full title Lolita
author Vladimir Nabokov
type of work Novel
genre Postmodern novel; tragicomedy
time and place written 1949–1955, New York
date of first publication 1955
publisher Olympia Press, Paris
narrator Humbert Humbert narrates the novel from his prison cell, approximately five years after the events he describes. The foreword to the novel is narrated by John Ray, Jr., Ph.D. in 1955, three years after the deaths of Humbert and Lolita.
point of view Humbert narrates his account of his affair with Lolita Haze in the first person, focusing only on his own thoughts and emotions.
tone Darkly comic; sly; intellectual; alternating between bemused weariness and sweeping romanticism
tense Humbert Humbert describes the majority of the events in the past tense, but he frames his account with passages of present tense narration.
setting (time) 1947–1952
setting (place) Initially the South of France and unnamed locations in Europe, then all over the United States
protagonist Humbert Humbert
major conflict The primary conflicts in the novel are between Humbert Humbert and society, which disapproves of both incest and pedophilia, and between Humbert Humbert and Clare Quilty, who competes with Humbert for Lolita’s affections.
rising action Humbert takes Lolita on the road, in an effort to control her behavior and cement his possession of her. By traveling, he hopes to hide his and Lolita’s identities—and relationship—thereby avoiding society’s disapproval and eluding his rival, Clare Quilty.
climax Humbert’s plan fails when Lolita escapes him, running off with Clare Quilty after a brief stay in the hospital.
falling action Humbert spends the next several years trailing Lolita and attempting to exact his revenge on Quilty.
themes The power of language; the dispiriting incompatibility of European and American cultures; the inadequacy of psychiatry; the alienation caused by exile
motifs Butterflies; doubles; games
symbols The theater; prison
foreshadowing Continuous: Humbert describes past events using the present tense, dropping hints in the form of clever wordplay, and he often alludes to events, people, and places the reader has not yet encountered.