Vladimir Nabokov’s use of the Sins in the novel, Lolita and its effect.
The contentious novel, “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov elicits a multitude of reactions and responses from everyone who endures it for its risque and boorish content. Some individuals bulk at the name itself for its meaning of child promiscuity not to mention the content and what all it comprises. Others marvel at the pure astuteness of Nabokov’s work and the underlying connotations, emblems and ambiguity. This dissertation will delve into a connotation that is more inconspicuous to the moderate reader. A closer look at the biblical sins and their involvement in “Lolita” will be done within this work. The rationale behind the analysis of sins in the novel is because of the lack of anything like it ever being done and the inquisitive and alluring notion that emanates from sins, seduction and manipulation, (all things the novel contains).
In the novel, “Lolita”, the apparent antagonist, Humbert Humbert was brought to life from the mind of the well extolled author, Vladimir Nabokov. The throng of this paper will primarily focus on the narrator, Humbert and his thoughts, emotions, actions and how Nabokov used these to enrich the novel both in aesthetics and actual meaning. This will be done by examining the text through the literary religious lens and more importantly, the sins and commandments that are described in the Bible.
It is known that Humbert is a promiscuous middle-aged man that only targets, devours and deflowers innocent nymphets habitually throughout the book but the author takes the pedophilia and disguises it with beautiful language and he also places specific elements in the novel to inform the reader of the horrendous and hanus act that is pedophilia. The ambiguity is mere poetry of itself. One of the elements that are used within the novel that is not well known is Nabokov’s use of the sins in the Bible. In the Bible, sins are described as an act of transgression against God and those who commit these deeds are unclean and will face damnation if forgiveness is not sought. The infamous biblical parable of Adam and Eve explains the destruction of sin the best. In the parable, Adam and Eve experience and fall victim to deceit, seduction and manipulation thus eradicating their as well as humanity’s chance at everlasting life. The archetypal element of sin dismantling immaculateness has since then been a crucial piece in global literature. It is used specifically with Humbert and the Nymphets, Lolita more importantly. Humbert pilfers every ounce of their youth and completely strips them of their innocence as children without a single piece of remorse. In literature, sins are used to symbolize filth and uncleanliness. Nabokov brilliantly uses the sins of the Bible to underline the defilement of Humbert’s actions and pedophilia without having to overtly say it.
The use of the transgressions improves the novel aesthetically because of the ambiguity. The atrocity in the novel is truly breathtaking because of how it effortlessly and nonchalantly just appears and is overlooked by both the reader and the other characters in the novel. To further the sublimity, Nabokov explains each act so vividly and so poetically that it forces everyone involved to ignore what is actually happening.
Each act of transgression has its own effect on Humbert and the reader alike. To Humbert, each sin gives him immense pleasure in disparate ways. He uses each sin to compensate for every part of humanity that he lacks. To the reader, as each sin appears, it reminds them of the abhorrent feats that is being performed and cloaked with pulchritudinous diction.
The generations of sin and trauma in Humbert’s family destroyed his innocence as a child and any chance of him having humanity. Nabokov placed Humbert as the narrator of, “Lolita”. No secret at that but the answer as to why is more complicated. Nabokov wanted Humbert to tell his own story. He wanted Humbert to not only appeal to the audience with sensuality, making them sympathize with pedophilia and rape, but he wanted the reader to understand why he is the way he is and why it truly is important to hear it from his point of view rather than his victims because all of his victims, Dolores included, would have only told the negative parts concerning them and not the entire story and how it all began. His story truly began as a child. Humbert was raised in a middle-class, european household. According to the text, “I was born in 1910, in Paris. My father was a gentle, easy-going person, a salad of racial genes: a Swiss citizen, of mixed French and Austrian descent, with a dash of the Danube in his veins […] He owned a luxurious hotel on the Riviera. His father and two granddaughters had sold wine, jewels and silk, respectively.”Lolita.
The sins and trauma that had been passed down from each generation had destroyed everyone’s innocence in the family line including Humbert. A sin that will appear a plethora of times in this dissertation is Lust. The transgression, Lust is described as an insatiable hunger to act upon an animalistic craving for sex and power. Lust is the very first sin Humbert experiences with his family and it is probably the most important sin of his family because everything that they are revolves around it. They all become slaves to their constant search for sex, wealth and power and it continues to trickle down. As a child, Humbert did not know any better. He did what he was taught and that reception destroyed his youth and his innocence. Humbert is a literary Byronic Hero. Byronic Heroes share the characteristics of a high level of intelligence, cunning, educated and sophisticated, mysterious and charismatic, they have a power of seduction and manipulation, they struggle with integrity and they provide a sexual dominance. (Just to name a few). A very important reason why they are the way they are is because they have a troubled past and it has affected them in the worst way possible. Humbert experience an immense amount of pain and suffering as a child. According to the text, “ My very photogenic mother died in a freak accident (picnic lightning) when I was three, and save for a pocket of warmth in the darkest past, nothing of her subsists within the hollows and dells of my memory, […]” Lolita. Experiencing a deep trauma as losing your mother at the age of three would destroy anyone. Humbert had to grieve as an infant and grow up without a mother. Most Byronic Heroes experience a death of a loved one, specifically mothers which is why they have this unexplainable sexual craving for women, (or in Humbert’s case, girls). It somehow fills a void that cannot be filled anyother way.
The trauma of his mother sparked the sin of lust but it was not until he grew up and witnessed his family act on their lustful desires that he puts a meaning to the word. The insatiable hunger for sex in Humbert’s family was crude and unjust but Nabokov placed that on purpose to show readers the horrid, vile and raw lifestyle from which he was raised and imposes on nymphets in the future. According to the text, “ My mother’s elder sister, Sybil, whom a cousin of my father’s had married and then neglected, served in my immediate family as a kind of unpaid governess and housekeeper. Somebody told me later that she had been in love with my father, and that he had lightheartedly taken advantage of it one rainy day and forgotten it by the time the weather cleared.” Lolita. The meaningless sexual liaisons that Humbert experienced first handedly corrupted him into that behavior, according to the text, “I was extremely fond of her[…] Perhaps she wanted to make of me, in the fullness of time, a better widower than my father.” Lolita. Discussing his own aunt in that excerpt, this new found sexual hunger had began to destroy Humbert at the age of sixteen. He began having desires for her for he described her as, “ Pink-rimmed azure eyes and a waxen complexion.”Lolita.
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