Summary: Chapter 1
Humbert and Lolita begin their travels across the United
States, and Humbert describes in detail the many typically American
motels and hotels they stay in. Describing Lolita as a child driven
by whims, Humbert indulges most of her fancies, except when she
wants to mingle with other tourists. He occasionally allows her
to mix with other girls her own age, but he restricts her access
to boys. Humbert realizes that he must secure Lolita’s cooperation
in order to continue in this fashion and to keep her from complaining
too much. He emphasizes to Lolita that she has no one else but him:
if she accuses him of rape, she’ll end up at a state-run reformatory
school. Humbert continues to distract her with new destinations
and new gifts. Over the course of a year, they travel all over the
country, ending up in the northeastern town of Beardsley, Lolita’s
Summary: Chapter 2
Humbert states that their tour did not do America justice.
Rather, they wandered from tourist spot to tourist spot simply in
order to keep Lolita tolerably amused. Lolita is always eager to
pick up hitchhikers, and Humbert realizes that their continual sexual
activity has given Lolita an air that attracts other men and boys.
He tries to prevent her from seeing other boys, but Lolita likes
to flirt. Humbert enjoys watching other female children play, but
Lolita would rather ride horseback or play tennis. Once, during
a match, Humbert believes that he sees a man holding a racket and
talking to Lolita. Humbert claims that he tried everything to show
Lolita a good time but admits that he was mainly concerned with
keeping the affair secret and keeping Lolita happy enough to have
sex with him. He states that he is very happy, but Lolita constantly
hurts him with her indifference and her desire to meet other people.
Summary: Chapter 3
Humbert attempts to relive his experience with Annabel
by taking Lolita to the beach. He fails to re-create the past and
consoles himself by having sex with Lolita in beautiful outdoor
locations. They make love by the mountains and get caught by a woman
and her children, barely managing to escape. Humbert and Lolita
see many popular movies, and at one two women catch him fondling
Lolita in the movie theater. Once again, Humbert just escapes without
incident. Even when they occasionally encounter policemen, Lolita does
not reveal their arrangement. Anxious about the legality of the situation,
not to mention dwindling funds, Humbert decides to settle in Beardsley
and teach at the Beardsley Women’s College, while sending Lolita
to the sedate girls’ school. Humbert realizes that despite their
wide travels, they have really seen nothing, and he believes their
trip has somehow defiled a great country. He also knows that Lolita
cries every night, while he pretends to sleep.
In Part Two, Nabokov writes his version of the all-American
road novel, but from a jaded, distracted, and distinctly European
point of view. Humbert and Lolita go everywhere suggested by their
various road guides, but they see very little of consequence, since
Humbert plans the trip mainly to evade society’s prying eyes and
to keep Lolita entertained. Like many expatriates, Nabokov included,
Humbert is simultaneously appalled and intrigued by American kitsch.
In particular, he notes the odd names of their destinations and
the particularities of that populist American invention, the motel.
Humbert appreciates America’s natural beauty even as he admits that
their trip, prompted by a pedophiliac relationship, did not do America justice.
Like many teenagers, Lolita is even less charmed by their vagabond
lifestyle, preferring the movies and the company of strangers to
vaguely educational, mostly touristy destinations. Humbert fails
in his efforts to educate Lolita about the various significant places
they pass, since he himself isn’t particularly interested in anything
but their secret relationship. Unlike more classically reverential
road-trip tales, in which the travelers gain a deeper understanding
of the world and themselves through their journeys, Humbert and
Lolita’s trip is ultimately a sham, a blind stumbling from location
to location without any subsequent spiritual growth or deeper meaning.
Humbert has now crossed over into a world without any
internal or external moral boundaries. Because of their constant
travels, Humbert remains outside society’s regulations and manages
to convince most people that he is merely an overprotective father.
Never remaining anywhere for long, he manages to evade society’s
watchful eye. He is caught fondling Lolita twice and has multiple
encounters with the police, but he always makes a quick escape before meeting
any real opposition. Though he constantly worries about the law,
Humbert rarely experiences any hindrance from official authorities.
In some ways, this freedom indicates a willful blindness on society’s
part, and perhaps even a certain amount of complicity in Humbert
and Lolita’s relationship.
By traveling constantly, Humbert has eliminated not only
external obstacles to his affair with Lolita but also any internal
moral qualms he might have had if they’d stayed in one place. He
wastes his thoughts on their next destination or sexual encounter,
rather than on the consequences of his actions. Before their first
sexual encounter, Humbert’s dreams were limited to drugging and
fondling Lolita, stopping short of actually having sex with her.
Now the reader can see how naïve this plan was—and how completely
Humbert’s desire has consumed him. He terrorizes Lolita into staying with
him by threatening her with reform school, then doubles his efforts
with bribery, a tactic he knows is corrupting Lolita’s morals. Indeed,
as the novel continues, Lolita sees their relationship as an increasingly
financial one. Humbert hears Lolita’s sobs at night, and though
they cause him pain, they don’t prompt him to reconsider his plans
for her. He remains convinced that he can make Lolita happy and
still keep their sexual relationship intact.
Though Humbert doesn’t concern himself with whether Lolita enjoys
their carnal relationship, he does notice that her sexual experience
has made her irresistible to men. It remains somewhat ambiguous
how aware of her attractiveness Lolita is, but she clearly enjoys male
company. Her flirtatiousness can be seen either as sexual precociousness
or, perhaps, a veiled attempt to reattach herself to more conventional
society, since she is drawn to families and hitchhikers as well
as young men. Humbert’s jealousy causes him to control her even
more tightly, as well as to see every man as a potential threat, including
the mysterious man at the tennis court. Humbert’s fear about losing
Lolita to another man will come true, as Quilty emerges from the
shadows and makes himself known. Meanwhile, Lolita’s eagerness to
mix with other people is just one sign of her unhappiness with her
claustrophobic relationship with her stepfather/lover.
Summary: Chapter 1