Monday, March 30, 2009
The Case for Humbert
As numerous people before me have emphasized, yes, Humbert is a rapist, we all accept this. But perhaps we can take more from Lolita’s plot if instead of focusing on the parts of Humbert’s character we don’t identify with (presumably, the whole pedophilia thing), we focus on the seemingly more numerous parts of his character that we do identify with. Although Humbert admittedly has a rather disgusting sexual appetite, he is also at the same time articulate, self-aware (to an extent), and often quite hilarious. In fact, if the pedophilia thing is taken out of the equation, he is a rather witty social commentator with a knack for wordplay. I think this seemingly incongruous duality in Humbert’s life is a large part of what makes him so interesting as a character. On one hand, we as readers want to like him because he displays many characteristics that we admire, not the least of which is his beautiful writing style; but on the other hand we must constantly remind ourselves that we cannot allow ourselves to actually admire him, lest we abandon all moral decency. In a way though, rejecting Humbert as merely an asshole is a cop out, because he’s a heck of a lot more than that. By admitting that there are some very admirable parts of Humbert, you have to also accept that you empathize with, and even admire an admitted child rapist. If you write him off as a mere asshole you simply dodge this unsettling realization of comradery with Humbert to hide behind a shield of denial. However, this does neither yourself nor the book justice, because I would bet money everyone in this class felt empathy and even rooted for Humbert at some point while reading Lolita. For me, this is one of the main struggles and rewards of the novel, that it forces us into this duality of right and wrong, and really makes us question not only Humbert’s morality, but our own.