Awe and exhiliration--along with heartbreak and mordant wit--abound in Lolita, Nabokov's most famous and controversial novel, which tells the story of the aging Humbert Humbert's obsessive, devouring, and doomed passion for the nymphet Dolores Haze. Lolita is also the story of a hypercivilized European colliding with the cheerful barbarism of postwar America. Most of all, it is a meditation on love--love as outrage and hallucination, madness and transformation.
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Lolita is a work of fiction, but this Foreword makes it appear as if it is
Read the post on the publication history of 'Lolita' below. Had you heard of the controversy surrounding this novel before? How does it influence your opinion of the stoty as you begin reading? (This annotation contains a link)
When Humbert states how his mother died, "(picnic, lightning)," what literary device does he use?
Though the story is written in first person point of view, Humbert refers to himself in the third person here. He will continue to use this device throughout the book.
What question does Humbert ask himself over and over again?
You will notice the narrator use a lot of euphemisms ("a mild or indirect word or expression substituted for one considered to be too harsh or blunt when referring to something unpleasant or embarrassing") to describe his desires. This could be to spare the more delicate readers of his memoir, or it could also be a tactic to distance himself from the extremely shocking and repulsive aspects of his urges.
How does Humbert attempt to justify his actions and feelings here?
These first few chapters of the book continue to prepare the reader for the actual details of Humbert's relationship with Lolita. He is trying to garner sympathy (or, at the very least, understanding) from the reader. He knows that the reader has more than likely already judged him, and this is his opening argument.
According to Humbert, what do many of these 'nymphets' grow up to be?
Even 'underworld' figures like this scoff at Humbert's predilections. However, Humbert continues on his quest unfazed.
All of the following descriptions accurately characterize Humbert EXCEPT
How is Humbert an unreliable narrator?
Generally, why did Humbert decide to get married? Why did he marry Valeria specifically?
Humbert digresses here and describes what he is reading in prison. This reminds the reader of the narrator's current situation. (This annotation contains a video)
Why did Humbert take the job editing perfume ads?
What could be the "real" purpose for these studies? Could it possibly have something to do with space exploration?
What is Humbert's estimation of the Haze house?
Do you sense any tension between Mrs. Haze and Humbert? (This annotation contains a video)
Humbert uses what literary element to describe this journal?
Delores (Lolita) reminds Humbert of Annabel, which is a large part of his attraction to her.
How does Humbert both desire and hate nymphets?
What do you think is the purpose of writing all of this down - both the memoir and this journal within the memoir? Could it be part of his rehabilitation, or is it simply a vanity project?
What kind of imagery does Humbert use to describe Lolita in his Sunday diary entry?
The term "Lolita" has become part of the vernacular to mean any young girl that has been sexualized. Watch this news story about the controversy that surrounded an American Apparel ad campaign that used a young model. What do you think? (This annotation contains a video)
How does Humbert handle his frustrations?
A few times in this chapter, Humbert wished that he were a "lady writer" who could describe Lolita more accurately and effectively. What do you think he means by this? (This annotation contains an image)
How is Humbert going to lay out the following scene for the reader? Why?
Nabokov gives John Cleland a run for his money on his use of euphemistic language. Cleland's book "Fanny Hill" (1748) is notorious for its shocking content but lack of "vulgar" terms. (This annotation contains an image)
What does this song foreshadow?
How is Charlotte the antagonist, even though Humbert is definitely the 'villain' of the story? (This annotation contains a video)
What does Charlotte see as the main problem with Lolita?
Who wrote this letter to Humbert? How will he react to it?
What do these photos reveal about Lolita's feelings toward Humbert?
Is Humbert more like Adam or Satan in this analogy? Paradoxically, he is very concerned about maintaining Lolita's innocence, while at the same time desiring to be the one to take it.
Which option BEST describes Humbert's monitoring of Marion and Mabel?
Consider how the characters are developing as the story progresses. Are there any moderate characters? Also consider that the reader is seeing all of these characters through the lens of Humbert. (This annotation contains a video)
How is Charlotte acting now that she is engaged to to Humbert?
Humbert adds the suffix '-ita' to some of Delores's nicknames. These added nicknames are diminutives and highlight her smallness in size and age.
Has Charlotte changed since her marriage to Humbert? How is Humbert disappointed in their situation?
We can add domestic violence to the list of terrible facets of Humbert's character.
What occupies Humbert's thoughts now?
It is difficult to take Humbert's incredulity seriously. Does he want to be congratulated on the fact that he did not have it in him to kill his wife?
How does Humbert portray older women (women his own age) in his memoir?
Why does Humbert protest so strongly against going to Europe?
What is the narrative effect of continuing to compare Charlotte to Valeria?
Read this short article on the difference between psychopathy and sociopathy. Do you think Humbert falls into either of these categories? (This annotation contains a link)
What literary element is used in this example?
Humbert is aware that others are watching him for a reaction to Charlotte's death. His non-reaction could be misconstrued as shock.
Why did Humbert imply that he could be Lolita's biological father?
Humbert uses a lot of metaphorical language throughout his memoir. (This annotation contains a video)
Summarize in your own words the "ethical doubts and fears" Humbert has. Do you agree with his estimation of 'ethics'?
Why does he say "thank god" after mentioning Lolita's appendix?
What is the significance of this short chapter?
What can you say about Humbert's feelings about America and Europe as a theme in the novel? (This annotation contains a video)
What does Humbert understand about Lolita's flirtatiousness?
Can you explain this metaphor? How was Lolita acting like a "cake"? (This annotation contains an image)
How does this setting illustrate Humbert's distaste for Americana?
Could this be another instance of "McFate" aiding Humbert in his plans? Humbert tends to use coincidence as a justification that his sordid plans are reasonable.
What is the significance of Humbert's loss of speech here?
Looking back at Humbert's interactions with Lo, do you think that she acts like a typical 12 year-old? How much of this is because of how Humbert portrays her, and how much is actually how she behaves?
What has Humbert deluded himself into believing?
Humbert is referring to a kind of duality between this young girl and Lolita. He already views Lolita as "fouled," whereas this girl is associated with the colors white and ivory.
What was the purpose of introducing the nosy hotel guest in the previous chapter? Do you think he knew what Humbert was up to?
How does the name of the hotel relate to Humbert and his plans? Is anything about this situation "enchanted"?
What does this paragraph neatly accomplish?
Can you decipher what Humbert is going on about here? Are there any connections between these images? (This annotation contains an image)
Why does Humbert cite this Roman law?
Why does Humbert want to hear all of Lolita's past sexual experiences?
Humbert calls Lolita's schoolgirl-like outfit her "professional" wear. This has come to be the signified "uniform" of a Lolita in popular culture. (This annotation contains an image)
Now that Humbert got what he wanted, what are some of the possible consequences that he did not anticipate?
Motels, or motor inns, were a big part of the culture in postwar America. Highways were being built across the country, and motels became symbols of this more mobile society. In the 21st century, the remaining motels from this era are still popular as kitschy attractions. (This annotation contains an image)
What does Humbert think about Lolita after living in close quarters with her?
Humbert makes an allusion to Polonius, a character from Shakespeare's 'Hamlet' known for giving fatherly advice. (This annotation contains an image)
Based on this description, where are they traveling?
The world's largest rocking chair! The world's largest ball of twine! Speeding down the interstate, you will see sign after sign urging drivers to pull over and see something both exceptional and mundane. (Pictured: Carhenge in Nebraska) (This annotation contains an image)
What is the symbolism behind all of this aimless traveling? How is it a metaphor for their relationship?
Humbert calls himself "indulgent," but how much freedom does Lolita really have? Can she be considered a prisoner?
What is Humbert aware of in regards to his relationship with Lolita?
Humbert's violent tendencies are coming to the forefront again. He also views Lolita as a wayward puppy ("reluctant pet") who needs to be put in line.
What is the tone of Humbert's comment?
Humbert conflates his childhood sweetheart Annabel Lee with Delores. This seems to answer his earlier query about whether or not his love for Annabel was the driving force behind his infatuation with young girls.
What textual clues point to the fact that Lolita is unhappy?
It is interesting to note that Humbert's Annabel Lee shares a name with the famous Edgar Allan Poe poem about a man's faithful love for his dead sweetheart. Read the poem here, and see if you can identify any other comparisons. (This annotation contains a link)
What does Humbert foresee in his future?
The fact that this house is so similar to the Haze house is symbolic. They have traveled all over the country, and ended up in pretty much the same place.
How is Humbert "made"?
It is interesting that Humbert chooses to move to a suburban neighborhood where neighbors are more stereotypically nosy than in a more urban area.
How is Gaston a character foil to Humbert?
There is irony in the fact that Humbert says that he is loath to relay a drop in Lolita's morals. (This annotation contains a video)
Humbert reading teenage columns for fatherly advice is
Humbert dehumanizes these boys and lessens the threat that they pose by only referring them to the clothing they wear. (This annotation contains an image)
What is Humbert's estimation of Lola's friends?
What is the internal conflict here? (This annotation contains a video)
How is Dolores's behavior cause for concern to her teachers? Are these issues normal parent-teacher conference material?
Miss Pratt seems unfazed by this inappropriate line of conversation.
Why does Humbert particularly thank Dr. Tristramson?
Is the title of this play another instance of fate, or is it merely coincidence? (This annotation contains an image)
What do Lolita's words here reveal?
Humbert is beginning to notice signs of Lolita aging out of the "nymphet" stage. This could also be Humbert coping with the fact that Lolita is pulling away from him.
What language does Humbert use that highlights the reality that Lolita has been held captive by him these past three years?
Existentialism is "a philosophical theory or approach that emphasizes the existence of the individual person as a free and responsible agent determining their own development through acts of the will". How does this relate to Humbert? (This annotation contains an image)
Why are they traveling west?
In many ways, Lolita is a typical American teenager. She loves pop music, magazines, Hollywood actors, etc. The reader only knows her through Humbert's subjective point of view, and it is only through his distaste for these quirks of hers that the reader learns of it.
At this point, what is Humbert most worried about?
This is more foreshadowing of impending violence. More specifically, this is an example of Chekov's Gun. Playwright Anton Chekov famously stated that "If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there." (This annotation contains an image)
Who do you think this man is? Does Humbert have a right to be nervous about this man following them?
Could this be symbolic of Humbert's loose grasp of Lolita?
What does this comment suggest that Humbert is feeling?
Humbert is not sure why Lolita didn't run then, but take a look at his reasoning as to why. At no point does he think that the reason she didn't run was because of any affection toward him. He is always aware that love was never the reason that they were together.
Why does Humbert say this?
Humbert uses religious imagery here, comparing himself to a martyr. (This annotation contains a video)
At this point, you know the character of Humbert pretty well. Explain how he is a character of contradiction.
Humbert preferred Lolita playing tennis to acting because it was not a deception. She was on display for him in a much more innocent fashion than when she was on a stage (literally and figuratively). (This annotation contains an image)
What does Humbert like about games such as chess?
The way in which Humbert describes this flurry of phone calls is very vivid, and also highlights the almost farcical situation he finds himself in.
What is Lolita doing here?
In hindsight, Humbert knows that all of this was futile.
What do Humbert's instincts tell him about Lolita's illness?
Bluebeard is a famous French fairy tale about a nobleman who kills his wives and hides their bodies in a secret room. It has also come to be a term used for abusive men. (This annotation contains an image)
What theme of the novel is illustrated here?
In some ways, this novel can be considered a picaresque, "an episodic style of fiction dealing with the adventures of a rough and dishonest but appealing hero".
This man is Humbert's "brother" in
Which pseudonym is Humbert most affected by?
This was a time before the internet, but Humbert should have known better than to hire a private investigator from a magazine ad. (This annotation contains an image)
What is the focus of this last section of the novel?
This is, indeed, a very odd missing person notice. What do you make of the last stanza?
What is Rita's role in Humbert's life?
You just have to wonder, how can Humbert afford to spend so much time traveling?
What is Rita worried about?
And yet, in 1681 playwright Nahum Tate adapted Shakespeare's 'King Lear' and gave both Lear and Cordelia a happy ending. (This annotation contains an image)
How does Humbert use personification here? What is he planning to do once he finds Lolita?
How is the term "hunter" a recurring motif? (This annotation contains a video)
What is the meaning of this nickname?
He was the man who pulled Humbert aside for that very strange conversation the night of his first sexual encounter with Lolita.
Why doesn't Humbert say that he has met Bill before?
It's difficult to imagine a character less savory than Humbert, but Clare Quilty just might be that character.
Has Humbert changed in character, or is he pretty static? How has Lolita changed since she left Humbert?
Though Lolita is dead, she is immortal through his writing. The Romantic poets really emphasized this sentiment.
What is Humbert's next move?
Humbert actually takes some responsibility here and shows a little remorse. Does this make him a more sympathetic character to you?
What is Humbert finally coming to realize?
Humbert has an epiphany here. Lolita would have been better off with a dysfunctional relationship with her mother instead of the relationship she had with him.
What is the significance of this anemic flower?
Does this sound like a believable pretense for getting information?
What does Humbert hope to achieve through killing Clare Quilty? Does he have any sense of justice?
Is it likely that this man would not recognize Humbert after having followed him and Lolita for years?
How does Humbert portray Quilty during this confrontation?
This description is reminiscent of Humbert's earlier comment that Lolita's other lover was a 'satyr.' (This annotation contains an image)
What is Quilty's ironic response to Humbert's poem?
Consider the different things Humbert compares Quilty to as he shoots him. This could be a way for him to dehumanize his victim so as to lessen any guilt he might feel. He used a similar tactic with Lolita.
Why are Clare's guests so blase about Humbert's declaration?
Hegelian synthesis is a philosophical resolution to the conflict between an intellectual proposition and its antithesis. Which two dead women is he referring to, and is anything resolved with his arrest?
Who is Humbert addressing here?