“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul.” These are the first words in Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Lolita.
Dolores, little Lo, Lolita is Humbert’s obsession. She is what provides him with joy. She is what leads to his unhappiness. It is not her fault.
We all have a Lolita. It can be a step-daughter pretty girl you’re in the middle of a cross-country road trip (I hope it’s not). It can be your wife, who’s of legal age and always has been. Your Lolita can be whiskey, or your job.
Lolita is a manifestation of Humbert’s desires. Humbert is a pedophile. He is attracted to little girls. More specifically, he is attracted to the “nymphette” – a small subset of little girls that are attractive to him. It’s hard to tell from the novel whether this “type” is simply the girls that show Humbert attention, or whether it’s the type of girl that behaves more promiscuous than girls her age, reads girl magazines, and shows awareness of her sexuality.
We want our desires to manifest and make us happy. This is what Humbert wants, and he makes it happen. He moves in with this girl of his dreams and builds an image that can work for his fantasy. Sound familiar, yet? We’ll get there.
We don’t know if the girl actually falls for him. He frames the book in a way to make it seem like it is a mutual falling in love – like the girl jumps on him when she has the chance because he’s a hot, older guy that should appeal to that kind of girl (nymphette, reads girl magazines).
However, it is later revealed that Lo has a revulsion to Humbert. She tries to runaway, she flirts with other men, and in quotes she says he raped her. It’s not the mutual love story he crafted early in the novel. He turns her into what he wants her to be in his mind.
Doing this is narcissistic, and it’s how he can get what he wants. He changes, after the fact, how she viewed him and acted towards him, in his mind, instead of changing himself into something that she would actually want to be with. Or, even more difficult, accepting that she will not want to be with him. This takes responsibility and work. Blaming others and changing events in your mind is much easier.
I wasn’t surprised when Humbert killed the man Lolita ran away with. The man was a creep, and wasn’t good for Lolita, but more than that, the dude was a villain in the narrative that Humbert had built for himself. Humbert wasn’t living in a rational world with individuals. He was living in a world where people are supposed to serve him and his fantasies. When a new man entered Lolita’s life, that served as a disruption to the narrative that was supposed to play out. When he murdered the guy, Humbert was the hero in the narrative he built for himself.
If your takeaway from Lolita was that this is a book about a creepy old man, and you are a good person because you are nothing like Humbert, then you simply aren’t self aware. We all have narcissistic qualities. As mentioned earlier, we project our wants and desires in our own love lives on our environment. This is a defense mechanism for doing something difficult – sacrificing and working to improve ourselves in order to find happiness instead of happiness happening because of events external to us.
It’s a beautiful book that exposes the dark in all of us (if we are willing) through a beautiful story written by a narcissist.
Humbert broke the law. He ruined a girl’s life. He killed a man. He is not good. But he is no less happy than the narcissistic reader that continues to find problems with the world instead of putting in the work to change.