Tuesday, September 29, 2009

My sin. My soul. Lo-lee-ta

By: Leila Moslemi (lilimoslemi@yahoo.com)

Humbert is a witty, cultured European with a destructive obsession for young girls. For several years he lives with Lolita, his young stepdaughter, whom he coerces into granting him sexual favors. Nabokov gives Humbert possibly the most socially unacceptable obsession of all: pedophilia. This obsession leads Humbert on a cross country journey to find his precious Lolita upon the discovery that she has run away and decided to marry. It is this Lolita that causes much of the controversy in the movie. Humbert admits that his "pathetic" obsession with Lolita "broke" her life. Humbert writes of himself and Lolita with "a desperate honesty," and comments on "how magically his singing violin can conjure up a tendress, a compassion for Lolita. Humbert dies of heart disease in prison, while awaiting his trial for the murder of Lolita's lover, Clare Quilty.

Humbert characterizes Lolita as "light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul." from Humbert's point of view, which presents an often idealized but sometimes realistic image of this young girl, with whom he had an incestuous relationship for several years. Initially he defines Lolita as a nymphet, a category of young girls between the age of nine and fourteen. Most often, Humbert projects Lolita as a vision of innocent beauty. After she leaves Humbert, Lolita lives for a time with Clare Quilty. He throws her out after she refuses to allow him to put her in a pornographic film. A few years later she dies during childbirth.

In Deconstructive reading of the themes in “Lolita” there comes three major binary oppositions in my mind:

Appearance / Reality

Victim / Victimization

Anger / Hatred

Humbert's struggle to create art relates to an important theme — appearance versus reality. when he tries to present an idealistic portrait of Lolita and his relationship with her. He continually insists on the innocence of Lolita, which is crucial to his vision of and therefore his desire for her. He insists that "under no circumstances would [he] have interfered with the innocence of a child." She, however, was never quite the innocent he envisions. While at camp, she engaged in sexual activities and thus felt confident enough to seduce Humbert during their first night together. Later, in response to his control of her, she turns into a "cruel manipulator" who demands cash for sexual favors. At the same time, she was more vulnerable than Humbert is willing to admit, and he took advantage of that vulnerability, as when he comforted her after she learned her mother was dead. He offers a symbolic assessment of his destruction of her innocence when he admits that "our long journey had only defiled with a sinuous trail of slime the lovely, trustful, dreamy, enormous country that by then, in retrospect, was no more to us than a collection of dog-eared maps, ruined tour books, old tires, and her sobs in the night — every night, every night — the moment I feigned sleep."

Humbert becomes both victim and victimizer in his relationship with Lolita. He admits that he forced a "singular and bestial cohabitation" on her and "that even the most miserable of family lives was better than the parody of incest, which, in the long run, was the best I could offer the waif." Yet he was also victimized by his uncontrollable obsession with her, which he eloquently chronicles.

Humbert's self-loathing prompts him to create a double who can absolve him of guilt. Clare Quilty becomes the manifestation of his illicit desire for Lolita. When he kills Quilty in a fit of revenge, he tries to erase the pain and suffering he caused her. Previously, his remorse over his obsession with young girls caused several breakdowns and subsequent hospitalizations. Yet, the absurd encounter with Quilty at the end of the novel suggests that Humbert recognizes his responsibility for his and Lolita's tragic relationship.

Each decade since the initial publication of Lolita has presented a new interpretation of the conflict between Humbert Humbert and Lolita. For the 1950's, the interpretation was based on the conservative religious right that felt any relationship between an adult and a child was evil. In the 1960's, the interpretation contained much of the same resentment, but because of the openness of sexuality in society, they felt that much of the fuss was unneeded. Like the 60's, the 1970's showed a similar disregard for the seriousness of the crime Humbert held, they did, however, show more of an understanding of the alienation that both characters must have felt. The 1980's and 1990's have brought a new, more ironic view of the situation. Some no longer see the relationship between Humbert and Lolita as the result of Humbert's obsession, but instead of Lolita's own misgivings. The more subtle theme of satire displayed in the book presented a much more challenging appeal to society. And I believe the satire has been shown in this version at its best.


  1. I just watch this movie every time with my heart and soul. sometimes i can exactly feel the pains of Humbert and i sympathize with Humbert much more. i love Jeremy Iron's acting in this film especially when he brings water for Lolita at night. watch that part again and you will find the exact impression on Jeremy's face.

  2. I’ve never seen the movie but I read the book, which is truly great. I remember how I was fascinated by Nabokov’s language. Only a genius can write like this. Lolita is, without a doubt, one of his best books.

  3. I personally can't understand the male character(Humbert).
    I mean, a pedophile is understandable, but he seems to me a lover, which is totally strange to me.

  4. I didn't get your point. What is strange in being a lover and pedophile?

  5. i think that Humbert was more in love rather than being a pedophile. although many critics believe that he was a pedophile but i believe he had some kind of oedipus complex. he was inspired by the childhood innocence of Lolita and he never meant a sexual intercourse but i believe their relation led to this way because of Humbert's love. i think even if Lolita was 30, humbert would love him too. but this generation gap made many critics to consider it as a pedofile.

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  7. I am sure he did have a sexual passion for Lolita. Maybe it was a sort of complex that stemmed from his childhood. In the beginning of the book he mentioned that when he was a child he fell in love with a girl. He wanted to have a sex with her but circumstances prevented them from having a sex at such an early age.
    I think he really was in love with Lolita. I just don’t understand why it cannot be called a love even if nowadays our society considers it nothing more than pedophilia? Don’t you remember that Juliet was just one year older (13) than Lolita and nobody calls it pedophilia. :)

  8. Although I don’t agree with separating sexual behavior of mankind into love and coitus, for discussion here it is inevitable to distinguish between two kinds of pedophiles: who have a compulsive desire to have sex with underage girls or boys without a noticeable emotional relationship, and who their sexual intercourse is dominated by their deep emotions and preceded by daydreaming.
    According to Freud, two groups have had problems in their sexual development. The majority of the former group are who have experienced a sexual trauma. They themselves might be victims of a sexually assault. The predominant aspect of their sexual behavior is their compulsion. The later group is predominated by who have experienced sexual denial or might be rejected by opposite sex in the childhood. Masturbation is common in both groups.
    This classification is similar to what is done for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). OCD is divided into two groups of obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors, although sometimes discrimination is not clear or someone may suffer a combination of both. Other examples of compulsive behaviors are kleptomania, pyromania, trichotillomania, and compulsive gambling.
    With this definition Humbert in Lolita has characterization of the later group. It can be guessed that he has emotional problems related to an earlier sexual rejection. In the childhood this rejection leads to a damaged self-image which reflects to an obsession in the adulthood. This damaged self-image in the shape of incompetence works in the subconscious level of Humbert’s mind controlling the obsessed behavior of him. This hidden obsession of incompetence is why such persons will not be healed even if they achieve their beloved or have sex with her. Humbert’s attempt for presenting an idealistic portrait of Lolita as an innocent comes back to the childhood imaging of an anima according to the Jung’s theory. This anima acts as an unreachable nymph as appears in a nympholepsy. This nympholepsy interconnects with the incompetence feeling building Humbert’s obsession.

  9. innocent comes back to the childhood imaging of an anima according to the Jung’s theory. This anima acts as an unreachable nymph as appears in a nympholepsy. This nympholepsy interconnects with the incompetence feeling building Humbert’s obsession.
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  10. I think Humbert was just obessed with lolita and it was the idea of her not her herself he was in love with you have to remember that at the beginning he tried to drug her and tried to touch her while she was a sleep he said he thought it would take months or years before he would show his true intentions meaning untill then he would drug her to make sure she was unware of what he was doing he was sometimes cold to lolita when she crys or upset he refuses to feel any sympathy for her and is more obsessed with having sex with her then having any real conversations he even admits that he never really got to know her. His strong sexual desires for her is why he chases after her so much. He says so himself that she has strong glow about her he notices that other guys like her to. It is the fact that she interests him sexually more than any other girl creates the obsession remembering that he beleives that Mona Lo's friend is interested in him even though she is child just like lo he is not intersted in her also later lo is pregnant and is married yet this does not stop him wanting her my proof about the strong sexual connection Humbert has with Lo in the final time they meet Lo trys to touch Humbert to thank him for the money he pulls away and says please dont touch me i will die if you touch me any affection towards lo has always been sexual and can not be differentiated from that.