In Vladimir Nabokov’s acclaimed novel Lolita, Nabokov’s character Humbert Humbert seeks to justify his affair with a child. Throughout Lolita the reader picks up on Humbert’s constant sexual perception of children, as well as his obvious discourse regarding the pre-meditation, action, and consequences of seducing Lolita. Often, critics describe Humbert’s actions as “monstrous”. Dolores “Lolita” Haze becomes the sexual object of a pedophile’s desires and is left unprotected with the sudden death of her mother. Lolita is an innocent young girl who is victimized and seduced by a pedophile.
Humbert has a predisposition towards children that affects his entire life prior to meeting his victim Lolita. His pedophilic actions are linked back to an experience with a lanky girl by the sea that never came to fruition. Lo is not even represented wholly as Dolores, but instead is preceded by Annabel, “a certain initial girl-child” (Nabokov 9).
The nymphets seem to take on qualities of this young, fumbled love. As the reader progresses through the story, Humbert relays how other children attract him, and why. His entire life is woven around nymphets, desires, and morality (or lack thereof).
Humbert, when choosing a wife, plainly states that his attraction to Valeria, his first wife, was due to the “imitation she gave of a little girl” with an innocent pout and cute curls (Nabokov 25).
However, on the wedding night, Humbert terrifies Valeria by asking her to wear a white, virginal child’s nightdress and reduced his insignificant “baba” to hysterics (Nabokov 26).
Humbert Humbert Humbert Humbert in the book Lolita is the type of person who will do anything to satisfy his needs. When Humbert is institutionalized in an insane asylum he toys with the doctors. Once he got to a certain age Humbert felt like he needed to get married to suppress his sexual desires, so he did. Later on Humbert realizes the only way he can be with Lolita is by marrying her mother, ...
Obviously, despite his attempt to seek those same childlike qualities, Humbert is left in an unsettling situation with an adult woman he does not desire, and reduces her in his mind to a plain whore. Subsequently, Valeria becomes a victim of Humbert’s sexual desire of nymphets. Frederic Whiting agrees that Humbert marries Mrs. Haze solely as “a maneuver to ensure physical proximity to Lolita” (Whiting 843).
Marrying Mrs. Haze puts Humbert even closer to Lolita, thus giving him easier access to prey upon her sexually. This demonstrates how pedophilia has followed Humbert Humbert through the years, from Annabel, Valeria, and Mrs. Haze to focus entirely on Lolita.
Humbert, in addition to his pedophilic ways, is mentally disturbed prior to meeting and victimizing Lolita Haze. He recounts stories, almost fondly, of his time in asylums. In order to gain access to Lolita, he speculates what it would take to kill Mrs. Haze. Humbert Humbert makes up stories and outlandish dreams to feed to the psychologists and sporadically mentions throughout Lolita his time in various asylums. Humbert was crazy (intelligent, no doubt, but mentally disturbed) prior to his seduction of Lo and knew very well what he was doing as he attempts to justify his obsession with the 12-year-old preceding his sexual advances towards her.
Lolita, much to her detriment in the eyes of readers, idolizes Humbert throughout the novel, which only assists Humbert in his unabashed pursuit of her. Lacking a father figure, she seems to gravitate towards any man that shows any real attention towards her. The lack of a genuine Mr. Haze in Lolita is a pivotal point when deciding who is at fault for seduction. Opponents, like Douglas Fowler in his book Reading Nabokov, may put Lolita at fault, claiming that she is promiscuous and manipulative.
[Humbert] does not kill Charlotte; he does not seduce Lolita; his sexual enjoyment of her is imperfect because of her indifference; her thralldom to him depends in part on her own indifference, rootlessness, and meretriciousness, for Lolita wants to be entertained. Humbert goes to enormous lengths to maker her happy, and she encourages this. (Fowler 151)
"Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta" (Nabokov 9). Vladimir Nabokov created two of the most enduring characters in the history of literature: Humbert Humbert and Lolita Haze. His narrator and main character, Humbert Humbert, tells the complex story of a ...
However, when Fowler’s reading selection is interpreted differently, these attempts to receive attention merely reflect Lolita’s lack of a prominent male role model in her life. Matthew Winston agrees that he “use[s] his knowledge to deceive” (Winston 422).
A teenager may not perceive when an adult, especially one she idolizes, is lying to her. Like any teen, she idolizes movie stars and dreams of happy endings. Even when Humbert Humbert is in bed with her, she tries to impress him (like a child would impress their parents) by mentioning a supposed “lover” from camp! According to Bordo, Lolita is very much a teen, even fumbling her attempts to be womanly, like smudging her lipstick (304)! As he is the only real father figure he as ever known, Lolita idolizes Humbert and because of this she remains unsuspecting of his desires until he chooses to consummate them. It is only later that she is able to break away from this fantasy world and eventually lead a normal life.
Humbert coerces Mrs. Charlotte Haze and her daughter to do his bidding in Lolita. Humbert deceives Charlotte and feigns attraction for her, marrying her only to get closer to Lo. In bed, he imagines Lolita when making love to Mrs. Haze. When Mrs. Haze dies in a tragic car accident (after Humbert considers killing her), Humbert deceives many when he lies and says he is Lolita’s real father, and that he had an affair with Charlotte before Lolita was born. Only after Charlotte is out of the picture does Humbert actually get up the nerve to take Lolita and bed her. This is only after he takes her away from her hometown, and the next morning gives her the life-altering news of her mother’s death. When Lolita realizes this isn’t a short vacation and that she is trapped with Humbert, she is devastated. After a time of being with Lolita, he must bribe her with pretty things and with money to coerce her into bed with him. Eventually, he resorts to threats to gain control over Lolita just before she runs away. Evidently, Humbert used neither just nor honest tactics in his dealings with the Haze family.
Lolita maintains her innocence of the severity of Humbert’s crime in Lolita until she begins to plan and execute her escape. Frederick Whiting remarks:
De-victimizing Lolita: Removing Emotion from the Classroom Abstract: This paper focuses on Vladimir Nabokov's novel Lolita. Specifically the argument discusses the need for reform within the classroom setting regarding student reaction and interpretation to the text. Class discussion involving Lolita tends to fall under a blanket of socially constructed presumptions that lend the discussion toward ...
One way of putting it might be that Lolita’s chastity is, for Humbert, the mark of her agency. It is a fact about her body that points to something beyond her body, something with which he has had difficulty throughout his narrative: the fact that she is a creature […] capable of desire. And realizing this means realizing that what she desires now may not be what she’ll desire later nor, for that matter, whom. (846)
The key in this quote is that although Lolita has the ability to desire, she still is a child and therefore incapable of holding steadfast to an idea, and is very capable of changing her mind. Humbert does not respect this theory. Lolitat no longer seems to indulge and idolize Humbert after she learns her mother is dead, which defends her innocence. When Lolita realizes she is trapped, the excursion with Humbert is no longer a game and Lolita changes her mind (as children often do).
Frederick Whiting understands how “Humbert’s account [when describing nymphets] is a dutiful attempt to satisfy both the requirements of the statutes forbidding sexual relations with minors and the […] mechanism of his attraction to [the forbidden object]” (840).
Whiting describes perfectly how Humbert knows what he is doing and how he continues with his plan despite moral obstacles.
Humbert, in contempt of the law, can see right from wrong and simply chooses to act against it. When Humbert grinds out his lust on Lolita as she sits on his lap, Lolita is, according to Humbert, none the wiser of his “gagged, bursting beast” and “safely solipsized” (Nabokov 59-60).
Humbert’s originally intends to take Lolita’s body whilst she sleeps and even gives her a sleeping medication (which is ineffective).
As Bordo asserts:
Lolita is careless, experimental with her body. Humbert was ‘not even her first lover.’ But sex with adolescent Charlie (at summer camp) had ‘hardly roused’ her; she thought it was a kid’s game, ‘part of a youngster’s furtive world, unknown to adults. (Bordo 313)
Although Lolita hoped to impress Humbert with the loss of her virginity to Charlie, she thinks it child’s play and proves her innocence by not knowing that Humbert could tell that she was still naïve and very much a virgin. After the initial consummation of Humbert’s desires, Lolita displays one of several classic signs of rape¾wanting to find a bathroom and cleanse herself. This classic sign of feeling “dirty” or guilty helps maintain Lolita’s innocence.
... man. Nabokov has also made use of humour to emphasise Humberts delusions and obsession. Again, this also presents his main character as believable. Lolita ... only female thing he really desires. He discovers a fulfilment to his desires in the shape of twelve-year-old Lolita, the essence of a ... always talks about the body parts and clothing of nymphets, seemingly he does not think of Lolita as a human at ...
Despite what many critics claim, Lolita is a victim in an abusive relationship. Lolita forces Humbert to give her money and pretty things because she does not want to stay with him. Lolita saves money in order to escape Humbert, which is why she accepts his bribes, and demands more money which he continuously swipes from her. In Kubrick’s film version of Lolita, according to Susan Bordo, “[Kubrick] knew that Humbert isn’t Humbert if there aren’t abusive¾even monstrous¾aspects of his behavior” that are essentially indulges of this demented mind (303).
Humbert, like many attackers, does his best to prevent Lolita’s escape; however, she outwits him and flees. Although some critics may argue that Humbert Humbert neither bribed nor seduced Lolita, according to Britton Guerrina in Mitigating Punishment for Statutory Rape, “Mitigation is highly problematic; not only is the adolescent girl incapable of informed consent, but it is likely that the man coerced her by taking advantage of the power differentials between them” (1266).
This is a generalized scenario between a coercive adult male and an immature young female. As many before her have done, Lolita tumbles into yet another abusive relationship, believing her fancy of Quilty to be genuine love. However, Lolita’s perceptions change when she finds Claire Quilty only wants her to star in a pornographic production. Despite her love for Quilty, she leaves him as well. Her rejection of Quilty supports that Lolita is not the promiscuous teenager that some readers and critics may claim she is. Humbert last sees her as a barefoot and pregnant girl at the age of 17 with a young, hardworking man as her partner. She is finally in a non-abusive relationship.
Humbert is, without a doubt, guilty of murder and statutory rape. He appeals to Lolita in one desperate move, claiming that he loves her, and she denies him. According to fellow writer Mary Gaitskill, “intense feeling is not always moral” and with the prose of Humbert, often times the readers are inclined to agree. Nomi Tamir-Ghez remarks “instead of passing moral judgment on this man who violated a deep-rooted sexually and social taboo, [the readers] caught themselves identifying with him” (65).
'Lolita' and Censorship The twentieth century's two most infamous literary censorship cases - 'Lady Chatterley's Lover' and 'Ulysses' were brought to trial ostensibly because of fears about the public's exposure to obscene material. There were undoubtedly a number of other tacit reasons for prosecution bound up in the social, sexual and political economies of the early twentieth century. ...
Although some don’t care to admit it, we all fall victim to Humbert’s prose, as does Lolita. He substitutes words for silence that adequately sum up Dolly’s experience with Humbert: “[Quilty] broke my heart. You merely broke my life” (Nabokov 279).
Humbert even admits his guilt, a short thirty pages later, remarking “I am opposed to capital punishment […] [should] I come before myself, I [would give] Humbert at least thirty-five years for rape, and [dismiss] the rest of the charges” (Nabokov 308).
Humbert concludes the novel with advice to Lolita, as if he were actually a genuine father figure with the wisdom to advise Lo on relationships, of all things! He even brings up touching: “Be true to your Dick. Do not let other fellows touch you”; and he continues by saying that he will “pull [Dick, Lolita’s husband] apart nerve by nerve” (Nabokov 309).
First, he admits his guilt and then he attempts to lecture her on allowing men to touch her. In a final attempt to save his soul, he writes this memoir, wishing for it only to be published when Dolly Schiller, formerly Lolita Haze, no longer draws breath. This is because he does not want her to be able to contradict what he has written about her and paint the Humbert for what it really is: a foul, despicable, abusive and controlling rapist and murderer.
Lolita begins and ends with a man’s obsession with a nymphet, a girl who posesses sexually desirable attributes. Her 12-year-old body’s qualities are attractive, from her narrow hips to her lack of hygiene. Humbert is a dangerous man that takes advantage of an orphan. Humbert determines these attributes, and he acts on desires that are neither socially acceptable nor legal. He coerces, lies, cheats, threatens, and bribes his way under Lolita’s skirt, and even considers murder (which, he commits, however, not in the initial reference to which I refer with Mrs. Haze).
All the while, the 12-year-old runs about like a child and remains unsuspecting. Lolita becomes the victim to this man’s seduction and his pedophilic ways.
Bordo, Susan. The Male Body. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1999. 303, 304, 313.
Fowler, Douglas. Reading Nabokov. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1974.
Of Mice and Men Film and Book Contrast In my essay I will explore similarities and differences of the novel Of Mice and Men written by John Steinbeck and the movie Of Mice and Men directed by Gary Sinise. In particular, I will examine the way Gary Sinise and John Steinbeck saw the tragedy and the relationships between George and Lennie, pointing out the differences of the accents set in the film ...
Gaitskill, Mary. Nabokov: Sorcerer of Cruelty. Unknown. 17 November 2006. .
Guerrina, Britton. “Mitigating Punishment for Statutory Rape”. Univerity of Chicago Law Review 65.4 (Autumn 1998).
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Nabokov,Vladimir. Lolita. New York: Random House, June 1997.
Rowe, William Woodin. Nabokov’s Deceptive World. New York: New York University Press, 1971.
Schiff, Stephen. Lolita: The Book of the Film. New York: Applause, c1998.
Tamir-Ghez, Nomi. “The Art of Persuasion in Nabokov’s Lolita”. Poetics Today 1.1 (Autumn 1979) 65-83. 13 November 2006. .
Whiting, Frederick. “The Strange Particularity of the Lover’s Preference: Pedophilia, Pornography, and the Anatomy of Monstrosity in Lolita”. American Literature 70.4 (December 1998) 833-862. 13 November 2006. .
Winston, Matthew. “Lolita and the Dangers of Fiction”. Twentieth Century Literature 21.4 (December 1975) 421-427. 13 November 2006. .