Thesis: Humbert in Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov

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SAMPLE EXCERPT:

[. . .] Like the others, in Humbert's account, the uncontrollable Valeria eventually dies.

Charlotte Haze

Critics like Norton contend that Charlotte Haze could be seen as another one of Humbert Humbert's victims (Norton). This could be true, since the unworldly middle-class widow falls easily for the dashing and worldly European gentleman. In Charlotte, the egoistic Humbert sees his cultural inferior. Charlotte is a woman who was definitely bourgeois, as seen in her dress, the generic decor of her living room and her "polished words (that) may reflect a book club or bridge club or any other deadly conventionality" (37).

Humbert soon finds out, however, that there are several advantages to Charlotte's naivete. Unlike the case of his first marriage to Valeria, Humbert clearly has the upper hand in his union with Charlotte. The naive American widow was powerless in the face of "the superior sexual acumen and appeal so often assumed by Europeans and connived at Americans" (Dupee 7).

This control is illustrated when Charlotte thinks she is surprising her husband with a trip to England. Humbert's response is cruel, stating that he would be the decision-maker in the household. The severity of the statement is calculated, since Humbert is already laying the foundation for an amorous relationship with Dolores. He then notes with satisfaction how Charlotte falls to her knees, stating that Humbert was "her ruler and her god" (91).

Humbert has clearly possessed Charlotte, both physically and psychologically. However, he has been clear from the very beginning that he does not love nor desire her. Instead, she is merely a bridge to his true desire, the nymphet Lolita. Charlotte, on the other hand, mistakenly believes that they are in a marriage of equal partnerships. After all, while her European husband brings worldliness and sophistication to her bourgeois American-ness, she provides the economic trappings of a house and a livelihood. In the beginning, she has no idea of her husband's repulsion against her.

Humbert's advantage in this marriage's balance of power rested on the fact that Charlotte was not aware of his powerful desire for her daughter.

He constantly shuts her out of decisions in an attempt to maintain the control in their relationship.

Though he takes joy in demoralizing Charlotte and treating her with callousness and contempt, his actions against the Haze mere are also oriented towards securing time with her nymphet daughter.

This balance of power tips, however, when Charlotte reads Humbert's journal, learning not only of his disgust for her but of his infatuation for Dolores. A combination of shock and maternal instincts suddenly tips the scale, and for a few moments, Charlotte gains the upper hand in her marriage. Despite his earlier intimations of committing violence against the cheating Valeria, Humbert is unable to re-assert his control over the livid Charlotte, even through physical means. Only because of her fortuitous death - another in a series of women who have moved beyond his control - can Humbert be free to indulge his passions for Dolores/Lolita.

Rita

The kind Rita, a divorcee in her mid-20s, is Humbert's post-Lolita relationship. After Lolita disappears, Rita raises the chance that Humbert could develop a normal, healthy relationship with an adult woman. Rita differed significantly from the previous women in Humbert's life. Unlike Annabel or Lolita, Rita is an adult who is clearly not dependent on Humbert. Unlike the idealized girls, she is not a caricature of Humbert's imagination. Rita is certainly more attractive than Valeria and is able to assert herself more than the timid Charlotte Haze.

Instead of a girl, Humbert recognizes Rita as "the most soothing, the most comprehending companion that I ever had" (259). It is in comparison to his acceptance of Rita -- from her dumbness to her ricey skin -- that Humbert finally puts his relationship with Lolita in context. In contrast to the imagined Lolita, Humbert recognizes that Rita is drunk, cocky, prone to bad judgment and exhilaratingly real. The reader can only imagine the possibilities for Humbert's personal growth, had he not received the fateful letter from Lolita.

Dolores/Lolita

From the very beginning, Humbert already admits to a desire to possess the young Dolores, both literally and figuratively.

He goes so far as to rename her, to reject "Dolly" or "Dolores" in favor of "Lolita."

Often, he would even refer to her using the pronoun possessive, as "my Lolita."

Early in the novel, Humbert explains his sexual preference for "nymphets," a special form of womanhood that is often indistinguishable from the average female. For Humbert, nymphets are preadolescents, much like Annabel and later, Lolita. More importantly, Humbert asserts that nymphets are not human but rather, "demoniac" (16). Though they are unaware of it, nymphets are "little deadly demons" with "fantastic power" (17).

In addition to his narration of Annabel, this explanation serves to negate any charges of coercion on the part of Humbert. His attraction to Lolita is a hopeless reaction to her fantastic sexual power. Humbert asserts that through her fantastic nymphet power, Lolita has "individualized the writer's ancient lust" (43). However, critics like Jeffery Alan Triggs contend that the opposite could very well be true, that Humbert himself had created this image of the demonic, flirtatious and desirable Lolita, to contrast her with her intrusive, bourgeois and repulsive mother (Triggs).

Such an explanation lends credence to charges that Humbert's account of his relationship with a willing and sexually knowledgeable Lolita masks the girl's lack of agency and options. Elizabeth Patnoe, for example, argues that through his narrative, Humbert skillfully masks how he repeatedly violates a hapless girl who has no other options. He "blames" her for her power and her sexual prowess, oblivious to the fact that she cries every night after she believes Humbert had fallen asleep. For Patnoe, the scratches on Humbert's neck are signs of resistance. Even her choice of geographic area is symbolic for Patnoe, who notes that with the road trip, Humbert had raped his Dolores virtually all over the country. When she escapes, Dolores thus escapes to the country's borders (Patnoe).

In Humbert's account, however, Lolita is far from a violated little girl. Instead, Humbert possess her from the very beginning, turning her into a demoniac nymphet. He alludes to the young American girl as a reincarnation of the lost Annabel. In a particularly revealing passage, Humbert narrates how Lolita indeed took the reins and seduced him:

You mean," she persisted, now kneeling above me, "you never did it when you were a kid?"

Never," I answered quite truthfully. "Okay," said Lolita, "here is where we start" (133).

Humbert then continues to detail how Lolita directs him through their intercourse. Though she was young and green, Humbert notes that she was also "eager to impress." He then alludes to his role, not just in the sex act but also in fixing "the perilous magic of nymphets" (134).

On one hand, Humbert believes that this narration illustrates Lolita's complicity. She knows exactly what she wants and assumes the leadership role in their coupling. He acts passive and even fakes an ignorance of sexual matters. In doing so, Humbert fancies that Lolita is in control while he is the powerless student. This picture of a powerless Humbert, however, is untenable in light of the control that he joyously and cruelly exercised over Dolores's mother.

Furthermore, the narration of their first sexual encounter should be read as an account filtered through Humbert's imagination. It is this same imagination that initially transformed Valeria into a childlike creature, invented lovers to appease Charlotte and may or may not have created the figure of Annabel Leigh to gain the reader's sympathy.

There is thus reason to believe that Humbert's imagination may be creating a sexualized "Lolita" as well.

For critic James Tweedie, even Nabokov's choice of motel rooms for Humbert and his Lolita's fist sexual encounter is laden with symbolism. Their shared motel room is replete with mirrors, covering the room's wall space and thus reflecting only the occupants. For the first time, Humbert triumphs in getting Dolores into his self-contained and solipsistic world. Reality is, in effect, seen through a mirror. The true world beyond these mirrors -- a world where Charlotte Haze is dead -- is effectively blocked out. In this self-contained realm, Dolores has no identity for Humbert and instead becomes Lolita (Tweedie).

However, the control Humbert strives to assert over his Lolita is very different from the cruelty with which he treated her mother. He tries to bridge their worlds, making her study tennis and introducing her to cosmopolitan pursuits. Most significantly, he admits not only to lust or sexual attraction. Rather, Humbert states that he had "fallen in love with Lolita forever" even though he knew that "she would not be forever Lolita" (65).

This passage is significant, because he alludes to the possibility of loving a female, even if there was the possibility that she would grow into something or someone other than his idealized image. It is,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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"Humbert in Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov."  Essaytown.com.  November 30, 2003.  Accessed August 20, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/humbert-lolita-vladimir-nabokov/5656766.