Gender Roles And Female Portrayal In Tis Pity She’s A Whore By John Ford And Lolita By Vladimir Nabokov
Tis Pity She’s a Whore, the revenge tragedy by John Ford, offers a view into the nefarious universe of Parma, where the (male) dominating characters’ lives spin around ethically corrupt, cunning and capricious connections. Although there is the seeming judgement and judgement of Annabella as a “whore” Ford offers a contemporarily-idyllic feedback of the conventional double standard for females through the repetition of hypocrisy and debauchery all throughout the play.
“Lolita” follows a retelling of a story from prison, about a comical, peculiar narrator named Humbert. Humbert, who falls for and ensnares his young step daughter. As narrator, we recall the novel from Humbert’s perspective but, when you dive in deeper, it is very clear to see that the power that Humber holds as a narrator is somewhat manipulative and quite chilling. Lolita admires popular culture with her friends; she enjoys mingling freely with other people, and, like most prepubescent girls, has a tendency toward being dramatic and outrageous. However, when she shouts and rebels against Humbert, she exhibits more than the frustration of an ordinary adolescent: she clearly feels trapped by her arrangement with Humbert, but, being a young female, she is powerless to extricate herself.
Literature’s most common misconception is that dominance and masculinity go hand in hand. Ford refutes this through Annabella’s grasp on power throughout the latter acts of the play, before her unavoidable death. As a way of consolidating her power, Annabella reiterates how her marriage with Soranzo stands as a platform for her reputation. We witness her ascent for power in the fourth act when she reaffirms that it “’twas not for love” that she chose to marry Soranzo. In the midst of their argument, she states, “I chose you… for honour”. The use of pronouns is prominent in the act: using ‘I’ before ‘you’ highlights how she prioritises herself over her husband. This would be the complete opposite of what would be expected from the patriarchal Caroline England. In a predominantly male society, men would be superior and would always be the figure with authority. In this situation, however, Annabella is the person in command, and this is further proven by the verb “chose”. Annabella “chose” Soranzo, demonstrating how she rules over herself without letting a male sway her. According to Alison Findlay, Annabella “attempts to reconcile her situation through identification of the Virgin Mary”, meaning she is almost trying to arbitrate the confrontation through mirroring herself and her circumstances to that of the Virgin Mary. Mary is a crucial figurehead in the Bible – although the Catholic church was renowned in its corruption and debauchery, Christianity was the prime religion of Caroline England and was the intrinsic faith that everyone had followed. Annabella associating herself with the Blessed Mother suggests how she places herself on a pedestal, as if she shares the same amount of power and might as Mary. This illustrates the power that Annabella radiates as she equates herself to someone of high importance, though women of the time would never be classified in this way.
Gender can often determine whether characters in literature will have power or not; this is evidently shown in Tis Pity She’s a Whore – Hippolita is seen as one of, if not the only, character with competence and ability to stand her own ground as a female in Caroline England. This being said, her power is challenged through, mainly, two of the male characters – Soranzo and Vasquez, as he beguiles her to death. Soranzo’s position towards infidelity works as the most clear case of hypocrisy and irony in ‘Tis Pity by accentuating the hypocrisy in his gallivanting. At the point when Hippolita first goes up against Soranzo, he denounces Hippolita for “her monstrous life, ” advising her to “learn to repent, and die; for, by my honor, / I hate thee and they lust, ” in spite of the way that Soranzo was the person who sought and charmed Hippolita despite the fact that she was a hitched lady. This scene parallels his confrontation of Annabella’s pregnancy, wherein he affronts Annabella, calling her “strumpet, famous whore!” and depicting her as “adulterous”. Soranzo’s overdramatic and inordinate reaction to Annabella’s pregnancy underlines his unexpected use of “two-faced, ” for in fact, Annabella had not submitted infidelity before her marriage, while Soranzo had charmed a hitched lady. Through the unexpected juxtaposition of Soranzo’s connections inside the play, Ford stresses the deception of men while unobtrusively scrutinising the double standard held for females.
Sex as a tool for power is only transitory. As an unreliable narrator, Humbert’s conceitedness and cries for sympathy make his narration of the story dubious. The novel is his account from prison; he retells the story, claiming that Dolores held control over the relationship as she was the one who seduced him. In 1950s America, we know that Humbert evidently has the upper hand, as the adult male. After Charlotte’s death, he was Dolores’ legal guardian, responsible for her in all aspects – he frequently repeats that she would have nowhere to go if she was to leave him. the paramount power of the storyteller, Humbert, is his need to substantiate himself ace of everything: other individuals, his own wants, destiny, and the story’s narration itself.
Over and over throughout Lolita, we see Humbert’s most extraordinary activities and feelings not because of his physical wants yet rather his mental need to win, to have, and to control. The roles of each gender are very basic and traditional for him: ladies are to be controlled, and men ought to seek the ownership of ladies. Now and again, Humbert contends to demonstrate his predominance in different routes, for example deceiving psychologists into supposing he is homosexual. What’s more, he even alludes to his own ‘exotic’ sexuality as proof of to a great degree refined taste, a sense of taste better than the normal man’s. Before the finish of the book we see that Humbert’s want control overwhelms the impossible to miss particularities of his wants and is the genuine reason for his burdens. We see a similar, toxic relationship where the adult exploits the child in Alissa Nutting’s Tampa. In the most straightforward terms, ‘Lolita’ can be portrayed as the two-section story of Humbert’s association with the young girl. In Part I he takes her and makes him his own, and in Part II he loses her. Notice this has nothing to do with Humbert’s wrongdoings, his physical needs, his own history, or his appearance upon his life. Those are for the most part simply important segments to the narrative of how he happens to want and get a nymphet and in this way how she gets away from his grip. Part I closes with a chilling article of Lolita’s circumstance: “In the middle of the night she came sobbing into my room, and we made it up very gently. You see, she had absolutely nowhere else to go”. This is the peak of Humbert’s ownership of Lolita: she has no other choice other than him, and has not started to understand the power that she holds over him, as he does over her. Obviously she rapidly develops to detest Humbert even while he delights in his ownership of the nymphet. Ford also accommodates the use of “whore” when portraying Annabella through the judgement of the Cardinal, who funnily plays the role as the most amoral, corrupt character in the play, in spite of his religious expert. In the last few scenes of the play, the Cardinal seems to complete his religious duty by advising Giovanni to “strive yet to cry to heaven”. However, only moments after he says this, he arranges that Putana should “be ta’en / Out of the city, for example’s sake, / There to be burned to ashes” without incitement or legitimate explanation behind killing her. Soon after, he retrieves every one of the assets from the bodies in the area, fundamentally profaning the valuables of the individuals who had only recently passed on. By having such a degenerate, indecent figure express the last line of the play, “Who could not say, ‘Tis pity she’s a whore?, ” Ford raises doubt about Annabella’s judgment.
At last, the portrayal of Annabella as a prostitute appears to be inconsequential contrasted with the wild debasement of male figures inside ‘Tis Pity and offers an investigate on the judgement of ladies in contemporary society. Ford uses this as a method of highlighting how religion had always offered men power, but not necessarily women. In addition to this, those who used religion as a means of power would most likely be those who use power in a corrupt, ill form. Putana is not a character with whom the audience automatically empathises. She encourages the incestuous relationship between Giovanni and Annabella, showing her misguided moral compass and abusing the position of inﬂuence and trust between herself and Annabella, her pupil and charge. For both a contemporary audience and a more modern audience, this encouragement is undeniably inappropriate. Also, when the relationship ends due to Annabella’s pregnancy, Putana is tearful and distraught, showing that she is incorrigible and entirely unaware of the consequences that her irresponsible actions can have. Despite this, her treatment at the hands of Vasques is no less disgusting or atrocious. Vasquez takes it upon himself to punish Putana for her encouragement of Giovanni and Annabella’s affections for each other, so orders the banditti to gouge out her eyes in a twisted but symbolic punishment. The fact that Vasquez feels he is able to do this to someone, because they are a woman, is shocking, and there is no doubt that he would not treat a man in the same way. Vasquez does not treat Hippolita any better, and takes it upon himself to poison her for her misdemeanours: “your own mischievous treachery hath killed you”. His murderous act is met with support for all parties present at the event, with the chorus exclaiming at this “wonderful justice!” Soranzo’s crimes are no less apparent that Hippolita’s: the both of them plotted to kill Richardetto and then marry, and yet he is seen as the victim of Hippolita’s affections. If he were a woman, he would be a murderer, but in the corrupt society in which the play is set, justice is superseded by vengeance. Dolores changes completely through the novel, regardless of maturing just around six years. Initially, around the beginning of the novel, she is a honest, yet explicitly experienced young girl of twelve. Humbert compels her progress into an all the more completely sexual being, however she never appears to recognize that her sexual exercises with Humbert are altogether different from her dawdling with Charlie in the hedges at summer camp.
Before the end of the story, she has turned into a well-used out, pregnant spouse of a worker. For the duration of her life, Lolita maintains a relatively total absence of mindfulness. As a grown-up, she recalls her opportunity with Humbert impartially and doesn’t appear to hold resentment against it is possible that him or Quilty for demolishing her youth. Her state of mind recommends that as a youngster she didn’t have anything for them to take, nothing essential enough to esteem. Her refusal to glimpse too profoundly inside herself, and her propensity to look forward instead of in reverse, may speak to regularly American characteristics, however Humbert likewise merits some portion of the fault. Humbert ultimately objectifies Dolores, and he denies her of any feeling of self-worth. Dolores exists just as the question of his fixation, never as a person. The absence of mindfulness in a young child is common and quite enchanting. In the grown-up Lolita, the lack of mindfulness appears to be awful.
A Theme Of Incest In Tis Pity She’s A Whore By John Ford And Lolita By Vladimir Nabokov
Both Ford and Nabokov’s main interests were in abnormal psychology and this is evident in their major themes of forbidden love through incest and paedophilia. However, both deal with these themes in a disturbing manner as Ford does not come out against incest but instead seems to present it as an unstoppable force of nature when in reality it is something that goes completely against human nature.
The way in which incest is portrayed in the play is controversial because it is in some ways seen as something less than horrific, because when Giovanni confesses his feelings to Annabella she is not repelled at all but quickly admits that she feels the same way. This would have come has a shock for the Caroline audience as, incestuous relationships were forbidden by the religious hierarchy. Likewise, Nabokov makes Humbert describe his idea of love to entice to the romantic interests of his reader, thinking that it will make his deeds seem less revolting. He manipulates his language in such a way that it confuses the reader’s feelings. Humbert’s changing voice is used to highlight his appreciation for young “nymphets” rather than expose him for a corrupted paedophile, implying that even the most distressing things can be temporarily be concealed by the beauty of art. This came as a disturbing surprise to the audience (forgot the era). However, it was labelled revolutionary for its time.
The first and most obvious reason for Giovanni’s pursuit was due to his temptation for Annabella a he describes her lips by saying, “such lips would tempt a saint” this is a metaphor showing how Giovanni is inflamed with desire and will do anything to try to woo Annabella. This relationship is already a source of distress for the 17th-century audience but his way of describing his insatiable desire makes it even more revolting for the audience to witness. Likewise, Humbert describes his lust towards Lolita as all-consuming, “I shall probably have another breakdown if I stay any longer in this house, under the strain of this intolerable temptation” through his flashbacks of Anabel as he references Poe’s poem several times throughout the novel. Poe’s succession from “impulse” to “indulgence” outlines Humbert’s involvement with Lolita; it starts off as a harmless crush and slowly grows into a very unsettling liaison, resulting in a revoltingly complicated set of affairs that cause Humbert “deep regret and mortification”.
Many would argue that the relationships in both texts will lead to disastrous consequences due to them being unacceptable within the society and the characters lack of conformity to the rules. Since forbidden love is a sin it makes it even more appealing to be pursued. Annabella’s tutor does not criticise her for loving Giovanni, as she depicts the war destructive influence of the church versus education. When Putana mentions “If a young wench feels the fit upon her, let her take anybody, father or brother, all is one”, although some might think that she was being satirical towards Annabella since she is unable to tell the difference between her kinship and romance. Yet, this is not the case as Putana is portrayed as vulgar and morally dubious tutoress. She believes in the philosophy of heart-wanting and following natures lead rather than the path of religious control of sin. Annabella’s selfless fidelity to love may come across as heroic to the spectator; nonetheless, it is neutralised by the fact that hers is a forbidden love, corrupted by incest and exasperated by adultery, the result of which not only affects the sinners, but also the tradition and values of a patriarchal family.
Similarly, Humbert’s modifying voice is supposed to highlight the artistic nature of his admiration for “young nymphets” instead of exposing him for an immoral paedophile, conveying that even the most disgusting things can be temporarily concealed by the beauty of art. Condensing Lolita’s name to a set of rhythmic of syllables; and referring to her as “the light of my life” a metaphor that makes the reader feel this intense passion that Humbert has for Lolita. This artistic introduction shows the reader how intensely captivated he is by her beauty, regardless of the age difference. He also calls her “my sin” conveying to us that he is well aware of his action on a social as well as religious level and is not worried about the consequences due to his ability to manipulate and brainwash others. Another similarity arises in the two texts when comparisons between Humbert and Giovanni are made and their ways of rationalising their actions by victimising themselves. Humbert spends majority of the novel disregarding his accountability for the relationship between him and his stepdaughter. Ekberg recounts Humbert as caught up in an “obsession” that he is unable to forget. This pushes Humbert to come to terms with his culpability and resorts to psychological games with himself to relieve some of that guilt. He functions in a similar way to Giovanni’s character, but Giovanni seems to accept his grotesque relationship; to make matters worse he never indicates any sense of ownership for his sins. During the play, there were many points when Giovanni tries to escape elude the moral responsibility for his disgraceful deeds by representing himself as an “Emotional pioneer”. He tells Annabella, “Tis my destiny that you must either love or I must die”, just like Humbert, Giovanni switches the blame for his incestuous love that he has for Annabella to the fates or to unstoppable craving so that he could be presented as a victim within this situation.
The readers from either era (Jacobean era and Georgian era) would be disgusted by the lack of ownership these characters have taken for their impermissible deeds and are still able to find ways to justify them. Their mentality to rationalise their wrongdoings and blaming it on others will result in tragic consequences. Furthermore, jealousy has also intensified their desire for forbidden love regardless of the outcome. As Humbert’s jealousy has paranoid him to the point where when he sees a man glancing at Lolita, he appears as lustful “satyr” to him. These fictional beings from mythology are known for their prodigious sexual desire and are mostly coupled with nymphs. Yet again Humbert is unable to differentiate between fantasy and reality. Absurdly, the man he sees is most likely an actual nemesis, Clare Quilty. This is One of the main “jokes, ” of the novel that Humbert’s psychotic, nonsensical suspicions happens to be true.
The reader is to think that Lolita and Clare might be poisoning him, another ironic twist of the situation in Part One, where Humbert tried to sedate Lolita and Charlotte. This has resulted in Lolita’s lost innocence as she has become a schemer and poisoner, just like Humbert himself; and she will be the cause of his downfall. Comparably, Giovanni peaked jealousy has angered him as he mentions “O torture. . . to see my love clipped by another. ” the abstract noun “torture” represents his mental instability when he sees Annabella with someone else. Some feminists might argue that this is not only jealousy but possessiveness of both the characters as they believe that these women are their properties. The mental build-up of both characters (Humbert and Giovanni) will result in physical trauma that the other characters, as well as themselves, will suffer from at the end.
The Similarities Between Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita And John’s Ford Tis Pity She’s A Whore
Both Ford and Nabokov’s main interests were in abnormal psychology and this is evident in their major themes of forbidden love through incest and paedophilia. However, both deal with these themes in a disturbing manner as Ford does not come out against incest but instead seems to present it as an unstoppable force of nature when in reality it is something that goes completely against human nature. The way in which incest is portrayed in the play is controversial because it is in some ways seen as something less than horrific, because when Giovanni confesses his feelings to Annabella she is not repelled at all but quickly admits that she feels the same way. This would have come has a shock for the Caroline audience as, incestuous relationships were forbidden by the religious hierarchy. Likewise, Nabokov makes Humbert describe his idea of love to entice to the romantic interests of his reader, thinking that it will make his deeds seem less revolting. He manipulates his language in such a way that it confuses the reader’s feelings. Humbert’s changing voice is used to highlight his appreciation for young “nymphets” rather than expose him for a corrupted paedophile, implying that even the most distressing things can be temporarily be concealed by the beauty of art. This came as a disturbing surprise to the audience (forgot the era). However, it was labelled revolutionary for its time.
The first and most obvious reason for Giovanni’s pursuit was due to his temptation for Annabella a he describes her lips by saying, “such lips would tempt a saint” this is a metaphor showing how Giovanni is inflamed with desire and will do anything to try to woo Annabella. This relationship is already a source of distress for the 17th-century audience but his way of describing his insatiable desire makes it even more revolting for the audience to witness. Likewise, Humbert describes his lust towards Lolita as all-consuming, “I shall probably have another breakdown if I stay any longer in this house, under the strain of this intolerable temptation” through his flashbacks of Anabel as he references Poe’s poem several times throughout the novel. Poe’s succession from “impulse” to “indulgence” outlines Humbert’s involvement with Lolita; it starts off as a harmless crush and slowly grows into a very unsettling liaison, resulting in a revoltingly complicated set of affairs that cause Humbert “deep regret and mortification”. Many would argue that the relationships in both texts will lead to disastrous consequences due to them being unacceptable within the society and the characters lack of conformity to the rules. Since forbidden love is a sin it makes it even more appealing to be pursued. Annabella’s tutor does not criticise her for loving Giovanni, as she depicts the war destructive influence of the church versus education. When Putana mentions “If a young wench feels the fit upon her, let her take anybody, father or brother, all is one”, although some might think that she was being satirical towards Annabella since she is unable to tell the difference between her kinship and romance. Yet, this is not the case as Putana is portrayed as vulgar and morally dubious tutoress. She believes in the philosophy of heart-wanting and following natures lead rather than the path of religious control of sin. Annabella’s selfless fidelity to love may come across as heroic to the spectator; nonetheless, it is neutralised by the fact that hers is a forbidden love, corrupted by incest and exasperated by adultery, the result of which not only affects the sinners, but also the tradition and values of a patriarchal family. Similarly, Humbert’s modifying voice is supposed to highlight the artistic nature of his admiration for “young nymphets” instead of exposing him for an immoral paedophile, conveying that even the most disgusting things can be temporarily concealed by the beauty of art. Condensing Lolita’s name to a set of rhythmic of syllables; and referring to her as “the light of my life” a metaphor that makes the reader feel this intense passion that Humbert has for Lolita. This artistic introduction shows the reader how intensely captivated he is by her beauty, regardless of the age difference. He also calls her “my sin” conveying to us that he is well aware of his action on a social as well as religious level and is not worried about the consequences due to his ability to manipulate and brainwash others.
Another similarity arises in the two texts when comparisons between Humbert and Giovanni are made and their ways of rationalising their actions by victimising themselves. Humbert spends majority of the novel disregarding his accountability for the relationship between him and his stepdaughter. Ekberg recounts Humbert as caught up in an “obsession” that he is unable to forget. This pushes Humbert to come to terms with his culpability and resorts to psychological games with himself to relieve some of that guilt. He functions in a similar way to Giovanni’s character, but Giovanni seems to accept his grotesque relationship; to make matters worse he never indicates any sense of ownership for his sins. During the play, there were many points when Giovanni tries to escape elude the moral responsibility for his disgraceful deeds by representing himself as an “Emotional pioneer”. He tells Annabella, “Tis my destiny that you must either love or I must die”, just like Humbert, Giovanni switches the blame for his incestuous love that he has for Annabella to the fates or to unstoppable craving so that he could be presented as a victim within this situation. The readers from either era (Jacobean era and Georgian era) would be disgusted by the lack of ownership these characters have taken for their impermissible deeds and are still able to find ways to justify them. Their mentality to rationalise their wrongdoings and blaming it on others will result in tragic consequences.
Furthermore, jealousy has also intensified their desire for forbidden love regardless of the outcome. As Humbert’s jealousy has paranoid him to the point where when he sees a man glancing at Lolita, he appears as lustful “satyr” to him. These fictional beings from mythology are known for their prodigious sexual desire and are mostly coupled with nymphs. Yet again Humbert is unable to differentiate between fantasy and reality. Absurdly, the man he sees is most likely an actual nemesis, Clare Quilty. This is One of the main “jokes, ” of the novel that Humbert’s psychotic, nonsensical suspicions happens to be true. The reader is to think that Lolita and Clare might be poisoning him, another ironic twist of the situation in Part One, where Humbert tried to sedate Lolita and Charlotte. This has resulted in Lolita’s lost innocence as she has become a schemer and poisoner, just like Humbert himself; and she will be the cause of his downfall. Comparably, Giovanni peaked jealousy has angered him as he mentions “O torture. . . to see my love clipped by another. ” the abstract noun “torture” represents his mental instability when he sees Annabella with someone else. Some feminists might argue that this is not only jealousy but possessiveness of both the characters as they believe that these women are their properties. The mental build-up of both characters (Humbert and Giovanni) will result in physical trauma that the other characters, as well as themselves, will suffer from at the end.
At the end, most central characters were unable to keep their façade. Humbert is not able to keep up with his fake persona as an educated and mannerly stepfather. Ekberg finally exposes him to be a sly paedophile and later a monstrous alcoholic “bristly chin, my bum’s blood-shot eyes”. Lolita’s character resembles is Russian doll; when opened there’s many more different ones inside; all continuingly decreasing in size until you are only left with an empty wooden chamber. At the start she appears to be innocent and preadolescent but after her mother her mother’s death, Humbert later learned that this was one of many of her only intimate relationships, and was excited when she encourages his advances.
Overall, she was denied a normal upbringing and has to cling to life by has to survive by undertaking different roles; her failure to sustain the only role of happy-go-lucky young girl has led to her defeat. Giovanni is portrayed as a very well educated and a polite character; although the audience are aware of his incestuous lust but towards the end his real personality comes to light which reveals that he is a heartless murderer, as he kills his sister and “love”, due to his inability to marry her. This did not only shock the modern day but the Jacobean viewers as well. Ultimately, forbidden pleasures are not the best since they lead to several immoral deeds and disastrous consequences. As most of these characters were either poisoned, were murdered by the other “lover” or have committed suicide.
Pale Fire Pale Fire
Nabokov’s “Pale Fire” fractures the traditional doppelganger story (as do other novels of his, such as “Despair,” “The Real Life of Sebastian Knight,” and “Lolita”), which often relies on clear black-and-white doubles (Stevenson’s “Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde” comes to mind), by coloring in the nuanced tones between the aptly named John Shade and his commentator, Charles Kinbote. Several instances blur the line between the two men; perhaps one invented the other, perhaps they are one and the same, perhaps they invented each other. This is somewhat irrelevant, as there is enough conflicting evidence for all cases to be made in Nabokov’s detective story. What is important, rather, is that “Pale Fire,” the poem, ties to the commentary – neither of these could exist without the other. In the end it is art that carries through, not any man’s personality; as Kinbote concludes, “Yes, better stop. My notes and self are petering out…My work is finished. My poet is dead” (300).
Nabokov immediately paints his convoluted double theme with a favorite pigment, numbers. Kinbote tells us that Shade was “born July 5, 1898, died July 21, 1959” – he was alive for 61 years and 16 days (13). Furthermore, the second and third canto’s 334 lines double (plus two more) the 166-lined first and fourth cantos. Kinbote, too, has an affinity for doubles, as revealed in the foreword: “nother tormentor inquired if it was true that I had installed two ping-pong tables in my basement. I asked, was it a crime? No, he said, but why two? ‘Is that a crime?’ I countered, and they all laughed” (21-2). Nabakov is known for his distaste of doppelgangers; “The doppelganger is a great bore,” he once lamented. Much of his fiction is devoted to advancing the doppelganger past the relatively simplistic clash of the superego and the id in previous literature. His wordplay – even “ping-pong” sounds like the same word repeated, is often ironic and self-conscious of its mystery novel intents: “…I was about to have a kind of little seminar at home followed by some table tennis, with two charming identical twins and another boy, another boy” (23).
Kinbote explains his purpose, even his existence, by arguing that authorial intent is meaningless without a guiding hand: “…without my notes Shade’s text simply has no human reality at all since the human reality of such a poem as his…has to depend entirely on the reality of its author and surroundings, attachments and so forth, a reality that only my notes can provide…for better or worse, it is the commentator who has the last word” (28-9). Shade’s “attachments” seems an oblique reference to Kinbote himself, adding to Kinbote’s presumption that not only is an author’s work incomprehensible without adding a critic’s eye, but that the author’s life was, too, tempered by Kinbote’s presence. Whether this is Nabakov’s view is difficult to ascertain; given his mockery of Kinbote’s commentary – on why Shade gave a hurricane the name Lolita: “Why our poet chose to hive his 1958 hurricane a little-used Spanish name (sometimes given to parrots) instead of Linda or Lois, is not clear” – it seems more feasible that Nabakov believed the original body of art, and not its layers of skin, should stand the test of time.
With its multiple pairings and confusions (one of Gradus’s alias is Jacques de Grey, pointing to a possible alliance to Shade; Kinbote’s identity complex with Zemblan King Charles II), “Pale Fire” can be read as a detective novel of misplaced identity; allegorically, it seeks to answer the question of what gives art its artistry – here, it is not the poem, nor the commentary, but overall Nabakov’s novel that provides the final synthesis. After all, regardless of inner machinations, Nabakov ultimately invented all of the characters.
The Process of Recollection of Memories in Nabokov’s Speak, Memory
Nabokov’s Speak, Memory is a work that focuses as much on the process of recollection of memories as on the memories that are being recollected. Nabokov’s patient and repetitive interrogation of his memories shows the confrontation of the narrative with the recollection in an iterative, specular moment that strives for mimetic perfection. He challenges the limits of chronological time, describing time as his “magic carpet” (SM 139), whose pace he can control by folding and unfolding it to superimpose distant images printed on it. One purpose of Nabokov’s narrative is to create a sense of timelessness, by making the past collapse into the present. This is turn is representative of the doubling of the self, as Nabokov telescopes time, superimposing the perspective of his present self on the experience of his past self. The formal telescoping of time is signaled by the interactions of light and shade in his narration, transposing form into content. In this essay, I will argue that the diachrony of light and shade in Nabokov’s description of the passage expands into a synchrony of the two selves. This can be seen by observing one of the final passages of chapter 8, where Nabokov describes a family gathering in a park. As the language in the passage transitions from being evocative of images of darkness, creating a space of obscurity in which the two selves can be detached from one another, to images of light representing reconnection, we see Nabokov’s past and present self come together during the process of recollecting this memory.
The passage begins with a characterization of Nabokov as an outsider in his own vision, which creates a sense of detachment between his past and present self. He says, “Always approach that banquet table from the outside” (SM 171). In this phrase, he is using spatial distance as an analogy for the estrangement of the present self from the past, which is effected by time. He approaches the family from the “depth of the woods” (SM 171) rather than from the house. This phrase creates a sense of Nabokov coming from the darkness, away from others, to where the gathering is taking place. The readers’ attention is also drawn to the liminal space between the park and the house – the garden separating the two is described as a “smooth-sanded space” (SM 171). This evokes the image of the sands of time, that is, the years that separate the author from the original gathering. This metaphor of separation is further depicted by the allusion to the tale of the Prodigal Son, which adds resonance to the passage. Nabokov says, “in order to go back thither [he] had to do so with the silent steps of a prodigal” (SM 171). The allusion suggests that Nabokov’s metaphorical homecoming through the re-visitation of his memories is not out of nostalgia, but in the hopes of achieving some sort of absolution. Thus, we see that darkness is representative of a phase of detachment, but Nabokov’s return to his memories is an attempt to reconnect his two selves, thereby demonstrating the doubling of the self.
Once Nabokov begins the process of memory recollection, we see a transition from language evoking images of darkness to Nabokov’s employment of linguistic chiaroscuro to depict the interactions of light and shade; this serves as a transition from the darkness that Nabokov was in, to the light he is going towards. He describes the people at the gathering as “sharing in the animation of light and shade” (SM 171). This can be paralleled to a phrase mentioned a few lines later where he says, “In the place my current tutor sits, there is a changeful image, a succession of fade-ins and fade-outs” (SM 171). The ‘changeful image’ and alternations between light and shade represent a composition of various faces and forms. A fade-in re-introduces light, where a particular memory comes into focus, whereas a fade-out plunges us back into shade, where the boundaries of memories are blurred. This signifies a tension between fragmentation and synthesis and the dispersion and recollection of thoughts. During the process of recollection, it seems as though many different moments and series of afternoon gatherings are coalescing into a single, inclusive and enduring scene. This fluidity in Nabokov’s thoughts and process of memory recollection is further emphasized when he says, “The pulsation of my thought mingles with that of the leaf shadows and turns Ordo into Max and Max into Lenski… and the whole array of trembling transformations is repeated” (SM 171). The movement of the leaves creates patterns of light and shade on the leaves, representing the simultaneity of memory as one memory morphs into another, but quickly enough to allow him to create a single scene out of many fragmented recollections. Additionally, the syntax also depicts an interaction of the past and present. The momentum of the syntax that propels the reader forward is countered by the use of present participles in the description, such as ‘mingles’ and ‘trembling’, which hold the scene in suspension. There is an interaction between the past and the present, since the past is being described using present tense. Thus, the simultaneity of memory serves to bring the past to life.
In the last part of the passage, we see the end of the transition and the beginning of the ‘light’ phase of the passage, which serves a metaphor for the reconnection of the two selves. Towards the end of the passage, he brings the scene into sharper focus when he says, “the outlines settle at last to their various duties” (SM 171). Thus, the light and shade that have characterized the fluidity of Nabokov’s thoughts as they travel between the past and the present are no longer fluid, but have finally settled down. This creates a sense of Nabokov no longer simply observing the remembered scene, but actually and actively becoming a participant, validated by the point that he can hear, “Thirty human hearts drowning mine with their regular beats” (SM 171). If we observe the passage before we come to this phrase, we see a sense of soundlessness, as Nabokov relies wholly on optical techniques in his attempt to recreate the memory. This is seen by the use of phrases like “silent steps”, to describe how he approaches the banquet table from the woods, and “mute lips”, to describe the conversation that guests at the banquet table are having. However, after we see the above-mentioned phrase, there is an explosion of sound imagery, as Nabokov says, “a torrent of sounds come to life” (SM 171). It seems as though initially Nabokov is simply painting a picture, and using optical techniques to facilitate readers to visualize the scene. However, by including sound, he is now bringing the picture to life, adding an additional sensorial dimension that better achieves the effect of lived experience. This marks his transition from an observer to a participant and also serves to dissolve the gap between the past and the present, rivaling life itself; the resulting image, enhanced now by the impact of sound as well rather than just visual techniques, transcends the shifting kaleidoscope of time-bound memories; Nabokov sees them as the “consummation and resolution” of the temporal process, as something that has become “enduring in retrospect” (SM 170). Thus, we see that only after the reconnection of the two selves is the synesthetic impact enhanced, by the inclusion of sound – we see the importance of synesthesia on Nabokov’s process of remembering, as it establishes the connection of his present self to his past self. Thus, images evoking light do not only provide visual clarity, but also allow for the participation of sound, another sense, in the process of remembering, showing a reconnection of the two selves.
Thus, we see that Nabokov depicts the doubling of the self not only by recollecting memories, but also through the process of recollecting them. The tripartite structure of an autobiography is reflected in the structure of the chosen passage. There is a progression from detachment, symbolized by darkness, to a transitory phase, symbolized by the interactions of light and shade, to finally a state of reconnection, symbolized by light. Hence, we see that the process of recollecting memories is also a process of ‘coming to’ for Nabokov as the optical techniques used in the description of the passage, specifically the role of light and shade, serve as metaphors for his own journey in linking his two selves; simultaneously, Nabokov achieves his goal of creating a sense of timelessness as he brings the past alive.
The Art of Autobiography: Diverging Paths to Immortality
An autobiography in its entirety constitutes the full cry of an earthly individual, within an intrinsically unified species, beneath the invincibles of the universe. Gusdorf’s “Conditions and Limits of Autobiography” grant this art form its place in the civilized, intellectual world; the author ultimately distinguishes the literary genre for its difficult center—“the effort of a creator to give the meaning of his own mythic tale” (48). Wise to credit autobiography for its breadth of opportunity for self-definition, Gusdorf supposes that it is the author’s “struggle with the angel” (48) that necessitates attention; that the reader ought not to expect a mystical end of “ultimate, conclusive authority…to this dialogue of a life with itself in search of its own absolute” (48). Autobiography cannot be valued for any efficiency in pinpointing an individual’s absolute properties; this artistic creation blazes the fire of human virtue singularly through the author’s effort to find that eternal identity, and not necessarily his success—the creator’s artistic project to “reassemble the scattered elements of his own individual life and to regroup them in a comprehensive sketch” (35). The reader of autobiography makes a grave mistake to examine an author’s self-defining endeavor without first considering the looming finitude that each person seeks to supercede. This literary genre takes its honorary place among the human race, for it allows reader and writer to both embrace and elude death; the autobiographer purposefully creates a representation of his life and times, impulsively thwarts his own demise, and frees his soul from extinction. On these grounds, the history of one man or one woman becomes the history of all, and the certainty of future death generates an incontestable unity among all who live and breathe the air of individuality.
What Jean-Paul Sartre illuminates in his autobiography, The Words, is deeper-rooted than pointing to truth in a human’s dying moment. While some morbid oddities certainly exist in his way of becoming “completely posthumous” (199), Sartre intrigues the reader with the realization that every minor action has a distinct, epic essence, each motion fully truthful when taken in the context of individual lives as a whole, and thus, in the context of human finitude: “This is not surprising: in a life which is over, the end is regarded as the truth of the beginning” (200). What is eerily accurate about Sartre’s childhood prophecy is that he did, in fact, come to be widely influential posthumously, and for this very manner of acting as if his life were already over. Because of this truth, it is difficult to decipher the worth or fallacy involved in his self-defining view of death. While he describes the meticulous process of trying to “live backwards” (199), it is apparent that in light of the expected downfalls of this strategy, he nonetheless chose that path as a child, and unconscious of its psychological repercussions. He lives posthumously, solemnly noting, “always before or after the impossible vision that would have revealed me to myself” (208). He lives in anticipation of his posthumous distinction with the goal of greatness in mind, and upon the somewhat uncanny realization that he could will his own destiny by submitting completely to the confidence of the adults. Jean-Paul believes that the adults somehow have the ability to foresee his end, and he thus lives as if he is gradually filling the autobiographical pages of a great man already dead. Interestingly, he vows not to live in a “state of error” (204)—that is, he will not make the slightest move without premeditating his personal life’s end, realizing that at that apocalyptical moment, everything in his life will have meant something.
In a grounding, sober conclusion, Sartre puts forth, “since I’ve lost the chance of dying unknown, I sometimes flatter myself that I’m being misunderstood in my lifetime” (254). In the inability to “meet [his self] face to face” (207), he finds weary comfort in the notion that his death will bring about his proper recognition; since he cannot recognize himself, he spends his life becoming his “own obituary” (206), in hope that he might catch the person he will soon be known to emanate. But most importantly, Sartre resolves that this manner of living “did not [raise] [him] above anyone” (255), and he thus finds himself to be the epitome of one who strives only for earthly immortality—“A whole man, composed of all men and as good as all of them and no better than any” (255). Here, Jean-Paul casts a sad light on the humbling reality of writing autobiography, the quest to find what is definitive enough to be immortalized becoming finally a conclusive yet limiting statement of human interconnectedness.
The concept which Vladimir Nabokov makes the center of his fictional biography, The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, exceeds the intrigue of simple “reality”; in this novel, Nabokov offers special insight into the split identity of an autobiographer, for V.’s promise to capture the deceased Sebastian’s “realness” mirrors that probing of an autobiographer, searching for the truth of the self that will soon be physically gone. This author’s portrait of a person’s history on earth is importantly titled to signify Sebastian Knight’s “Real Life,” suggesting the narrator’s righting of a wrong rumor. Nabokov associates the delicacy and unpredictability of a bird in flight with his notion of “realness”—at least as far as the “realness” of Sebastian Knight is and is not conveyed in this book. But can a person’s true essence be more fully captured in an autobiography than by another person’s novel, or in a messy unraveling of different points of view and varying emotional reports of Sebastian Knight’s true likeness? Nabokov intentionally gives V.’s character predictable frustration in order that the reader can empathize with the difficult and vain task of communicating another’s real identity. The narrator’s depiction of “something real” (32) as being “something with wings and a heart” (32) strikes the reader to be an easily—and overly—romanticized idea, and bakes the reader’s suspicion that little will come out of describing paramount events and touchingly inaccurate memories. A note of satire from Nabokov bleeds through these narrative words, suggesting that what is real captures only the fleeting beauty of a bird, because “realness” will slip through the fingers as easily as if it had wings to fly away on contact. The suggestion that something real must be something so swift sets the tone for autobiography as well as biography; the difficulties V2E will have in his efforts to discover Sebastian, and thus Sebastian’s own absence, will mirror that separate autobiographical self’s apparent diffidence in being sought out, if Sebastian’s “real life,” in fact, embodies a thing with wings and a heart.
One of the most convincing arguments V. puts forth is in his reflection on Sebastian’s mysterious character, stating, “…as was often the case with him, the ‘why’s’ of his behaviour were as many X’s, I often find their meaning disclosed now in a subconscious turn of this or that sentence put down by me” (34). Statements such as these suggest Nabokov pulling the strings of a puppet-narrator, V., and V. pulling the strings of his puppet-self, Sebastian; the reader can find in these words an insight into both Sebastian’s intrinsic absence and the half-brother’s present naivete in his hope of defining a self that is never fully in view. The psyches of these individuals, when taken as the function of two different souls, may in fact be related, but this does not stop the narrator from being curiously allured, perhaps deluded, by Sebastian’s dark exterior and outright aloofness. V. looks for meaning with the “why’s” and is met with as many “X’s”—letters of the English language, referential to Sebastian’s literary identity, signs commanding the narrator to turn away, “X’s” impeding him in his search for answers. Through the brother’s generosity in praising Sebastian’s literary talent and V.’s hesitancy to raise himself to that high pedestal, Nabokov pokes fun at the very genre of autobiography in general. The reality that the narrator’s curious attention to his brother’s essence is founded more in what he doesn’t know than in what he does know about Sebastian leaves the reader to consider the full breadth of Nabokov’s message: that Sebastian’s life is truly no different intrinsically than any other; that the narrator has no less writing talent than Sebastian; that Sebastian, too, took up the pen “hypnotised by the perfect glory of a short story” (35); finally, that V.’s only real lack, when measured against Sebastian’s intrigue, is that V. is not dead yet. Sebastian is, in fact, dead, maddeningly out of reach, and his leftover writings ferment as do dismal remnants of artistic ambition, made to look triumphant in the hands of an emotionally dedicated biographer who struggles to discover his own immortality as much as he does Sebastian’s true identity.
Not surprisingly, Nabokov concludes his novel climactically with a scene conveyed entirely by the use of descriptive language. Interestingly, not only does V. state, “Thus—I am Sebastian Knight” (205), but he follows with, “I feel as if I were impersonating him on a lighted stage, with the people he knew coming and going” (205). Clearly, Nabokov has arrived at several difficult paradoxes in his search for the truth of identity. While “the soul is but a manner of being” (204), “any soul may be yours” (204), V. states. Nabokov’s narrator unveils more than a shred of authenticity in the act of impersonation. With V.’s attempt throughout writing to grasp the spirit of Sebastian, he finds that the very gesture of “acting Sebastian” (205) is truth in itself; although the reader might hold that impersonation cannot at all embody a “Real Life,” Nabokov argues that an actor presented on a lighted stage is the closest to truth one can come. The author of The Real Life of Sebastian Knight builds up to a revelation in the close of his mystery novel, and one that is paradoxical only in claiming reality to be purely real in its clarifying obscurity—the obscurity that each soul shares, connects with, and struggles to get to the bottom of, whether or not Nabokov’s maze leads anywhere but back to its confused beginning. Most importantly, what V.—or Sebastian—acknowledges is that “the hereafter may be the full ability to live in any chosen soul, in any number of souls” (204), and what must be acknowledged by Nabokov’s readers is the generosity this novel gives to the notion of multiple identities within a unifying sense of immortality.
The irony of autobiography lies in the fact that despite a supposed “accuracy” or lack thereof in the self-definition of an individual, the base goals of the art are met; it cannot be said that V. or Sartre have not created for themselves a lasting absoluteness or an earthly unity, the imminence of mortality nipping closely at their heels. In this contemporary Freudian society, autobiography remains to be a widely-accepted form of publicized contemplation, and what must not surpass general perception of the art is its irrefutable psychological service to mankind. By providing whatever convoluted insights one can in assuming the peculiar pose of trying to see oneself, the autobiographer thus faces, acknowledges, and works through the reality of his own mortality. As Gusdorf affirms, “The author of an autobiography masters this anxiety by submitting to it; beyond all the images, he follows unceasingly the call of his own being” (33). The multitask of autobiography persists against the grievous ultimatum of life on earth, the rush to self-define aggravated by Freud’s “instinct of destruction” (Civilization, 82).
Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and Its Discontents. 1930. Trans. James Strachey. New York: Norton, 1961.
Gusdorf, Georges. “Conditions and Limits of Autobiography.” 1956. Trans. James Olney. In Olney, Autobiography 28-48.
Nabokov, Vladimir. The Real Life of Sebastian Knight. New York: New Directions, 1941.
Sartre, Jean-Paul. The Words. Trans. Bernard Frechtman. New York: George Braziller, Inc., 1964.
Who is Pechorin: Ambiguity and Unreliability in a Hero of Our Time
The novel A Hero of our Time is a Russian novel about the life of a soldier named Pechorin serving in the Caucasus, written by Mikhail Lermontov and translated in one of its most famous versions by Vladimir and Dmitri Nabokov. Throughout his novel, Lermontov’s different points of view, the unchronological flow of the chapters, and the exclusion of details all prove that appearances can obscure one’s true nature. Lermontov’s multiple narrators; the unnamed traveler, Maksim Maksimych, and finally Pechorin himself, all present Pechorin differently, making it unclear if any of those represent Pechorin’s true nature. Lermontov’s order of the chapters in the novel, rather than the chronologically accurate order of the stories, develops Pechorin’s character at different times of his life, thus making the reasons behind his changes in nature ambiguous. Finally, Lermontov’s exclusion of details in crucial parts of the novel unknowingly obscures Pechorin’s true nature.
Lermontov’s multiple narrators throughout the novel are continually distanced from Pechorin, and thus their descriptions of Pechorin mask his true nature. Maksimych describes Pechorin to the unnamed traveler as “…a little odd…must have been a rich fellow too…” (Lermontov 23). Maksimych, a character that seems to be a close friend of Pechorin’s, is characterized by Lermontov as being oblivious of many of Pechorin’s odd characteristics and backgrounds, despite Maksimych’s frequent and prolonged interactions with Pechorin in the Caucasus, as seen through Pechorin’s apparent richness, that Lermontov displays Maksim as being completely oblivious of, before recounting his events with Pechorin. Therefore, Lermontov uses this limited understanding in order to emphasize the fact that Maksim did not know Pechorin well enough from their frequent interactions, thus giving an inaccurate view of Pechorin’s nature. In addition, when Pechorin was starting to act coldly towards Bela, Maksim simply thought “…no doubt they must have had a tiff…” despite the significant problems that Pechorin was having at the time (Lermontov 44). Lermontov illustrates Maksim as so ignorant of Pechorin that when Pechorin started to undergo major changes in his attitude towards those he previously loved, like Bela, Maksim took it as a simple “tiff,” which usually connotes a quite petty issue or problem. However, Lermontov rather displays Pechorin’s problem with Bela as far deeper than what it seemed to be, as Pechorin believes he is “…a cause of unhappiness for others…” and that “[he has] an insatiable heart” (Lermontov 47). Lermontov actually proves that Pechorin’s problem was no simple matter, yet Maksim took it like one because of his limited knowledge and view of Pechorin. Thus, Lermontov’s word choice and the inaccurate point of view of Maksim help to show the ignorance of other characters in assessing Pechorin’s true nature, thus concealing his true nature. Finally, in the chapter of “Maksim Maksimych,” when Maksim feels sad about Pechorin’s cold treatment of him, the narrator thought, “…just because Pechorin…proffered his hand while Maksim Maksimych wanted to throw himself on Pechorin’s neck” (Lermontov 66). Thus Lermontov illustrates the unnamed traveler as being quite ignorant of Pechorin’s true problems, despite Maksim’s stories of Pechorin. Lermontov employs this ignorance of narrators in order to show that Pechorin’s true nature was unknown to the characters from Pechorin’s appearances.
Lermontov also used the unchronological ordering of the chapters in the book in order to emphasize the idea that appearances obscured one’s true nature. In the story of “Bela,” when Maksimych started to see Pechorin drawing away from Bela, Maksimych felt that this was because they “…must have had a tiff” (Lermontov 44). Lermontov, places the story of “Bela” first, though it is chronologically second to last, simply to create an uncertainty of what happened to Pechorin chronologically before the events in “Bela.” By doing this switch in the chronological order of events, he shows that the inaccurate perceptions that Maksim makes about Pechorin’s nature are simply because of the lack of context that is later gained with events like Pechorin’s love affairs with Princess Mary and Vera in the story of “Princess Mary.” These events that are revealed later in the novel by Lermontov, which happened chronologically before this chapter, would help to explain Pechorin’s true nature, but without this context, the appearances of Pechorin alone only mislead from Pechorin’s true nature. Thus, Lermontov uses the unchronological ordering of stories in the novel to show that appearances can obscure Pechorin’s true nature. Another example of the unchronological structure of the novel obscuring Pechorin’s true nature is in the story of “Maksim Maksimych,” when Pechorin started acting coldly towards Maksim Maksimych, telling him that he “…must say good-bye…[he is] in a hurry…” (Lermontov 63). Though Lermontov’s characterization of Pechorin could be interpreted as a result of Pechorin’s interactions with Bela in the story before, these reactions of Pechorin mainly came as a result of his interactions with Princess Mary and Vera in the story of “Princess Mary,” which are chronologically before the story of “Maksim Maksimych.” This lack of context makes it seem as if Pechorin’s true nature is being revealed by Lermontov, but after being revealed to it, Lermontov is only proving that the appearances of Pechorin before had only led to misinterpretations of his true nature. Thus Lermontov uses the unchronological ordering of stories to prove that appearances are deceiving and cannot be used to accurately determine one’s true nature.
Lastly, Lermontov uses the exclusion of details by the narrator in order to show that appearances can obscure the one’s true nature. When Maksim and Pechorin were with Bela as she was slowly dying, Maksim did not “…notice a single tear on [Pechorin’s] eyelashes: whether he actually could not cry, or whether he was controlling himself, I don’t know” (Lermontov 52). Lermontov uses the limited view of the narrator in order to make some details unknown, like Maksim’s ignorance towards Pechorin at times. This lack of attention to detail and ignorance overall simply demonstrates the fact that Maksim’s view of Pechorin’s nature is inaccurate. Thus, Lermontov’s lack of details in Pechorin’s appearances obscures Pechorin’s true nature. In addition, later when Bela is closer to dying, Maksimych “…closed [his] eyes with [his] hands and began to say a prayer” (Lermontov 53). Lermontov shows through these moments of temporary ignorance, that the narrator, Maksimych, is sometimes unknowing of what is happening around him, like in this moment when he closed his eyes for some time. In addition, when Kazbich visits Maksim and Bela at their house, Maksim asked Bela to “take a look…[she had] young eyes” (Lermontov 46). Lermontov portrays Maksim as oblivious to details sometimes, like this poor vision of his, which could lead to flawed appearances. Lermontov uses this subtle ignorance of detail in order to prove that appearances themselves cannot accurately portray one’s true nature. Thus Lermontov manages to prove, through the novel, that appearances can obscure one’s true nature, as seen through the multiple points of view, unchronological structure of the chapters of the novel, and the exclusion of details in key events. What this really proves, however, is that no character is ever fully known or revealed, even by the end of the novel, and that some characteristics are just never revealed.
In the case of A Hero of Our Time, no one fully understands Pechorin’s character by the end of the novel, even the reader, simply because all of his appearances drawn by Lermontov can be misleading from his true nature. In fact, near the end of “Princess Mary,” when Pechorin’s horse dies, he states, “What was it that I still needed? To see her?…” (Lermontov 158). Lermontov is proving to us that when even Pechorin does not understand his nature fully at times, there is no way of anyone else doing the same. In addition, though appearances can conceal one’s true nature, they end up revealing more about those who made the assumptions, for example, the narrators who make certain assumptions on Pechorin based on what they see of him. Therefore, though appearances can be misleading for judging one’s true nature, those appearances can be quite useful in analyzing the motives and opinions of those infer those appearances about a character.
Women and Fate: Deconstructing the “Hero”
In the Russian novel A Hero of Our Time, translated by Vladimir and Dmitri Nabokov, author Mikhail Lermontov relates the travels of the alienated and manipulative Pechorin, an upper-class military officer struggling with fate in his attempts to interact with women. In the novella “Princess Mary”, Pechorin writes that he views his fate, predicted by an old woman as “death from a wicked wife”, as an “ineffable presentiment”; he is convinced that it will come true, and as such, he carries in his soul an “insuperable aversion” to marriage (Lermontov 137). As such, Pechorin’s relationships with women are marked by his ever-present awareness of his supposed fate, and it is this fear that drives his treatment of them. His treatment of women can be interpreted as heroic, for his respect for them, especially in comparison with his peers—but also as indicative of an antihero, for his manipulation of them. By portraying Pechorin’s relationship to women as an expression of his fear of fate, Lermontov suggests that there is no such thing as a hero: the complexity of human nature prevents an evaluation as such.
Lermontov’s depiction of Bela as exotic and foreign paints Pechorin as or neither heroic nor unheroic, but also distinctly human in his desperation over his fate, suggesting that such a delineation is nonsensical. From the beginning, Bela is exotified: Lermontov introduces her in a quasi-ethnic “Asiatic” wedding, where she is repeatedly described as a “gazelle” (Lermontov 25). This objectification frames Pechorin’s lust for her as a strange and foreign beauty, which nevertheless appears crude and shallow. Lermontov furthers this impression when Pechorin calls Kazbich a “bandit” while he himself is a “husband” (Lermontov 31). This trademark arrogance seems unfounded, especially as Pechorin himself was the one who engineered the deal to steal Bela in the first place. Needless to say, Lermontov’s initial presentations of Pechorin are ones of ignobleness, of shallowness—not heroism. Later, however, he gifts her with Persian fabrics, an act that seems rather unheroic in its attempt to “buy” her love—but Maksim Maksimych is correct in saying that “it is not at all the same thing” as doing so with a Russian girl (Lermontov 36). Maksim’s aside about Bela as strange and exotic is indicative of something else: culturally, a gift of fabrics is a symbol of intent—of marriage. For the first time, Lermontov characterizes their relation as more than simply exotic sex appeal; rather than keeping her as a concubine, as the previous pages would suggest, Pechorin respects her enough to deem her his wife—commendable, perhaps even heroic, in itself, but especially in consideration of what would have been recent events. Chronologically, “The Fatalist” would have occurred directly before “Bela”, and at the conclusion of that story, despite being convinced of predestination, Pechorin never “reject[s] anything decisively, nor trust[s] blindly” (Lermontov 169). As such, the gift is an act of desperation—neither heroic nor unheroic, but simply human—of trying to “test fate” as he had in “The Fatalist” with the Cossack, and willing the prophecy to be disproven. Lermontov’s image of a laughing Pechorin after the death of Bela, then, depicts not a man unmoved by the death of his lover but one broken by the confirmation of his fate. Pechorin’s laugh is neither representative of a hero moving on nor unheroic indifference, but of a complex human being.
Likewise, Lermontov’s portrayal of Pechorin’s relationship with Princess Mary as an expression of his need to keep control contextualizes fate as a continuing specter haunting their liaisons, suggesting that a “hero” cannot exist. Even before Pechorin and Mary make any contact, Lermontov frames jealousy as a motivator for his interactions with her. Pechorin writes that the earnestness of Grushnitsky “envelops [him] with midwinter frost” (Lermontov 89). The ice of Pechorin’s jealousy parallels the seeming coldness with which Pechorin subsequently manipulates Mary, and momentarily, Lermontov projects him as the farthest thing possible from a hero. As such, their first interactions are characterized by manipulation; Pechorin writes with glee that Mary hates him, noting with a sort of vindictive pride that he is the subject of “caustic, but… flattering” epigrams (96). Lermontov’s juxtaposition of two strongly connotative words emphasizes that what Pechorin finds flattering about these epigrams is precisely their causticness; he relishes the fact that he holds power over Mary, that he is the subject of her anguish and her attention. When Pechorin reflects on why he is toying with Mary so intensely, Pechorin writes that his main pleasure is to “subjugate to [his] will all that surrounds” him (Lermontov 116). Lermontov develops a seemingly despicable, unheroic character, at once self-reflective and proud of his own actions, through Pechorin’s grandiose and arrogant tone as he writes this. But this maniacal desire—to control everything around him—reflects his wish to control his fate. As such, when Pechorin is unable to see Mary when she is ill, he writes with incredulity, “Can it be that I have really fallen in love? … What nonsense!” (Lermontov 127). In his use of ellipses, Lermontov creates a natural pause in the flow of text, emphasizing that the reason Pechorin is so averse to the suggestion that he is in love is because he has lost control; he has fallen in love not of his own volition and manipulation but because it simply happened—not to mention that Pechorin is no doubt aware of his supposed fate. When it becomes apparent that he is expected to marry Mary, then, he finally introduces this prophecy and how it has hung over him his entire life—he asserts that he will not “sell [his] freedom” (Lermontov 137). Lermontov’s construction of the comparison of marriage to the sale of freedom—to slavery—evinces Pechorin’s need to remain the one in control. Moreover, this parallels his fear of fate, which stems from his fear of not being able to control his destiny. What is interesting here is that should fate actually exist, as Pechorin so believes, he has no freedom to sell in the first place.
In the end, however, Lermontov’s illustration of the relationship between Pechorin and Vera reveals Pechorin’s capacity—and, indeed, need—for true love despite his supposed fate; whether or not he is a hero becomes irrelevant. Pechorin himself concedes that Vera is the only one who has completely understood him and his “petty weaknesses and wicked passions” (Lermontov 141). Lermontov’s alliteration of words with strong negative connotations suggests that Pechorin understands why he may be despised, but also emphasizes his appreciation for Vera’s unconditional love. His occasional distance from Vera could be heroic—for respecting her husband—or unheroic—for disregarding for her love—yet the question of heroism is extraneous here; regardless of his actions, Pechorin’s dilemmas are complex and cannot be reduced to a simple yes/no binary. Later, after noting Vera’s jealousy about Mary, Pechorin comments on the illogical female mind. He presents a straw man syllogism: “I must not love him for I am married, but he loves me—consequently…” (Lermontov 132). The omission of the “consequence,” reciprocated love, emphasizes the parallel between the married woman he describes and Vera—suggesting that in the end, though Pechorin does take Vera and her love for granted, he still loves her. His love for Vera is made possible by the fact that she is married, and thus poses no threat of fulfilling the prophecy. When Vera does leave, however, Pechorin is overcome with despair. As Pechorin gallops back in his attempts to see her one more time, Lermontov describes the scenery with such words as black, dark, damp, dull, and monotonous, suggesting his desperation in Pechorin’s dismal projection of a world without Vera—and a world without love (Lermontov 157-8).
Throughout the novel, Pechorin has romantic relations with multiple women, yet none of these relationships succeed. Lermontov characterizes all of these relationships, however, as a product of Pechorin’s fear of his fate, and as such, creates a complex and multilayered character. Fate is central to Pechorin’s behavior—yet he is operating under the assumption that it is true. In the final chapter of the book, “The Fatalist,” however, an unnamed character questions, “If predestination actually exists, why then are we given free will and reason, and why must we account for our actions?” (Lermontov164). For Pechorin, the idea of predestination shapes his free will and reason. For Lermontov, the idea of predestination enables him to create a distinct, controversial, yet multifaceted character. Rather than creating a clear-cut hero (or not) as would have been indicated in the title, Lermontov suggests that it is impossible to evaluate someone with a single word; there is no such designation as “hero”, as it fails to do justice to the complexity of human nature. If there is a “hero of our time”, then, it would be the individual: Each person is his or her own hero, in spite of and because of each person’s flaws—because that person is human.
Humbert’s Attempts to Manipulate the Jury in Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita
Judgment Day: Humbert’s Attempts to Manipulate the Jury
Lolita (1955) by Vladimir Nabokov is a famous novel narrated by a 37-year-old man named Humbert Humbert who has a strong admiration for young girls. Humbert takes advantage of the role of the narrator by using rhetoric in order to influence the readers into thinking that the love he has for Dolores Haze – a 12-year-old girl whom Humbert usually refers to as Lolita – is not wrong and should not be perceived as a crime. Since their age difference is so far apart, Humbert’s actions and thoughts about Lolita can be seen as repulsive and pedophilic. However, oblivious to the fact that Lolita does not feel the same way towards him, Humbert attempts to counter this philosophy by interpreting Lolita’s actions as sexual to justify his actions. In utilization of these excuses, Humbert attempts to manipulate the reader into thinking that he is the victim instead of Lolita. Part 1 of the novel ends with Humbert saying, “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number one is what the seraphs, the misinformed, simple, noble-winged seraphs, envied. Look at this tangle of thorns.” (?) In this quote, Humbert uses the metaphor “tangle of thorns” to describe the messy conflict he has being in love with a nymphet. By describing the conflict as a “tangle of thorns”, Humbert is suggesting that the situation is more complicated than it looks. Throughout the novel, Humbert tries to explain his side of this impediment and as the narrator, attempts to make the reader sympathize for him. Conversely, although Humbert is the narrator of the story, it is very important that the reader is not blinded by Humbert’s enlightenments. In fact, contrary to Humbert’s intentions to portray himself as a victim, his excuses are irrelevant, he is ignorant to Lolita’s uneasiness towards him, and unknowingly though explicitly, Humbert himself admits to being a predator. This proves that Lolita is actually the sufferer of the story and that there is no reason for the reader to sympathize for Humbert.
To begin, the reader should not feel the need to sympathize with Humbert because the explanations that he uses in order to justify his actions are irrelevant. One of the excuses that Humbert makes to rationalize his relationship with Lolita to manipulate the reader into sympathize with him is when he gives his statistics about pubescent girls.
The median age of pubescence for girls has been found to be thirteen years and nine months in New York and Chicago. The age varies for individuals from ten, or earlier, to seventeen[…] I have all the characteristics which, according to writers on the sex interests of children, start the responses stirring in a little girl: clean-cut jaw, muscular hand, deep sonorous voice, broad shoulder. Moreover, I am said to resemble some crooner or actor chap on whom Lo has a crush. (?)
In this passage, Humbert tries to convince the reader that the connection he has with Lolita is acceptable because according to science, she is almost a teenager which means she is almost not a child anymore. He even suggests that it is reasonable to be in love with Lolita because she is also interested in him since he resembles a famous person that she has a crush on. Although Humbert shares this excuse as a fact, it is important for the reader to realize the senselessness of this point. Just because Lolita is nearly pubescent does not make his obsession any less wrong. To further help his case, Humbert uses the laws of different countries to prove that being in love with a nymphet should not be recognized as inappropriate. On page ?, Humbert says, “Marriage and cohabitation before the age of puberty are still not uncommon in certain East Indian provinces. Lepcha old men of eighty copulate with girls of eight, and nobody minds.” Again, although this idea of marriage in East India may be true, the fact that he is using a different country’s law in order to defend himself is pointless to his argument. Lastly, in chapter 31, Humbert adds the idea of Lolita not being a virgin in order to make it seem as though pursuing her is not immoral, “Sensitive gentlewomen of the jury, I was not even her first lover” (?). This last point that Humbert gives is irrelevant to his argument because Lolita’s virginity does not determine whether or not she is interested in Humbert. Not only does is not determine her interest for him, but it also does not establish whether or not she should be romantic with someone who is 25 years older than her. Despite Humbert’s ability to list details in attempt to manipulate the reader, the reader should not sympathize for him because his reasonings are irrelevant and do not prove his argument.
Another reason why the reader of this text should not sympathize for Humbert is because although Humbert thinks that the affection he has for Lolita is mutual, it isn’t. Throughout the novel, Lolita explicitly shows her distress towards Humbert but due to the blindness of being in love with her and his strong determination to defend himself, Humbert does not notice that he makes Lolita feel uncomfortable. Lolita’s discomfort is presented in numerous passages in the novel, “[…] and bending toward her warm upturned russet face somber Humbert pressed his mouth to her fluttering eyelid. She laughed, and brushed past me out of the room” (?). The fact that Lolita immediately ran out of the room after Humbert kisses her is an obvious sign that she did not want that to happen, however Humbert only thinks about himself and the pleasure he feels afterward. Another example of Humbert’s oblivion to Lolita’s discomfort is even after she clearly tells him to “cut it out”, “At last I was right behind her when I had the unfortunate idea of blustering a trifle–shaking her by the scruff of the neck and that sort of thing to cover my real manõge, and she said in a shrill brief whine: “Cut it out!”–most coarsely, the little wench, and with a ghastly grin Humbert the Humble beat a gloomy retreat while she went on wisecracking streetward” (?). Even though Lolita was unambiguous in letting Humbert know that she felt uncomfortable, he remains ignorant to her perspective and misinterprets her agitation as a joke. This is proven when Humbert describes her reaction as “wisecracking”. A final example that validates Lolita’s protest towards Humbert’s admiration for her is when she physically hits Humbert after he touches her inappropriately. “Desperate, dying Humbert patted her clumsily on her coccyx, and she struck him, quite painfully, with one of the late Mr. Haze’s shoetrees. “Doublecrosser,” she said as I crawled downstairs rubbing my arm with a great show of rue. She did not condescend to have dinner with Hum and mum: washed her hair and went to bed with her ridiculous books” (?). Not only does Lolita hit Humbert, but she also refuses to eat dinner to avoid being in Humbert’s presence. Lolita’s reactions to Humbert’s misbehavior is very clear, but despite the signs she gives, Humbert remains unaware. In defiance of Hubert’s objective to achieve the sympathy of the reader, one should not at all feel apologetic towards him due to the unfortunate circumstance that he is a harassment to Lolita.
In addition to his irrationality and obliviousness, Humbert also makes the thoughtless move of unintentionally confessing that he is a predator. By admitting this, Humbert contradicts his entire argumentation of being the victim, which is why the reader should not feel any obligation to pity him. In chapter 11, Humbert describes himself as a “predator that prefers a moving prey to a motionless one” (?) while preparing his next move on Lolita. Another instance Humbert reveals his blameworthiness is when he describes what he would have done to Lolita had been courageous enough, “”
– A brave Humbert would have played with her most disgustingly (yesterday, for instance, when she was again in my room to show me her drawings, school-artware); he might have bribed her–and got away with it.
– Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the majority of sex offenders that hanker for some throbbing, sweet-moaning, physical but not necessarily coital, relation with a girl-child, are innocuous, inadequate, passive, timid strangers who merely ask the community to allow them to pursue their practically harmless, so-called aberrant behavior, their little hot wet private acts of sexual deviation without the police and society cracking down upon them. We are not sex fiends! We do not rape as good soldiers do. We are unhappy, mild, dog-eyed gentlemen, sufficiently well integrated to control our urge in the presence of adults, but ready to give years and years of life for one chance to touch a nymphet. Emphatically, no killers are we.
In conclusion, despite the fact that Humbert attempts to take advantage of the role of the narrator by using rhetoric to justify his actions, it is unnecessary to sympathize for him because his justifications are extraneous to his arguments, Lolita is the true victim, and he even admits to playing the role of the predator in the story, which contradicts what he has been trying to debate. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov is a great novel that teaches readers that they should not always automatically trust the narrator. By close reading the text, we are able to read the story through the perspectives of multiple characters and better understand what is actually going on in the story.
Nabokov’s Lolita. Character Analysis (humbert)
Redemption from Guilt
Imagine that one receives no negative consequences for harming another. That person would just continue with his or her actions. Furthermore, he or she will probably do worse and worse things, as long as everything stays fine.. This is the case for Humbert, who looks at young females in ways that society deems inappropriate. First, he just has thoughts of them, but as time progresses, he starts to be more controlling as he acts out his desires. He does everything he can in order to satisfy his passion. Though Humbert, in Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, is driven into an abyss everytime he thinks his lecherous acts are okay, which is illustrated through tone and repetition, he starts to have a realization of what he’s doing and tries to redeem himself.
Through tone and repetition, Humbert shows that he originally does not feel guilty about any of his actions. For example, Humbert declares, “She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line, But in my arms, she was always Lolita” (9). By using a form of repetition in his thoughts and always mentioning a lot of details, he shows how he is paying overly close attention towards Lolita. In addition to this, he is also somewhat possessive when he says his last line; he assumes that Lolita will be in his arms. In these ways, Humbert already starts off as a very controlling person. He thinks his way of thinking is okay, because his tone doesn’t show any sign of regret. Therefore, he will stick to that kind of mindset. Furthermore, he will feel okay about going on to do or think worse things, as long as he does not get any negative feedback. Furthermore, Humbert almost proudly says that he experienced “some interesting reactions on the part of [his] organism to certain photographs, pearl and umbra, with infinitely soft partings, in Pichon’s sumptuous La Beaute Humaine that [he] had filched from under a mountain of marble-bound graphics in the hotel library” (11). In this monologue, Humbert has a cheeky tone; he openly says that he “filched” something and even shared his experience. That must mean that he was not apologetic at all. Furthermore, it illustrates how, just for pleasure, Humbert had already gone to such extremes at such a young age. Similarly to his thoughts on Lolita, he thinks what he is doing is not bad, so he will move on to do worse things in the future until he realizes that there is a line that cannot be crossed. This is similar to an abyss because as long as nothing makes him define his limits, he will continue with his actions.
Humbert becomes very spontaneous and controlling as he continues down the path to follow his passion. He once thinks, “I knew I had fallen in love with Lolita for ever; but I also knew she would not be for ever Lolita. She would be thirteen on January 1. In two years or so she would cease being a nymphet and would turn into a ‘young girl’, and then, into a ‘college girl’ – that horror of horrors … So how could I afford not to see her for two months?” (69) In this way, Humbert expresses his fear of Lolita growing up. For him to counter this fear, he wants to see Lolita even more, which means that he will force his way into Lolita’s life. He is unable to let go of anything, and he wants to satisfy his passion of Lolita by staying attached to Lolita. Furthermore, Humberts mindset of loving her forever even though she changes will distort the reason why he loves Lolita. He will love her even as she changes. Humbert does not realize that what he’s doing is wrong, and this will lead him to find more excuses to see Lolita. By wanting to see Lolita more even though she changes, Humbert will also ironically destroy his own love for “nymphets” even though that is the reason why he originally loved Lolita. Not only that, change can already be seen within Humbert. Before, he only had thoughts of Lolita. However, now he wants to see her more. Humbert will continue on this path as he tries to desperately love and fulfill his growing passions for Lolita. On another note, when Lolita says something serious, Humbert says, “Was she joking? An ominous hysterical note rang through her silly words. … The sweat rolled down my neck, and we almost ran over some little animal or other that was crossing the road with tail erect” (148). Lolita threatened to call the police and tell them he raped her in order to cause Humbert to feel this way. He reveals his uncertainty and nervousness towards Lolita’s jokes about serious matters. He does this with the hypothetical question and the tone as depicted by the events – a ringing hysterical note and almost running over an animal. Even if he is uncertain about whether or not she is serious, it still means that Lolita cannot be saying nonsense. This also emphasizes how even Humbert’s personality changes – he starts to become curious about Lolita’s thinking, and he tries to understand it. Since he doesn’t want her to be serious about this, it means that he does not want to hear her arguments and wants to completely control her.
Eventually, Lolita runs away and marries another person before she finally tells Humbert of the situations she went through and ended up with. During this point, Lolita has matured, and Humbert has not seen her in a long time. This could have probably been the reason causing Humbert to think, “I simply did not know a thing behind my darling’s mind and that quite possibly, behind the awful juvenile cliches, there was in her a garden and a twilight, and a palace gate – dim and adorable regions which happened to be lucidly and absolutely forbidden to me” (299). In the past, he wanted to penetrate into all of Lolita’s life in order to control her. However, now Humbert acknowledges that there are parts of Lolita which he cannot ever understand and even be part of. Just by acknowledging the fact that he cannot force himself into all of Lolita’s life already shows that Humbert is breaking away from his wrong path. Although he still loves Lolita in a way, he starts to let go of his unrestrained passion for Lolita. This is the first step to Humbert redeeming himself – he realizes his actions and wrongdoings. Furthermore, in the end, Humbert writes indirectly to Lolita, “Be true to your Dick. Do not let other fellows touch you. Do not talk to strangers. I hope that you will love your baby. I hope it will be a boy. That husband of yours, I hope, will always treat you well” (325). In this way, Humbert’s words are like the words of a father giving advice to his child. The advice includes morals for relationships with people. He also hopes for her own happiness, which means that he is finally able to let go of her. Before, Humbert only wanted to use Lolita to satisfy his own passion and make himself happy. However, in the end, Humbert’s realizations allowed him to free himself and Lolita from each other. He wishes the best for Lolita, which shows that he is trying to correct his past actions; he is doing something he had never done before in the past. Therefore, Humbert himself grows and changes his mindset completely, allowing for him to try to correct his actions.
Ultimately, Humbert illuminates that he does make the effort to correct his actions, proving that he realizes his wrongdoings and how he wants to change his character. Humbert goes through a time when he assumed his actions were fine. He continues with his lecherous thoughts and actions until he realizes his fault. There are times in which people lose their morals and conclude that their actions are not wrong. However, there is always a possibility that people can correct themselves as long as they realize the truth of what they are doing. Despite wrongdoings, people going down the wrong path still have the opportunity to turn back.