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Lolita | Study Guide

Vladimir Nabokov

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Lolita | Themes



The novel details Humbert Humbert's manipulations to gain power over Lolita, as well as his various abuses—physical and emotional—of that power. He and Lolita negotiate constantly for control, though her gains are always minor given Humbert's willingness to use any means necessary to keep Lolita in his grip.

Pathological Misogyny

Humbert Humbert idealizes pubescent girls (with bodies just about but not quite mature enough for sex), or specifically what he calls "nymphets," an idealization that reduces them to objects for his pleasure. He loathes non-nymphet children and adult women, and he has fantasizes about doing violence to them.


Humbert Humbert sees the world through an artist's lens. His poetic appreciation and expression make his subjects vivid and often provocatively beautiful. Whether his subject is Middle America or his desire for Lolita, his vision engages the reader's senses and adds a veneer of legitimacy to his subjects—including his feelings for and manipulation of Lolita.

Both Nabokov and his creation, Humbert Humbert, are lovers of language. The novel Lolita layers many different kinds of language: puns, jokes, and parodies; high-flown rhetoric and American teenage slang; allusions to literary writers and imitations of them as well. Language is powerful and may even be able to persuade us of things (like having sympathy for Humbert) against our better judgment.

Europe and America

Humbert is from Europe, and he can be seen to represent its Old World culture, attitudes, and attributes. He is intellectual and sophisticated. Lolita can be seen as the New World: American, young, vibrant, without a past, and easily exploited.

Time and Memory

Humbert sees being involved with Lolita as a way to bring back lost time. He is perhaps irretrievably mired in a past world, and he wants to pin down the things he loves so that they resist death and stay beautiful forever. He knows that memory is fallible, and he prizes art—and the memoir he is writing—as one way to keep past times alive forever.

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