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.