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Lolita | Discussion Questions 11 - 20

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In Chapter 9 of Lolita how does Humbert define his insanity, and how important is his insanity to the novel?

Humbert defines his insanity as "melancholia and a sense of insufferable oppression," but he also says the word insanity is a "cruel term." Throughout the novel Humbert goes in and out of sanatoriums; it has been argued that his insanity or sickness is clearly the cause of his pedophilia. It has also been argued that Humbert is perfectly sane—throughout the novel he shows awareness of the immorality of his actions and makes rational plans, which indicate sanity. Humbert is clearly an unreliable, untrustworthy narrator, these critics say, but not necessarily a "madman." The suggestion is that Humbert only says he is insane to encourage readers and the jury to be more sympathetic to him, to be on his side.

How does Humbert Humbert in the novel Lolita say he made a "complete restoration" from his insanity, and what does this restoration say about his character?

He says he "discovered there was ... robust enjoyment in trifling with psychiatrists" and describes in detail some of the lies and fakery with which he tricked the psychiatrists. Throughout the novel Nabokov makes fun of the discipline of psychiatry, particularly Freudian psychoanalysis. It tells us something about the nature of Humbert's confused character that, even though he is writing his memoir to a jury who will judge him, he cheerfully describes his pleasure in having power and control over others. This lack of self-awareness, self-absorption, and game-playing are all characteristics of Humbert's relationship with Lolita as well.

What does Humbert Humbert's description of Charlotte Haze in the novel Lolita reveal about his character and attitudes?

Humbert describes Charlotte as a "poor lady," notes her "shiny forehead" and "plucked eyebrows," and calls her a "weak solution" of Marlene Dietrich. She is a middle-class woman, whom intellectual, aristocratic, misogynistic Humbert disdains. Charlotte is false in many ways, and Humbert sees it. She insists on being "sunny" yet she has no sense of humor. He imagines that she will want him and that an affair with her would be "tedious." Humbert's reaction to Charlotte is certainly similar to his reaction to most adult women—condescending, disgusted. But it also distills his attitude about suburban, middle-class culture in 1950s America. Humbert dislikes anything that he considers "conventional." One of the novel's situational ironies is that Lolita herself, with her passion for movie magazines and clothes, is actually a fairly conventional teenager—not a fairy tale creature as Humbert imagines.

In Lolita what do the words Humbert utters when he first sees Lolita, "the twenty-five years I had lived since then ... vanished," reveal about him?

Humbert sees Lolita and feels she "is the same child" as Annabel, his first love. Loving Lolita brings back Annabel, and so he recovers a lost and idyllic time. Many critics have discussed the Proustian themes in the novel Lolita—themes that concern the painful contrast between the fixed nature of people in remembered time and the changeable nature of people in present, moving time. Being with Lolita, Humbert is seeking the beauty and desire he remembers experiencing with Annabel. It brings him back to a time when he too was innocent and cleans him of his rather nasty adult transgressions. Later he will learn that Lolita never was Annabel and is becoming less and less like her as time passes. Throughout the novel in many different ways, Humbert is seeking to recover the beauty of remembered times.

In Lolita what does Humbert mean when he says "Lolita had been safely solipsized" after he has an orgasm with Lolita's legs across his knees?

According to literary critic Vladimir Alexandrov, in Nabokov's Russian translation of Lolita this sentence reads "Lolita's reality was successfully cancelled." Solipsism is the philosophical theory that only the mind can be truly known to exist. The solipsist believes that only one's self decides what is real and what is not real. Throughout Lolita we only receive Humbert's version of Lolita; the real little girl Dolores Haze—the girl's reactions, ideas, and feelings—are rarely seen. Humbert has "solipsized" or "cancelled" Dolores Haze in many ways—by not caring about what happens in her mind, by not noticing what might be her own sexual responses, by not treating her as a child should be treated and instead conceiving of her as a "nymphet." Humbert hardly allows Dolores Haze her own existence, so thoroughly has he imagined her into being his "Lolita." In Chapter 14 Humbert astutely says, "What I had madly possessed was not she, but my own creation, another, fanciful Lolita."

Why might Nabokov provide readers with the lyrics to the song Humbert sings to Lolita as he secretly comes to climax in Part 1, Chapter 13 of Lolita?

The song that Humbert sings is the kind of pop song that Lolita likes but he disdains. But low-art "Carmen," the pop song, is an allusion to the high-art opera Carmen, whose heroine is killed by a jealous lover. Humbert treats the pop song as silly, especially by forgetting the words. But like the opera the pop song ends tragically, as Humbert explains parenthetically: "(Drew his .32 automatic, I guess, and put a bullet through his moll's eye)." The song lyrics echo Humbert's "solipsizing" or cancelling of his own "moll" Lolita. The song lyrics also create suspense as they foreshadow betrayal and gunplay later in the novel.

In the novel Lolita what part does Humbert think fate plays in the death of Charlotte Haze?

Throughout the novel there are coincidences that Humbert attributes to his own version of fate (which he will later call "McFate"). Just before Charlotte's death in a car crash, he's scheming to change reality and convince Charlotte that what she read in his diary is not real. But suddenly with her death reality swings so much in his favor that he believes it must be destiny, or fate, that has altered reality. All of these coincidences at this point are helping him get Lolita. He presents these coincidences as fate personified. He says that he "had palpated the very flesh of fate." He believes that "Fat fate's formal handshake ... brought me out of my torpor." He believes that the "long hairy arm of Coincidence" has removed Charlotte, that inconvenient obstacle. His repeated personification of fate reflects his godlike sense of himself—as if by naming something he can call it into existence.

In the novel Lolita what internal conflicts does Humbert Humbert experience as he drives to pick up Lolita from Camp Q?

Humbert has many doubts and internal conflicts as he drives to Camp Q. He worries that Lolita might know about her mother's death already. He also realizes he has no legal right to Lolita, and he wonders whether the Camp Q staff will let him remove her. Finally he decides to call (telephones are important devices throughout the novel) in order, partly, to find out what the situation is at Camp Q. He feels that he has hit the jackpot when he learns that Lolita really is out for a hike, just as he has told people in Ramsdale that she was. As when Charlotte conveniently died to suit his purposes, he wonders whether McFate has once again intervened on his behalf. He seems to believe he is bestowed with a god-like power to conform outward events to fit his personal aesthetic.

In the novel Lolita what is the significance of the phrase Enchanted Hunters?

Enchanted Hunters has significance as a hotel, a mural, and a play, and as Humbert's idea of himself. The term enchanted hunter harkens back to Humbert's definition of "nymphets," who have the power to "enchant" certain men (like him), turning them into hunters. Charlotte Haze mentions The Enchanted Hunter hotel as a place she and Humbert might stay. Later Humbert does stay in that hotel, but with Lolita, not Charlotte; he rapes Lolita there. There are enchanted hunters on the mural of the walls of the hotel; the mural, which strikes Humbert as fairy-like on the eve of the rape, seems to him much more violent and animalistic on the morning after. When they are at Beardsley Lolita plays a role in a drama called The Enchanted Hunters. The play is written by Quilty, and its plot has strong parallels to the plot of the novel Lolita. At one point Humbert calls himself the enchanted hunter, but it's more accurate to call him the enchanting hunter. He takes what is an ugly situation, and by giving it a fairy tale "spin" he manages to make it seem romantic.

What purpose does Humbert Humbert's first conversation with the playwright Clare Quilty serve in Lolita?

At the Enchanted Hunters hotel Humbert has a strange conversation with Clare Quilty, although Humbert does not know that the person standing next to him on the dark porch is Quilty. Quilty asks Humbert about Lolita ("Where the devil did you get her?"), accuses Humbert of lying when he says Lolita is his daughter, and then invites the two of them to lunch. It's unclear whether what Humbert hears is actually what Quilty says or whether Quilty is, in some sense, Humbert's guilty conscience speaking. In fact the distinction hardly matters; the first encounter introduces the idea that Humbert has a shadow or double whose very existence threatens to reveal Humbert's true nature. Throughout the novel Quilty's presence will shadow Humbert, physically and—as a representation of Humbert's own depravity—symbolically.

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