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In the novel, Lolita, the protagonist Humbert Humbert, who speaks through the author Vladimir Nabokov, objectifies the females who have played roles in his life. He goes through his life using people as pawns in a play in order to attempt to recreate his first love. He invents creative names for these people thus ridiculing, insulting and dehumanizing them. He has one-sided relationships and rarely stops to think about how his actions are affecting others emotionally. In so doing, he can continue using people without feeling excessively guilty. In addition, he objectifies himself to try to convince himself and others that he is a victim, and therefore, not completely responsible for the crimes he commits.
Humbert Humbert fell in love with Annabel Leigh when they were both 12 years old. She is the only female that he treats like a person. He recounts their love affair in agonizing detail remembering their beautiful, albeit frustrating, love affair. After Annabel Leigh’s death, Humbert begins classifying female children as either “nymphets” or as human little girls. He defines a “nymphet” by saying that “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’ ” (Nabokov 16). By creating these types of creatures, Humbert Humbert is justifying his future actions and behavior by placing the blame on the “nymphet” rather than on himself. In other words he is saying that he has fallen under her spell and is, thus, helpless to resist her temptations.
Humbert Humbert’s first instance of objectifying women shows up even before the nymphets – with his mother. He never names his mother, and his description of her death is also rather cold; just two words; “picnic, lightning” (Nabokov 10). He states that “nothing of her subsists within the hollows and dells of memory” (Nabokov 10), which is rather harsh. He has no emotion for her, and he justifies this by saying it was because she died when he was only three years old.
Humbert chooses Valeria, his first wife, because she looks like a nymphet. On their wedding night Humbert Humbert was satisfied with Valeria. In choosing her, he was “looking for a soothing presence, a glorified pot-au-feu, an animated merkin, and the imitation she gave of a little girl” (Nabokov 25). Shortly thereafter he realized that she was not a nymphet and to Humbert she became “a large, puffy, short-legged, big-breasted and practically brainless baba” (Nabokov 26). After Valeria admitted to having an affair and their marriage ended, Humbert mentions that Valeria and her husband moved to America where they were used as an experiment that “dealt with human and racial reactions to a diet of bananas and dates in a constant position on all fours” (Nabokov 30). Therefore, in Humbert’s mind, Valeria changes from an almost nymphet to someone fat and stupid and, ultimately, to something comical and almost animal-like.
The next significant woman in Humbert’s life is Charlotte Haze. Charlotte is a widow who owns the boarding house to which Humbert has been recommended. He stays in her distasteful and rather messy boarding house in order to get close to Dolores Haze, Charlotte’s nymphic daughter. When he first meets Charlotte, he is not at all attracted to her and refers to her as “the Haze woman” (Nabokov 40), “fat Haze” (Nabokov 43), and even worse “the old cat” (Nabokov 47). After marrying her so that he could remain close to Dolores, he refers to Charlotte as “she of the noble nipple and massive thigh” (Nabokov 76). Being impatient to have a relationship with Dolores (aka Lolita), Humbert fantasizes about killing his wife when they are at the lake. During this fantasy, he refers to Charlotte as “the captive corpse” (Nabokov 86) and a “trustful and clumsy seal” (Nabokov 87). Somewhat later in their marriage, Charlotte reads Humbert’s diary in which he confesses to his attraction to Lolita. Charlotte becomes enraged and Humbert refers to her as “the mad bitch” (Nabokov 97). He further dehumanizes her after she was run over by a car by describing the top of her head as “a porridge of bone, brains, bronze hair and blood” (Nabokov 98). She was always just an object to Humbert; a means in which he could achieve his goal of remaining close to his nymphet. However, at this point in the book, Charlotte has been reduced to an inhuman and repulsive mass on the street in front of their home.
Humbert objectifies his third and most significant girl, Dolores Haze, by rarely referring to her by her actual name. He gives her nicknames such as “L.” (Nabokov 45),”Lo” (Nabokov 9), “Lola” (Nabokov 9), “Lolita” (Nabokov 9), and “Dolly” (Nabokov 9); in fact, he has over fifty nicknames for her. He does not think of her as the person she is, Dolores Haze. Instead, she is just his obsession, Lolita, the nymphet and incarnation of his Annabel Leigh. He even blurs the line between the two girls when he takes Lolita to the beach in an attempt to recreate his past experience with Annabel by referring to Lolita as “Annabel Haze, alias Dolores Lee, alias Loleeta” (Nabokov 167). When he first meets Lolita, Humbert refers to her as his “warm-colored prey” (Nabokov 49). At one point when mentioning that she was conceived during the Hazes’ honeymoon trip to Mexico, he equates her to the “Mexican trash” (Nabokov 36) or knickknacks (Nabokov 57) that adorns/adorn their living room. In indicating his fervent desire for her, he refers to Lolita as “Hot little Haze” (Nabokov 57), “my distant golden goal” (Nabokov 59), “my reluctant pet” (Nabokov 164), “my filly” (Nabokov 234), and “the vile and beloved slut” (Nabokov 236). He thus reduces her to a target, an animal, and a low-class prostitute. Notably, after Lolita runs off and is married to Dick Schiller, Humbert finally tracks her down and while he is in their house calls her “Dolly Schiller” (Nabokov 270). This is as close as he gets to referring to Lolita by her name, however this name is so different from all the other descriptive names he invented for her that she is transformed into a mere, pregnant housewife with an uneducated husband. He further debases his formerly precious muse by stating that “Charlotte Haze rose from her grave” (Nabokov 275) when he sees Lolita smoking a cigarette. Thus Lolita has fallen from paragon status to being equated with her mother who has already been horribly and terribly dehumanized by Humbert. In the famous essay, “Lolita Lepidoptera” by Diana Butler, the author claimed that the thin line between normal females and nymphets has many similarities to the thin line between moths and butterflies. Though Nabokov himself dismissed the essay as factually incorrect (Gold 198), Butler’s thesis is nonetheless intriguing. Humbert’s admiration of Lolita and other nymphets and his desire to collect them as pets certainly echoes the behavior of an amateur butterfly collector or as Butler more succinctly puts it, “[â€¦] As part of an elaborate literary game, little Dolores Haze is a butterfly.” (Roth 60).
After Lolita escapes from Humbert’s grasp, he meets Rita. He begins his relationship with Rita by referring to her as the “sweetest, simplest, gentlest, dumbest Rita imaginable” (Nabokov 259). He further insults her intellect by stating that compared to Rita, Valeria was Schlegel, (a German scholar) and Charlotte was Hegel, (a German philosopher). After having a fight with a man who maintained he was Rita’s former schoolmate, Humbert mentions that he “walked her and aired her a little” (Nabokov 263). This makes Rita sound like she’s either an animal or a rug or some other object that needs to be tended.
Humbert Humbert also objectifies himself in order to appear less responsible for the criminal acts of which he is guilty, and so the reader can be sympathetic towards him. He has a slew of nicknames for himself as well. He starts off with names like “Humbert the wounded spider” (Nabokov 54) and “Humbert the humble” (Nabokov 54), which evoke emotion in the reader and make him appear trapped by his nymphet. His own nicknames also tend to be less demeaning that those of his women. With names like “Humbert the hound” (Nabokov 60), “Herr Doktor Humbert” (Nabokov 111), “Bert” (Nabokov 192) and “Mr. Haze” (Nabokov 194), he creates the feeling that he’s just a normal man despite the fact that he’s a self-proclaimed pedophile and murderer. Many critical commentators on the novel note that Humbert is almost a solipsist in the degree to which he makes the entire world revolve around him and his whims. Critical commentators such as Alfred Appel, Jr. and Elizabeth Prioleau note that mirrors play a major role throughout Lolita, whether they are literal mirrors (such as the numerous mirrors found in the Enchanted Hotel, where Lolita and Humbert begin their sexual relationship) or more figurative mirrors in the form of doppelgangers, such as Humbert and Quilty. Priloeau takes the metaphor more literally and argues that, for most of the book, Humbert essentially lives in a mirror world and only rejoins reality at the end, when he realizes that he destroyed and stole Lolita’s childhood (4-11). There is then the matter of Humbert’s style of writing. As noted by Dana Brand, Humbert’s writing is overwrought, flowery and cluttered with poetic allusions. Brand suggests that Humbert prose is so purple; he may be overcompensating, trying to convince himself and his readers that his emotions are all completely genuine. Another issue to mention is his blatant denial when he claims that he is “not a criminal sexual psychopath taking indecent liberties with a child” (Nabokov 150). He also states right after that “[t]he rapist was Charlie Holmes; I am the therapist – a matter of nice spacing in the way of distinction. I am your daddum, Lo” (Nabokov 150). And in order to justify this claim, he quotes a book that says “the normal girl is usually extremely anxious to please her father” (Nabokov 150). Here, he is extremely desperate to justify his having sex with a twelve-year-old, and it really shows the reader that he’s not the normal man he wants to portray. He is not only a pedophiliac at this point, but also a rapist and kidnapper, and the reader sees it all here, but still his charm and wit still manage to seduce the reader in a similar manner to how he seduces his victims. But he’s not a sociopath completely devoid of all human emotion. He realizes his own faults in a few moments of clarity which he indicates with nicknames such as “the tyrannic old father” (Nabokov 242) “demented” (Nabokov 253) and “maniac” (Nabokov 257).
Throughout the novel Lolita, Humbert Humbert objectifies many of the people he encounters. He claims that because of his unconsummated love affair with Annabel Leigh at the tender young age of 12 that he is stuck in the past and cannot recover from his lust for young girls. In this way he is maintaining that his subsequent behavior is neither of his own choosing nor his fault. He is very creative in inventing descriptive nicknames for the individuals he meets throughout his life. The monikers he chooses are insulting, humorous, endearing and demeaning. They serve the purpose of giving the reader an insight into Humbert’s tortured and twisted mind. The reader laughs at one point and cries out with disgust at another. Nevertheless, these nicknames function as a way of transforming a human being from a person with emotions to a nameless puppet or object. In this way, Humbert can distance himself from his victims and not become emotionally involved with them because they are merely things for him to use and abuse in any way that helps him achieve his sordid goal.
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