Question meltem Art, Media & Literature

Is the protagonist Humbert Humbert of Lolita by Nabokov the victim of Lolita's desires or a paedophile?

Is the protagonist Humbert Humbert of Lolita by Nabokov the victim of Lolita's desires or a paedophile?

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Nabokov’s influential novel Lolita tells the story of a middle-aged man’s relationship with the child of his landlady. The book celebrates with loving details the physical attractiveness of the young Lolita, describing her immature body, her pre-teen rebelliousness, and her childish delight in American consumer products such as lipstick, bubble gum and new clothes. The narrative is presented in the first person, through the eyes of Humbert Humbert, and in the form of an extended, rambling confession of his illicit love for her. He is well aware that his actions are illegal and judged as morally wrong by the majority of American society, but persists nonetheless in his sexual pursuit of the young girl. He maintains that Lolita seduced him, and describes the way they become friends and eventually sleep together on a road trip. From Humbert Humbert’s own perspective, then, it does appear that he is a victim of Lolita’s desires. It must be noted, however, that this is an unreliable narrator, who disguises his own motivations in poetic language and narrative skill. There is no doubt that from the perspective of a neutral observer, Humbert Humbert spends many weeks grooming Lolita and making her dependent on him before pursuing his own sexual satisfaction. The reason for the book’s notoriety, and its critical success, lies in the way it glorifies the perspective of a paedophile, and makes the reader reflect on the power of sexual attraction and the limits of society’s rules on appropriate behaviour with minors. The narrator wants us to believe that his experience something wonderful, and that no harm was done, and his language is persuasive, but ultimately this argument is one-sided and false. Lolita herself has no voice, except through him, and Humbert Humbert is very definitely a paedophile.