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In Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Lolita (1955), the narrator, Humbert, attempts to persuade readers to both believe and understand his story about Lolita, the underage girl he fell in love with and seduced. Humbert had just moved to a suburban New England Town where Lolita resides. He had just gotten over his last love interest, Annabelle. As the novel progresses, Humbert realizes that he is in love with the 12- year old Lolita and begins a very unhealthy obsession over her. He does everything in his power to try and get her to fall in love with him, resulting in him ultimately seducing her.
During the duration of their relationship, Humbert tries to control every aspect of Lolita’s life by telling her whom she can and cannot talk to as well as forcing her to travel across the country with him. Their love and relationship don’t last. Towards the end of the novel, Humbert gets arrested and dies of heart failure, while Lolita dies from childbirth.
Throughout the novel, our narrator uses different methods to try and persuade readers to believe his story and makes us feel sympathetic towards his struggle and pain. Humbert uses literary techniques such as symbolism, imagery, and motif to persuade his readers of his love while ultimately creating a new form of “aesthetic bliss.”
Nabokov’s goal in this novel was to create “aesthetic bliss,” a feeling of being connected; where tenderness, kindness and happiness is the norm. He can be considered as a verbal master, as he manipulated the feelings of his readers, making them sympathize with the story, while also maintaining this perfect image in the novel.
He does this with extensive use of imagery. Imagery is a literary technique that enhances the mood through figurative language to represent objects, actions and ideas. It creates clear images in the mind of the reader. When Humbert meets Lolita for the first time, he states, “without the least warning, a blue sea-wave swelled under my heart and, from a mat in a pool of sun, half-naked, kneeling, turning about on her knees, there was my Riviera love peering at me over dark glasses,” (39). Readers can envision how Humbert was feeling and what exactly he was seeing through Nabokov’s descriptive language. The image makes it evident that Humbert is immediately infatuated with the girl, as he creates this image of “aesthetic bliss” by describing her as the perfect girl. Furthermore, in chapter 5 of the novel, the narrator introduces the topics of nymphets by stating, “Now I wish to introduce the following idea. Between the age limits of nine and fourteen there occur maidens who, to certain bewitched travelers, twice or many times older than they, reveal their true nature which is not human, but nymphic (that is, demoniac); and these chosen creatures I propose to designate as ‘nymphets’” (135). In this quote, Humbert is trying to justify and normalize his feelings for younger girls as he precisely defines what he is looking for. His vivid definition of a nymphet makes the readers believe that they are extremely rare and extraordinary. With his descriptive language, he is able to convey his message to the readers to help them understand his fascination with underage girls and why it is okay to be infatuated by them.
Humbert also uses the literary technique, symbolism, to persuade his readers while simultaneously creating his “aesthetic bliss” through his narration. Symbolism is a literary device where symbols are used to represent different ideas. One of the major symbols in this novel that relates to the love and infatuation that Humbert has for Lolita is clothing. In the novel, Humbert enjoys spoiling Lolita with clothing. The clothing is a way for Humbert to project his fantasies onto Lolita and is a way for him to control her. He buys clothing for her to dress her up to be the nymphet that he wants her to be. Through the narrator’s verbal manipulations, this micromanaging is seen as a sign of his affection for her as he creates a sense of “aesthetic bliss.” He makes readers sympathize with him and manipulating them into believing that everything he does is from the purest intentions and out of love. In chapter 25, Humbert states, “The next afternoon I devoted to buying beautiful things for Lo…check weaves, bright cottons, frills, soft pleats, snug fitting bodices and generously full skirts” (107). He creates this perfect image of himself as he is the best boyfriend to buy the girl who he loves such beautiful things and showing his compassionate and humane side. Additionally, Humbert uses butterflies to symbolize Lolita herself. The beautiful butterflies are like Lolita- beautiful, sensitive and hard to catch based on her unique beauty. Butterflies also symbolize Lolita because she too emerges from her cocoon into adulthood as her relationship with Humbert becomes more serious. Humbert’s comparison of Lolita to butterflies presents him as a warm, loving and friendly character, which essentially creates this new form of “aesthetic bliss.”
Vladimir Nabokov also used the literary technique of the motif to persuade readers and help sympathize with Humbert’s story. Motifs are very common in texts as they are a concept or ideas that is repetitive throughout the course of the novel. A motif is used to emphasize and highlight a concept in order to instill it in the minds of the readers. The biggest motif in this novel is the infatuation and adoration that Humbert has for Lolita. Due to the fact that Humbert is our narrator, it is difficult to have a clear, un biased mindset while reading this novel, as he uses the power of motifs to make us understand him rather than judge him. The start of the novel exemplifies the love that Humbert has for Lolita. Humbert states, “Lolita, the love of my life, the fire to my loins. My sin to my soul. Lo-leeta.” (9). The novel starts off with these quotes emphasizing his affection. Readers see how Humbert describes Lolita and the lengths he goes to be with her. Hence motif is the constant emphasized concept of Humbert’s love for Lolita. This theme gets emphasized as Humbert says and does many things throughout the novel that shows his infatuation for Lolita such as buying her clothing, trying to find her after she was “kidnapped,” and killing the man who was responsible for impregnating her. This motif persuades readers of the validity of Humbert’s story, while also creating the “aesthetic bliss” as Humbert is portrayed as a moral man, even though he has fallen in love with an underage girl. It is difficult to pass any judgement and is simply understood that the poor guy who would do anything to be with this fascinating girl.
During the progression of the novel, Humbert makes many attempts to try and normalize his actions to the readers to make himself seem more humane and relatable rather than just a sick, mentally ill pedophile. He says this dark story in a more enchanting and fairy-tale like way by using all kinds of different literary devices and speaking in confessional tones. One of the defenses Humbert uses is his respect and love for children stating, “I have the utmost respect for ordinary children, with their purity and vulnerability, and under no circumstances would he have interfered with the innocence of a child,” (12). He makes it seem as though his love interest with Lolita is perfectly normal, as he is not trying to disrespect Lolita or take away her innocence: he genuinely does love her. Furthermore, Humbert references Poe to show his evolution and explain to the readers how his relationship with Lolita is sane because she has reached puberty and is physically mature. Personally, I felt as though that the Nabokov did a great job trying to persuade the readers of Humbert’s “innocence” and how he aestheticizes the world of this novel. In regards to the relationship between Humbert and Lolita, I share the same opinion as Ray, the author of the foreword in the beginning of the novel. In this brief entry, Ray states, “No doubt, he is horrible, he is abject, he is a shining example of moral leprosy, a mixture of ferocity…” (5). I think that although Nabokov did a great job of creating “aesthetic bliss,” his actions are deplorable and disgusting, ultimately leading to his demise. I believe that he is a mentally ill man, as he is personally responsible for destroying the lives of majority of the characters in this novel.
Overall, it is clear to the readers of how good of a job Humbert did in verbally tricking the readers into believing his story from his moral mindset, by having them sympathize with him, without passing judgement. He uses different tactics to create a new form of “aesthetic bliss” by using literary devices such as symbolism, visual imagery and motifs. Since the novel was set all from his perspective, he was successfully able to verbally rationalize his journey throughout the novel and proving to the readers that his relationship with Lolita is real and that he truly loves her.
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