Pnin is a pretty funny “pun-nning” text. Find your favorite joke or laugh-out-loud passage and post it here!

7 thoughts on “HUMOR IN PNIN (Pun-NEEN)

  1. Chapter Four, where Pnin meets Victor, has some pretty funny scenes. Pnin’s decision to buy a soccer ball (wrongly referred to as football) and a Jack London’s book made me smile because even today you would made these gifts to an Italian kid (I had to read “the call of the wild” in primary school). It is funny that these gifts are clearly neither age nor culture-appropriate for Victor.

    “No, no,” said Pnin, “I do not wish an egg or, for example, a torpedo. I want a simple football ball. Round!” (99)

    Plus, their meeting was pretty awkward to read. Imagine meeting your “dad” after 14 years and he talks the entire time about the pronunciation of his name, Russian literature, and kroket. (104-107)

    Also these two remarks, Nabokov’s stabs at American food and Dostoevsky made me smile:
    “In silence he ate his vanilla ice cream, which contained no vanilla and was not made of cream” (107)
    “I think I’m going to like this,” said polite Victor. “Last summer I read Crime and –. A young yawn distended his staunchly smiling mouth. (109)

  2. “There is an old American saying ‘He who lives in a glass house should not try to kill two birds with one stone.'”(76)

    This quote caused me to do a double take because it just completely butchers the two idioms “Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones” which means
    do not criticize others if you have similar weaknesses yourself and “Kill two birds with one stone” which means to solve two problems with one single action. Both of the sayings are not even American in origin as they date back to at least the 1600s.

  3. On Pnin’s love and fascination with the washing machine: “One Sunday, after checking the solitude, he could not resist, out of sheer scientific curiosity, giving the mighty machine a pair of rubber-soled canvas shoes stained with clay and clorophyll to play with; the shoes tramped away with a dreadful arhythmic sound, like an army going over a bridge, and came back without their soles, and Joan appeared from her little sitting room behind the pantry and said in sadness, ‘Again, Timofey?'” (40).

    To my mind the humor in this passage comes from its sincerity; Pnin, a very sweet man, cannot resist the childlike temptation to play with a household appliance–his actions are not malicious in the slightest. Joan’s sincere sadness–not anger or bitterness–adds to the humor of her implication that this has, indeed, happened before.

  4. I enjoyed the moment where Pnin (the “water father”) was watering the squirrel — his tenderness is endearing, and a nice diversion from H.H.:

    Eyeing him with contempt, the thirsty rodent forthwith began to sample the stocky sparkling pillar of water, and went on drinking for a considerable time. “She has fever, perhaps,” thought Pnin, weeping quietly and freely, and all the time politely pressing the contraption down while trying not to meet the unpleasant eye fixed upon him. (58)

  5. In Chapter three, as Pnin is describing his lodging changes over the 8 years he had taught at Waindell college, he mentions a “bedroom-study” that he stayed in during a chilly, Waindell winter. He describes a slight hum of “more or less classical” music coming from a radiator in his room that won’t cease. Nabokov writes, ” He tried to muffle [the music] with a blanket, as if it were a caged songbird, but the song persisted until Mrs. Thayer’s old mother was removed to the hospital where she died, upon which the radiator switched into Canadian French”.

  6. When Pnin is hosting his house party, he serves drinks to the bird scholar and makes a very terrible pun: “Pnin served the cocktails ‘or better to say flamingo tails — specially for ornithologists,’ as he slyly quipped” (156).

    It’s very cute how Pnin seems so proud of his wit even though a cock is a rooster not a flamingo.

  7. “I wrote back telling Liza that her poems were bad and she ought to stop composing. Sometime later I saw her in another cafe, sitting at a long table, abloom and ablaze among a dozen young Russian poets. She kept her sapphire glance on me with a mocking and mysterious persistence. We talked. I suggested she let me see those poems again in some quieter place. She did. I told her they struck me as being even worse than they had seemed
    at the first reading.” (181)
    This just made me laugh harder than anything else in the book (even though I really liked a lot of the puns and jokes)

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