think of different matters

than death, when the man at the hotel thrusts the telegram into his hands and, as already

mentioned above, the time when he receives the news about the woman’s death. In

addition, after her death he feels at risk of terror and is worried that the next time he gets

into this terror trance , he will not be rescued. This means that he finally admits that she

has been a source of only happiness and safety and not terror which clarifies that this

latter is only produced by his mind and not by an external other.

To sum up, the story conveys its meanings more explicitly through the clever use of

paradox, ambiguity and ambivalence which makes the reader more engaged with the

events and increasingly interested in what the story has yet to offer. These paradoxical,

ambiguous and ambivalent connotations that are represented in different descriptions,

co mparisons and implications, are embodied in the story’s events narrated by the main

character who is experiencing a continuous terror due to his struggle to identify himself,

his surroundings and more particularly the woman, which causes him to be physical ly

and mentally devastated.

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