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Discussion of Discourse in Nabokov's Lolita

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IB Extended Essay English A1 How does the discourse between Humbert Humbert's authorial strategy as the first person narrator of 'Lolita' and Vladimir Nabokov's own strategy as the book's author affect our reading of the text? Candidate Name: Natasha Frost Candidate Session Number: 000434-033 School: Kristin School 000434 Supervisor: Mrs. Meryl Noyes Word Count: 3,994 Abstract This essay explores the relationship between authorial strategy and the strategy and defence of the narrator within the book Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. It also considers how the discourse between these two elements affects the reader's perception of the narrator and our judgment of his crimes, coming to the conclusion that we must consider the bare facts presented by Nabokov and prevent ourselves from becoming swayed by Humbert's rhetoric and powerful aesthetics. It considers this in light of the views of previous readers in order to understand how Humbert's manipulation can at times be successful. The essay investigates in some depth the notion of Nabokov's description of events and the subtle tools he uses that undermine the story we are told by Humbert Humbert. It considers the psychological tools Humbert uses to inspire pathos and understanding and the nuances to his character that make him considered 'reputable', such as his scholarship and seductive use of language, making reference to psychodynamics and aesthetic theory. In addition to considering the manner in which Humbert manipulates the reader, the essay also articulates, with reference to chess, his efforts to manipulate characters, the way in which they are perceived and the way in which his failed attempts at control affect his strategy and our understanding of him as a character. By exploring his relationship with other characters, we gain a better understanding of his manipulation techniques. The essay finally inspects Humbert's relationship with Quilty and the purpose of attempting to minimise their parallels, while considering those drawn between the scene at the Enchanted Hunters and Pavor Manor. ...read more.


Can we ever really separate the two? Humbert's language and images are by nature beautiful and by confusing the notion of paedophilia with the aesthetics of Lolita, our clearest moral obligations become hazy. Though within this theory, beauty is designed only 'to be', Humbert uses it as a tool for disguising ugliness and anaesthetising reality for his own morally reprehensible ends. By presenting himself as the tortured artist, driven half-mad with desire that the ordinary cannot understand, we begin to sympathise with Humbert and, in turn, find ourselves emphasising with his seemingly unjustifiable actions. So effective is Nabokov's strategy of presenting us with a split dichotomy that we can justify the molesting of a fourteen year old on the grounds of turn of phrase, for once we can accept his actions with our aesthetic judgement, our moral and legal judgement of him begins to waver. When imploring us to judge him in a legal and moral sense, Humbert's defence is to appear not to be defending himself at all, as Brian Boyd suggests21. He is a 'monster'22 and a 'maniac'23, guilty of all his crimes - we are invited to condemn him and to hate him. Nonetheless, for all his self-flagellation, he notes to the reader that he had, at very least, attempted to control his shameful sexual nature: rather than taking Lolita as he wishes and is able to, he merely grinds himself against her, bringing himself to bliss that is ignorant at least on her part. Similarly, at the Enchanted Hunters, he considers subduing her prior to simply raping: though this could not be considered moral, he nonetheless externalises a desire for her to retain some innocence. This ultimately creates an oxymoron, for we see that Humbert objectifies her and uses her as a sexual tool, yet at the same time claims to desire that she be left unmarred: how can we resolve this fundamental contradiction in terms? ...read more.


By presenting Quilty and Lolita succeeding in escaping Humbert's control, Nabokov turns to the reader and asks: 'He's positioned you as he likes, will you move as he wants you to?' We bid adieu to a remorseful, rhetorical Humbert, on a high slope in the mountains. This scene, poignant and pointed, becomes the closing note of the novel: Humbert listening to the cries of schoolchildren at play, knowing that 'the hopelessly poignant thing was not Lolita's absence from my side, but the absence of her voice from that concord.'39 This moment of epiphany and moral inversion seems to indicate that, despite the moments of calculating cruelty and wanton exploitation, Humbert Humbert, fastidious, depraved scholar, has seen the error of his ways. This could almost convince us to be merciful in our judgement of Humbert. However, this last note is an intensely calculated one: designed to inspire pathos and respect, it leaves a final impression of Humbert's concern and love for Lolita. Though the end of the text, this is not the end of the story but rather takes place two years prior to the murder of Quilty. Chronologically, Humbert leaves us in a manic and murderous mood, neither as poignant nor as regretful as he might appear from his closing words. Conclusion Humbert's crime is not exclusively the rape of a little girl but the attempt to cruelly control those around him. His rhetorical strategy of appearing remorseful and philosophical may be convincing, but ultimately, Nabokov's evidence filters through and, though our feelings may be manipulated and our perceptions altered, we see a truer clearer sense of judgement, inscribed between the narrator's words, that comes through as the real strategy and plot against Humbert's defence tactics. Humbert's nature is barbaric and inexcusable, yet his many tools and techniques leave us questioning our own morals. By exploring his tools, techniques and own manipulation, we see that the discourse between Humbert's strategy and Nabokov's facts serve both to titillate, challenge and ultimately help us to find truth. ...read more.

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