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Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, is narrated by Humbert Humbert, the main character and villain of the book. At first it seems that because of his actions it is obvious that the reader will hate him and sympathize with the other main character Lolita. His clever narration though, leads the reader to sympathize with or even accept his feelings, actions and the way that he presents the events of the book. Humbert filters everything and tells the story in a way makes it seem completely different that what it is in actuality. He makes it into a tragic love story when in reality it is just about a sick twisted man who rapes a little girl and ruins her life. Humbert makes himself look completely innocent and na ve, which is what makes the reader sympathize with him. By the end of the book it is hard to determine if it was even his fault at all and it is hard to decide whom to feel sorry for, the real victim Lolita, or the narrator and pedophile Humbert Humbert.
Throughout the book Humbert casts the blame (for his actions) on everyone and everything but himself. This is a good tactic he uses because the reader rationalizes many of the events by blaming them on the same things that he blamed. One of the first things that he blames is his supposedly tortured past. He tells the story of he had a childhood fixation with a “girl child” and how they were madly in love and then she died. He goes on to say how her loss traumatized him and led to his obsession with young girls, he says “there might have been no Lolita at all had I not loved, one summer, a certain girl child. In a princedom by the sea” (9). He goes on later to say “All I want to stress is that my discovery of Lolita was a fatal consequence of that princedom by the sea in my tortured past” (40). Humbert uses his past as an excuse by portraying the feeling that he somehow cant help himself he makes it seem like he has some kind of disorder. Using this argument the reader comes to believe that he sick so he can’t really be held responsible for his actions. As the events unfold and his actions get progressively worse it seems to the reader that he can’t help himself so the reader kind of excuses him and his actions.
Another thing that Humbert blames in order to get the reader to sympathize with him is society. He tries to say that the fact that he has sex with a little girl is only wrong by the standards set by the society that he lives in. He says, “I found myself maturing amid a civilization which allows a man of twenty-five to court a girl of sixteen but not of twelve” (20). His idea is that if two people are in “love” it shouldn’t matter how old they are, they should be able to do what they want. He also makes the point that this is accepted in other societies, he says, “Marriage and cohabitation before puberty are still not uncommon in certain East Indian provinces. Lepcha old men of eighty copulate with girls of eight and no body minds” (19). According to him he is not a sick pervert or criminal he is merely a victim of societies strict standards and conventions. He gets the reader to sympathize with him by playing this true love vs. an oppressive society angle because many people find themselves seeing his actions merely as him standing up for his beliefs and not letting society oppress him.
Finally and most importantly he blames Lolita for his actions. He makes it seem that he was a na ve victim and that it was her controlling him all along. Fist of all there is theory about how Lolita is not really a child but a nymphet, he says (about nymphets), “they reveal their true nature which is not human but nymphic (that is demonic)” (16). He then says about Lolita after having sex with her for the first time that her body was “the body of some immortal demon disguised as a child” (139). He tries to make it seem like it is she who sucks him in and forces him to do all those things to her. He even says that the first time that they had sex was not because of desire on the part of him but because Lolita seduced him into it. He also makes it seem that while he was nervous and unsure Lolita was this pushy kid who had had sex many times before. He basically defames her throughout the book therefore making him and his actions more acceptable in the ideas of the reader.
Another things that Humbert does that alters the readers perspective of the events to favor him was to completely omit any of Lolita’s ideas or perspectives on the situation. First of all Lolita’s direct speech is absent from almost the entire book. Humbert usually completely brushes off what she says or omits most of what she says. For example one time they were having an argument and Humbert merely brushes off what she says by saying, “she said unprintable things” (205). Most of what she says is reported by him usually in a way that makes her look stupid and childish. For example he says things like, “She said that she loathed me. She made monstrous faces at me, inflating her cheeks and producing a diabolic popping sound” (205). Not only is her physical voice silenced most of the time, her point of view or the way that she sees things was rarely mentioned. Humbert always says things like, “I did everything in my power to give Lolita a really good time” but the reader never gets to hear how Lolita feels about the situation. Once in a while Humbert does admit that she is not fond of the situation (like on page 166) but again all the reader learns about is what he things that she doesn t like not what she really doesn t like. By shutting out Lolita Humbert is able to force his opinions and ideas on the reader.
This book basically is about Humbert Humbert and why he thinks that it was okay to rape a little girl and destroy her life. This book is also geared toward convincing the reader of the validity of Humbert’s actions and feelings. All of his arguments and his exclusion of Lolita from the book do a very good job of warping the views of the reader and eventually convincing them that Humbert Humbert is a tragic victim. The reader gets so caught up in him and his character and his excuses that we forget what the book is really about. Our understanding of the events is in essence Humbert Humbert’s understanding of the events.
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