Monday, March 23, 2009

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury

For me, the technique that added the most meaning, and made Lolita both interesting and morally challenging to read was Humbert's narration, and the way Nabokov breaks the 4th wall. Humbert is not only an unreliable narrator, but a downright manipulative one. From the first page, he assumes the role of an accused man pleading his case, and stops regularly to try and justify his actions to his audience. He purposefully and blatantly tries to persuade us to empathize with him, and that elegant bastard does a good job too.

So as I sat down to write my blog, I started to think, why did Nabokov choose this format? What effect did he create by this choice? Humbert doesn't attempt to conceal that he is telling his story in a persuasive manner, but the horrifying realities of his actions ensure that we will never allow ourselves to truly agree with him. We readers are not stupid enough for that, Nabokov knows this, so then what is the point? I would argue that by adding this element to Lolita, Nabokov makes the novel both more difficult and more rewarding. Since we as readers are forced to put up with wiley Humbert, we must struggle to maintain our own moral beleifs (like say, that raping children is bad) against a constant onslaught of verbose rationalizations. The narrator blatantly tells us what to think, but it is constructed in such a way that the thoughts he tries to force feed us (in a spoon of breathtaking imagery) must be fought off to maintain our own moral decency. In this way, Nabokov forces us to think outside the novel and to formulate our own opinions about Humbert, since the opinion presented is unsatisfactory. And this technique is just part of what makes Lolita such an valuable and thought-provoking work.

Hopefully that makes sense, I'm looking forward diving further into the marinas trench of moral questions that Lolita raises tomorrow morning.

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