While I feel like the other discussion posts have covered most of the thematic elements of Mary, one that may be a little general but, in my opinion, is still pertinent is the use of expectation. I’d like to focus on four characters, Klara, Podtyagin, Alfyorov and Ganin. But to me what makes the novel great is that only one of these characters, Ganin, actually overcomes his expectation and thus proceeds calmly and happily at the end of the novel.
Klara serves as that unfortunate, somewhat over-well-intentioned character endlessly searching for someone to love. Almost in complete juxtaposition the passionate love story of Mary and Ganin, Klara weeps after she realizes her last words to Ganin and, earlier, feels somewhat empowered to be the courier of messages between Ganin and Lyudmila (something most people can’t stand). Her expectation, by the end of the book, to find someone like Ganin or Ganin himself is horribly unfulfilled.
Podtyagin’s failed expectation is clearly manifested in his failure to travel. To be aware that one is dying, bound by fate to stay put, and thus unable to fulfill a single desires to go to France, is also perfectly contrasted by Ganin’s freedom and youth.
Next, we have Alfyorov. Nabokov clearly enjoys mocking this character and fittingly shows him unable to adequately ready himself to meet his wife. By the of the novel, not only is reader convinced that Mary and Alfyorov do not have a strong history like Ganin and Mary, but also that Alfyorov is generally a much lesser person than Ganin (as shown by his drunkenness). The failed expectation is that he never sees his wife in the novel, which I interpret as “it’s not worth showing.” My assumption is that if Nabokov were forced to continue the novel, we would have seen a strained and imperfect marriage.
So who is Ganin? He’s the character that achieves everyone else’s goals. He knows love, understands and can handle himself within a relationship, is traveling to new experience new aspects and never succumbs to a vice like alcohol unless willingly. While everyone else talks about his or her wishes, he remains unsure and keeps his plans relatively flexible and without firm expectation. Only with this attitude, which I presume Nabokov enjoys, is he able to live freely and happily.