Blinded by his mad, relentless passion and obsession, he lies still; bleeding to death in a backfired attempt at trying to fix the situation that he had created for himself. In Laughter In the Dark, Vladimir Nabokov illustrates this final scene in which he epitomizes the state of ruin in which his tragic hero, Albinus, has put himself. Nabokov characterizes Albinus through the man's own moral descent. By the dramatic closing of the novel, Nabokov has made it clear that man's obsession with passion will only lead to his unavoidable doom.
Nabokov's use of color creates a surreal image of a black and white film, which accentuates the dramatic result of the character's actions, and those actions, audacious, can only be expected from an onscreen drama. The frequent use of metaphors, coupled with symbolism, enforces Nabokov's theme as well. The dramatic irony used throughout the novel, Albinus's oblivion of his downfall being equally clear to the reader, is not only a judgment of Albinus but a warning from Nabokov to the reader, which implements his theme. A subtle symbol is briefly mentioned midway through the book, one that reappears only once more at the closing of the novel, and of Albinus's life. On a trip to the beach with Albinus, Margot notices, "'Heavens... how blue the sea is today.' " (Nabokov, 113).
This phrase could be misconstrued as arbitrary; a mere characterization of Margot's facade of innocence. Further down the page, however, Nabokov affirms this description, "It really was blue... diamond blue where the wave caught the light. The foam toppled over, ran, slowed down, then receded, leaving a smooth mirror on the wet sand, which the next wave flooded again." Nabokov spends a great deal of detail describing the shape and motion of the sea, and in this one instance uses more thorough coloration than ever before in the novel.
The scene is serene, peaceful and especially spectacular for Albinus who is not used to being surrounded by beauty. This serenity is then shattered by a thud. "A... ball was flung from somewhere and bounced on the sand with a ringing thud. Margot grabbed it, jumped up and swung it back." (113).
The 'thud's seems especially loud and poignant superimposed upon this peaceful description. The ball could have been Albinus's 'wake-up call,' a warning to look up and realize what he was doing to himself by having an obsessive affair. However, Margot "grabbed it [the ball], jumped up and swung it back," shattering any chance of Albinus realizing Margot's detriment to him. The symbol of the ocean seems to connect well with this explanation- the wave rose up, as Albinus's awareness almost did when the thud of the ball sounded; then the wave crashed, as Albinus's chances of saving himself did when Margot threw the ball away. The foam receded, leaving a smooth mirror. A mirror is something in which one sees a true reflection, which can lead to an epiphany in some cases; however, the mirror in which Albinus could have seen the reflection of his actions, and the results of them, was quickly covered up by the foam from the next wave.
At the end of the book, among Albinus's dying words were, "'I must... walk very slowly towards the blue, blue wave. What bliss there is in blueness, I never knew how blue blueness could be. What a mess life has been.' " (291). Nabokov uses blue with such repetition and emphasis in these two instances that it seems almost metaphorical. The blue could represent the vast ocean, which represents the vastness of life that Albinus never indulged in because of his sole focus on shallow passion.
In Albinus's last moments, he finally sees the ocean and his reflection in the mirror left by the retracting foam, and realizes, in reflecting, that his actions led him to his death. The symbol of the mirror is not an isolated incident, but appears earlier in the book as well. With the reoccurring symbol of mirrors, Nabokov is implying that obsession can be blinding, preventing people from reflecting upon the path of destruction they are leading themselves down. "In a passing mirror he saw a pale grave gentleman walking beside a schoolgirl in her Sunday dress.
Cautiously, he stroked her smooth arm and the glass grew dim." (60). Symbolizing Albinus's affair with a painting of what is supposed to represent Margot and him has double meaning when combined with the mirror. In this case, Albinus saw clearly a distant reflection or hint that this perverse obsession would lead to his growing paler, rather than the more vivid self he had imagined. Instead of taking this hint, he embraced Margot and the .".. glass grew dim," preventing Albinus from truly reflecting upon what he was doing. This is one of many instances in which Albinus failed to the take the opportunity to think about where his life was going under the circumstance of his obsessive nature.
For example, Albinus makes the same folly earlier in the book when he first goes to the "Argus" theatre to see a film: "He had come in at the end of a film: a girl was receding among tumbled furniture before a masked man with a gun. There was no interest whatever in watching happenings which he could not understand since he had not yet seen their beginning." This is quite a coincidence in that the way in which Albinus is murdered takes place in almost the exact same scene, however, Albinus takes this occurrence for granted. Nabokov uses colors to develop Albinus's plight- that while he sometimes feels that Margot is bad for him, her sexual lure is irresistible to him and pulls him deeper and deeper into an inescapable hole of obsession. Albinus seeks out the 'color' that Margot offers him and eventually is blinded by his own passion for her so that he can literally see no more. Nabokov's diction, in using color; mostly descriptions of dark, light, black and white, gives a surreal image like that of a black and white movie, exaggerating Albinus's melodramatic obsession and the dramatic behavior of those surrounding him: "As she sat between these two men who were sharing her life, she felt as though she were the chief actress in a mysterious and passionate film-drama... ." (147).
The colors play an important role in characterizing Albinus, who in his own right plays a significant role in the theme. From the first chapter, Albinus presents himself as a man in search of beauty, but Nabokov clarifies for the reader that this search has been and is fruitless. Albinus's weak visions of animating paintings, his failed relationships, and his dull marriage all represent his bland life. Nabokov begins to express Albinus's colorless life with descriptions that lack color and light. He "was tortured by two dark thoughts, each of a different kind of darkness: one was that his wife might die, and the other that if only he had a little more pluck he might find a friendly girl and bring her back to his empty bedroom." (17). With this foreshadowing, Albinus's plunge into obsession begins.
A seemingly innocent trip to the cinema triggers the fixation that brings Albinus to his fate, so it is fitting that Nabokov limits his description to black and white to create the image of a movie in progress from the moment Albinus first steps foot in the theatre. "Hardly had he entered the velvety darkness when the oval beam... Glided toward him... Just as the light fell on the ticket in his hand, Albinus saw the girl's inclined face and then, as he walked behind her, he dimly distinguished her very slight figure... and saw the limpid gleam of her eye as it chanced to catch the light." (20). Contrary to the descriptions of Albinus and his surroundings as dark, the descriptions of this new mystery girl are hinting that she may be his antithesis.
However, with words and phrases like "chanced to catch the light" and "limpid gleam," Nabokov is only making Margot, the name of this young female usher, seem favorable in light of Albinus, who Nabokov views as weak and doomed. The descriptions of a dim light, one that isn't quite bright, is insulting Margot by complimenting her very slightly. That Nabokov looks down on Margot makes his view of Albinus even more dismal, because he is implying that Albinus is obsessed with something as dark and as doomed as himself. In several instances Nabokov either depicts Margot with color, or describes her in color through Albinus's eyes. For example Nabokov dresses Margot in her short red dress, and states that through Albinus's eyes, "She seemed to him an exquisitely colored vignette... ." (114).
These descriptions of vivid color are an acknowledgment on Nabokov's part that there is indeed an element of passion, indicated by color, particularly red, but that, indicated by Nabokov's later descriptions, that the passion is unwarranted as well as unhealthy for Albinus. Nabokov on the next page describes Margot as, .".. snake-like... ." shedding her "black skin... ." and eating a "sibilant peach; and stripes of sunshine crossed and recrossed her body." (115). The images here seem to conflict- that a dark creature is highlighted by light and color, while eating a peach, a fruit symbolic of innocence.
However, the peach is sibilant and Margot is snake-like, emphasizing that the peach she is eating and the light shining on her are illusions only masking the catastrophe that is slowly slithering into Albinus's life. Nabokov touches on here what is an important concept throughout the novel. Albinus is allowed a glimpse at the danger surrounding him and his behavior but not allowed to realize their implications. In the example of the mirror, the ocean, and the use of color, the reader is provided with a glimpse of what is to come for Albinus, although he is oblivious to the consequences his actions might hold. It is appropriate that Nabokov uses dramatic irony because it supports the idea that the devastation that obsession may cause is unstoppable, because the obsessed is blind to the damage that it will cause and is helpless to stop obsessing.
"'I'm going mad and nobody knows it. And I can't stop, it's hopeless trying, and tomorrow I'll go there again and sit like a fool in that darkness... Incredible.' " (13). Albinus ignores the interrupting thud of the beach ball, turns away from his own reflection in the mirror, and delves deeper and deeper into darkness hoping to eventually reach light. The irony created by Nabokov is that there was never any light for Albinus. Obsession leaves no room for self-assessment or reflection.
The danger in passion and obsession is that although warning signs may be presented in vivid color, from the eye of the obsessed, they remain hidden in darkness; this is the reason, according to Nabokov in Laughter in the Dark, that obsession is so destructive. He creates an overriding image of a black and white movie in progress, as if Albinus were watching his own actions happen, helpless to interfere with a plot that had already unfolded. He places mirrors in front of Albinus so that he can clearly see himself, yet Albinus ignores his fading reflection. By the end of the story, Albinus's blindness prevents him from seeing anything at all. Albinus's un dividable focus in Margot, his obsession, proves to be the death of him as he makes his way towards the blue, blue ocean.