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Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors
used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
The theater becomes a symbol of artifice and artistry
in Lolita. Humbert blames Lolita’s newfound ability
to lie on her experience in the school play. Quilty uses the same
school play to bring Lolita to him, and Lolita is awed by the theater
because of Quilty’s influence. This is particularly poignant for
Humbert, as he himself was never able to interest Lolita in any
artistic endeavors. Ultimately, Lolita itself can
be seen as a marvel of stagecraft: using language, theater requires
an audience to willingly suspend its collective disbelief, in order
to place themselves imaginatively in the world of the play. Like
a theater audience, a reader may be aware of the craft and artifice
involved in the narrative’s construction, but he or she nonetheless
becomes a willing participant in the illusion. This involvement takes
on a darker tone for the reader of Lolita, as the
force of Nabokov’s artistry manages to make an incestuous pedophile
not only understandable but also oddly sympathetic.
Even though Humbert writes Lolita from
his prison cell, his confinement begins long before his murder of
Quilty. From the moment he loses Annabel and realizes that he worships
nymphets, Humbert understands that he is in a prison of his own
making. He knows that his proclivities are forbidden by society,
so he must put forth a respectable façade and hide his true desires.
Nabokov also uses the concept of the prison metaphorically to symbolizeHumbert’s
secret self. Humbert is initially imprisoned by his secret love
for nymphets, then by his love for Lolita. By the end of the novel,
however, Humbert has completely flouted all of society’s rules and
thus escapes from his confinement. At that moment, though his body
languishes in a real, physical prison, he finds himself free of
the prison of respectability, and can thus reveal—and revel in—his
true self for the first time. The prison, paradoxically, becomes
a symbol of his psychological freedom.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Lolita!