Nabokov brings out Humbert’s voice as a mixture of two extreme emotional impulses and an uncanny sense of highly complex intellectual. Humbert is persuasive and convincing in a way that is unsettling, a little upsetting, but sleek enough to rob your mind and completely occupy it with its vile verbal exhortations. For instance, in his own description, Humbert though in extreme exaggeration manages to draw the reader into believing that he is “… an exceptionally handsome male; slow-moving, tall, with soft dark hair and a gloomy but all the more seductive cast of demeanor…. with”… exceptional virility …that could obtain at the snap of fingers, any adult female…. ” Humbert seems to be so much self absorbed and overconfident, a trait which can also be noted in his incessant desire for Lolita. This voice of self-aggrandizement (qtd. in. in Meyer 93) In the same text, Humbert’s voice takes a dramatic shift to of cold and fiery brimstone coupled with a lighthearted sadistic tone. Humbert combines his intelligence with slovenliness, alacrity and alienation.
His description of Lolita’s naked body and the vivid account of how he has sex with her when she is sick and how he thinks of raping her again are soul cringing. In contrast his erotic description of Lolita’s “brown, naked…narrow white buttocks….. sulky face…” image displays his soft sensual side. ” It’s the voice that could be beautiful, if it were not for something rotten at its core” (Meyer 98) Humbert’s romantic tragedy with Lo begins with the letter from Charlotte and dramatically ends with one from Lo. Humbert reveals himself as an obsessed lover who would do anything to be in control of the life of their objects of obsession. His obsession is evident in many words he uses in the text specifically his description of Lolita as “… all rose and honey, dressed in her brightest gingham, with a pattern of little red apples… with scratches like tiny dotted lines of coagulated rubies, and the ribbed cuffs of her white socks were turned down. This description, which is highly detailed, shows how Humbert’s mind and speech was greatly inclined towards every inch of perfection or imperfection of his object of obsession, Lolita.
Humbert tries to portray his sexual obsession with Lo as a relationship between the Artist and his piece. While his description of Charlotte as “the poor lady in her middle thirties, she had a shiny forehead, plucked eyebrows and quite simple… ” explains his attempt to try and first identify with her, revealing her susceptibility and areas of weakness before taking control of her. His voice of periphrastic speech contrasts with Lolita’s simple everyday speech.
His usage and coinage of words such as “nymphet”, “equanimity”, “cubistic”, “pacific”, “blood ripe” and so forth makes him “…sound like a book…” When Lolita’s speech is marked by normal everyday word usage full of slang such as “Sunset Motels, U-Beam Cottages, Hillcrest Courts…” while Humbert’s speech was full of periphrastic tendencies such as “You will dwell, my Lolita will dwell…” However, At times he tried to integrate his educative language with Lolita’s street language for instance “drop that moody nonsense. In former times, when I was still your dream male…you swooned to records of the number one throb-and-sob idol of your coevals… Humbert would try to use Lo’s tongue at times as a way of showing disdain for what he did not consider as a proper way of communicating.
Lo in contrast would use Humbert’s tongue such as “Was the corroboration satisfactory? ” when she wanted to be devious and French when she wanted to play an innocent good girl “I choose? “C’est entendu? ” Humbert’s use of his educated speech as a euphemistic tool reveals his modest but warped sense of sexuality. He describes fellatio as “the hard and nauseous way” or “the school theatrical program” in reference to the time when Lolita had to beg for his permission in order to take part in the school play.
Humbert used blackmail by giving his permission in exchange of sex with Lolita. He used emotional blackmail again when they got into an argument on the eve of the opening night forcing Lolita to throw in the towel and demanded that they leave town. In other instances, he calls his penis “my life” and tries to coat the sexual encounters using Latin terms “Venus Febriculosa” while downplaying the fact that he had sex with Lolita while she was sick merely as”…temperature… ” (qtd in Meyer 94)
Through this, Humbert is able to transform himself into the “bewitched traveler “who has no complete control over what feelings that nymphets arouse in him and his reactions. Because Humbert is “yearning for something more than life” he tries to find it by transcending the mundane and launches the reader into a spat of imagination. His punishment can be seen as justice on one end but could really be because of his perverted act of presenting an account of his life as an artistic work.
His voice assumes that there is no culpability in a work of art, which is true but his work is actually his life and not a general account of life. He tries to justify his actions as if they were “…only a game”, thereby not making him responsible for his actions Lolita’s voice Lolita, because she is so much used to the parlance on the streets compared to the educated periphrastic language that Humbert uses, for instance misunderstands him when he proposes that they run away together to another country forever “ you mean you will give us all that only if I go with you to a motel” (qtd. n Meyer 95). This makes us see what a simple-minded girl Lolita is. Her speech which is filled with radio and TV language makes her seem naive and unknowledgeable.
Lolita’s voice is that of desperation. Many a time in the text, she is forced to do Humbert’s bidding because she does not have anyone else to run to. An even when she finally runs away, her expectations are smothered when she lands herself in a far . worse place than before- shooting porn videos with Quilty. Her letter, the last one she ever writes carries her vindictive yet desperate voice. How’s everything? I am married. I am going to have a baby. I guess he is going to be a big one. I guess he will come right for Christmas. This is a hard letter to write. I am going nuts because we do not have enough to pay our debts and get out of here. Dick is promised a big job in Alaska in his very specialized corner of the mechanical field, that is all I know about it but it is really grand. Pardon me for withholding our home address but you may still be mad at me, and Dick must not know. This town is something. You cannot see the morons for the smog.
Please do send us a check, dad. We could manage with three or four hundred or even less, anything is welcome, you might sell my old things, because once we get there the dough will just start rolling in. Write, please. I have gone through much sadness and hardship. ” (Qtd. in Meyer 99) In this letter, she does not tell Humbert about Quilt (bitter) though she does so later when they meet. . The desperate note on the last sentence of the letter “…I have gone through so much sadness and hardship” perhaps is what leads to Quilts murder by Humbert, when he finds out the truth.
Lolita’s voice in does not reciprocate the love in the affair she has with Humbert, rather, it borders more on duty and reciprocity than romantic love. While Humbert’s description of his relationship with Lolita may be taken to mean love by some, it may as well mean lust. His obsession with Lolita in itself shows us a dangerous side of him, which attempts to kill charlotte, and succeeds at killing Quilty, who was seen as obstacles to gaining control of Lolita. In trying to make us believe that he is truly in love with Lolita, he plays the part of a jilted lover in a crime of passion.
His antics with the therapists show his calculating manipulative side “…discovered that there was an endless source of robust enjoyment in trifling with the psychiatrists: cunningly leading them on…inventing for them elaborate dreams, teasing them with fake ‘primal scenes’ “. His need to feel he was in control drove him to imagine he was not to blame in the murder he commits by manipulative persuasion “Frigid gentlewomen of the jury… I am going to tell you something very strange: it was she who seduced me” (qtd. n Meyer 97) Humbert’s usage of words in the text gives words that may have otherwise had a normal regular meaning, symbolism. In the letter he receives from charlotte (though we only get to learn of the contents through the “verbatim” recollection of the words from Humbert after he destroys the letter) there is sad genuine passion expressed by charlotte towards Humbert. ”
You see, there is no alternative. I have loved you from the minute I saw you. I am a passionate and lonely woman and you are the love of my life. . . . Let me rave and ramble on for a teeny while more, my dearest, since I know this letter has been by now torn by you, and its pieces (illegible) in the vortex of the toilet. My dearest, mon tres, tres cher, what a world of love I have built up for you during this miraculous June! ” In this letter, Humbert is able to deliberately leave out some parts which to him do not matter but lets us know what (for instance the death of Charlotte’s brother), those that he forgot genuinely and also questions some of the objects he thinks are his own importation, like the “vortex of the toilet” which he uses symbolically.
He lets us wonder at the absurdity of such an importation and its significance. In other words, Humbert makes us trust him because of his immense ability to recall and even re-write his own pocket diary ( which was destroyed in a fire some 5 years before) and at the same time makes us doubt him for the same reasons; he is a man of huge intellect capable of manipulating the truth. He takes us back and forth in games, which makes us not only unsure of ourselves in whatever judgment we make about him but also his victims.
He succeeds in presenting his attraction to Delores (also Lolita, Lo, and Lol) and other nymphets as an inevitable action precipitated by circumstances and not governed by morality. His explanation for choosing to be a pedophile though shamelessly perverted is also convincing in a way that it takes an artistic twist. Between the age limits of nine and fourteen there occur maidens who, to certain bewitched travelers…. reveal their true nature which is not human, but nymphic (that is, demoniac); and these chosen creatures I propose to designate as “nymphets”.
By banishing his subjects to the realm of the inhuman or supernatural, he therefore has transformed himself into a hero who is in combat with the nymphets. He goes on ahead to describe how a true nymphet is not easily noticeable. “…A normal man given a group photograph of school girls or Girl Scouts and asked to point out the comeliest one will not necessarily choose the nymphet among them…” and completely refuses to acknowledge that these are actually children and not “maidens” the way he likes to refer to them. (qtd. in Meyers 101).
By designating men who have desires for such fantasies as “mad men” or artists, he denigrates from the social expectation, which considers such kind of behavior not only criminal but also immoral. Lolita’s voice is also stylistically as a symbol of money. Her constant condition was that money would be an end in itself the means did not matter. That she writes to Humbert asking for money is no surprise. Even while in Paris, Humbert’s effort to obtain a nymphet backfires as he gets “a monstrously plump, sallow, repulsively plain girl of at least fifteen . . . nursing a bald doll,” (qtd, in Meyers 112).
His description of the girl is enough to get the reader on his side- no one likes to pay for something and a get a raw deal instead. Hoover whit is important is Humbert’s reaction which completely shows the complete objectization of women. There is a difference in the way Humbert uses his voice as a structurally effective tool compared to Lolita. His desire to express himself in his new country cannot escape the European influence in the way he even refers to the trees and buildings as “Chateaubriandesque trees” or “Claude Lorrain clouds” and “a stern El Greco horizon”.
The use of language as a structural tool is also noticed in the juxtapositions of Humbert’s speech with Lolita’s speech. The use of elevated language that is highly intellectual against the television and radio language. The shift from Europe to American is also captured in Humbert’s speeches, which cannot get rid of the French cliches’. Lolita does well in her voice to present the practical utility of the ordinary everyday language compared to the elevated language, which dawdles the reader into a psychological roundabout.
The two reveal the stylistic differences of the voice of the television informed by the laymen in the streets and the voice of the cultured and the educated, informed by the written language. Even though at some point in the novel, we feel very angry at Humbert, our anger is held back by his eloquent speech on his defense. It is this moving speech that makes us want to even forgive Humbert for his deeds because he seems not at fault. Humbert tries to convince us that his actions do not stem from a moral standpoint.
We feel that his pursuit of Lolita was based on love that was intense but sadly turns tragic, something that was not under Humbert’s control. Humbert wants us to believe that his obsession stems from his failure to accomplish his affair with Lolita because she dies prematurely. His effort to keep Lolita on a leash using threats such as school reform, banishment from taking part in school activities or hanging around boys, appear frantic and desperate. However, he even convinces neighbors that he is simply being the overprotective father- old fashioned.
This face does not last for long. He resorts to bribing her with money in return for sex despite the fact that Lolita makes it clear she does not share his feelings. Humbert wants us to believe that he was the victim in his narration. While we might see him as a corrupt and cunning adult corrupting a weak and innocent child, we are able to see that it is the exploitation of a weak adult by a corrupt child. He attempts to convince us that fate rules and wins in the end, no matter how choosy we want to be.
In summary the voice of Humbert cannot only be seen as a stylistic device that brings out the themes but also brings out the attack the attack the narrator is launching on our sensibilities. By playing games with our minds, the narrator is able to make us explore our human side that is rotten and immoral, by showing how it cuts across society regardless of education or social status. The narrator is able to bring into focus the central themes of the text, which are psychological as well as grippingly real.
Lolita’s voice in the novel serves to substantiate and vilify the immoral wrong doer. By giving his psychological account, Humbert allows us to enter his mind and consequently pleads with us to understand his remorse and shame that he feels of his affair with Lolita. He realizes he has robbed Lolita of her childhood at some point when listening to the blabber of you children outside. Humbert not only makes us aware of the foundation of society’s moral decadence but also explains why this is inevitable because young girls will always be there as sure as the pedophiles.
The sad realization brought by the death of Humbert and Lolita is that both of them could just be a chip of a bigger iceberg in the grand scheme of things-the real face of human life which is often filled with shocking immoral degrading corrupt and rotten scheming which alienates and exploits not only the human as biological being but also as a spiritual being. His confession becomes our confession and it does not address our minds but undresses our minds pouring out in the open, the kind of life a good number of us would not mind living if at all we are not doing so already.
Courtney from Study Moose
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