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Lolita​: Pupae or Human


By Alegra Gurian

Vladimir Nabokov was born the 22nd of April in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1899. He was a prominent author of Russian descent and besides Lolita, Nabokov is known for his other works such as Pale Fire and Conclusive Evidence. Lolita, published in September of 1955, shocked the world with a disturbing story of incest, devout love, worship, sacrifice and so on. The story tells the tale of a middle aged man, Humbert Humbert, has an obsession with little girls or “nymphets” as he calls them. He travels from Europe to the East Coast to stay with friends and by luck meets the “nymph” of his dreams. He falls hopelessly in love but is tied down from his lust and love to her by her mother and the outside world. Only when H.H. (Humbert Humbert) uses deceiving portrayals of love towards her mother does he get to be closer to her. Dolores Haze aka Lolita is whisked on an adventure that is forever scarring to her childhood but in the eyes of her rapist/father it’s an adventure of opportunity and hunger. While writing Lolita Nabokov was on a trip around the United States in search of butterflies. He was an avid etymologist and specifically studied lepidoptery which is the study of moths and butterflies. He had a knack for Polyommatus blues. He created a theory describing their evolution from Asia and Europe to the New World. Throughout Lolita, Nabokov makes numerous references to the species. Lolita can also be identified as pro feminist theory the way he tells story. He implies that Lolita is not in fact a human but a developing pupae that will go through her own stages of evolution.

When H.H. meets Lolita she is a pupae of 12 years old. Throughout the book Lolita goes through the stages of metamorphosis and slowly develops in time to be a blooming butterfly. In Humbert's eyes even if her beauty has faded she will always be that beautiful alluring girl that he fell in love with at 12 years old. In the end of the book, 3 years after Lolita’s escape Humbert gets a letter and reunites with the now 17 year old pregnant married nymph. Although she has lost some of her sweetness he still finds her. “I’ll die if you touch me,”(Nabokov, 280). H.H. still retains that passion for her. Even when she has grown out of her pupae shell he still yearns for her and wants her to be his forever. She has reached the stage of full blown butterfly and she is flapping her wings proudly free of her cage from which she was encased. The case being H.H. grasp and his controlling demeanor over her. She reached the final stage of metamorphosis. She embarked on that journey the moment she slipped from his grasp entirely and even more so when she got married and became pregnant. She was desolating her body, letting another touch her in a way that would have made H.H. furious and disgusted. She continuously pulled away until she shed all his evilness from her. “The moral sense in mortals is the duty we have to pay on mortal sense of beauty.”(Nabokov, 285). Whether he’s quoting a real poet or not Nabokov identifies the fact that no matter what, humans have to pay contribution to beauty. It’s not just ignored but praised and acknowledged. Everything dies but everything that has life in it has beauty; no matter what stage it’s at. Butterflies have a unique beauty to them that can’t be compared to any other just like how every human is special and different. From pupaes, to pregnant every living organism has a beauty in itself just for being alive.

In a couple places in the book Nabokov uses a certain style of writing. He brings into text the post hoc ergo propter hoc (Carroll) which is a form of syntax that is saying if A occurred then B occurred, therefore A caused B. He uses it in a sense of maps but also he infers in the book that becuase Dolores was such a sweet “nymphet” Humbert had to have her. So he did what was necessary to be closer. Also in regards to if a pupae is ready to leave its shell and become a butterfly that’s what’s going to happen. When things are ready to happen, they happen. Lolita was tired of being H.H. mistress or “nymph”. She knew it was time and A caused B to skip town with another man. Same thing with Humbert, he was brimming with the urgency to let out his passion with her and decided to let it overcome him so his fantasies could become a reality. Nabokov implicates his love of butterflies with: “as the fragile and beautiful nymphet undergoes her metamorphosis, she is described as frail, silky, and fairy­like. Humbert presses his mouth to Lolita's "fluttering" eyelid, and then there's this moment as he watches her play tennis”(Morton). He refers to her shamelessly as a butterfly. She embodies every characteristic that one can to a butterfly. Even her wings as shown, not physically, but with her growing attitudes and growing stinginess with Humbert, “Do you remember the place...y’know..where you raped me..”(Nabokov, 218). She would have never have said that when they were first getting to know each other and after the rape occurred.

Nabokov uses certain imagery when describing Lolita moving. “...rising on the pedals to work on them lustily, then sinking back in a languid posture while the speed wore itself off...”(Nabokov, 190). In this case lustily doesn’t refer to sexually but rather something with passion and determination. The way that he describes her evokes such passion from him that he is comparing to her the one thing. “But Vladimir Nabokov might never have unleashed Lo­lee­ta, fire of Humbert's loins and subject of many an impassioned seduction­versus­child­abuse debate, if he had devoted himself entirely to his first great love: chasing butterflies”(Morton). His love of butterflies just overtakes him. He can’t help but compare Lolita to one of them. He identifies with H.H. in a way where he is obsessed with something. However that something is perfectly legal unlike H.H. decision. He loves the movement of butterflies so much that he even compares minor characters to them. “He waved his wrists and elbows in would be comical imitation of rudimentary wings..”(Nabokov, 189). Nabokov was writing Lolita while chasing butterflies around America. He was surrounded by the different type of species and that was his life. Writing and chasing the prancing colors in the sky with a net. “Butterflies were so entwined with the novel that Nabokov celebrated an especially important find—discovering the first known female of Lycaeides sublivens above Telluride, Colo. in the summer of 1951—by making the town the site of the novel’s final scene.” (Minnesota). When it comes to the final chapters of a page a writer wants to make an impact on the reader and leave them on a tone of suspense or wrap up the plot. To make the final setting of the book a place where Nabokov found a significant discovery goes to show how important butterflies were to him. One can also draw out that since he stared at the butterflies genitalia so often, that that helped him to create an atmosphere of Lolita. He was exploring and studying the sex of butterflies so why not replace them as humans in the book and study the correlation of sexes. Lolita was to Humbert what butterflies were to Nabokov. “­which was represented by numerous specimens wherever Dolores landed..”(Nabokov, 247). There were many different sides to Dolores or Lolita. Just as there are many different kinds of species of butterflies. As Humbert followed Lolitas trail, the reader is unconsciously following Nabokov in his travels as well, finding different specimens or chasing specimens.

Feminism does present itself, or the idea that women should be equal to men and have the same rights pops up although it doesn’t make itself shown directly but rather implied from the story told. In the beginning of the story Dolores makes no effort to distance herself or be shown as independent of the pedophile but relinquishes in his adoration and worship. But as time goes on and as his passion grows stronger Dolores tires of the endless sexual assault. The word feminism is supposed to bring to mind the equality of both sexes which also includes his/her rights. John locke said that every individual is born with natural rights that include life, liberty, and property. But what he believed was the basis of all natural law was preservation. Do what is necessary to preserve an individual's life. He didn’t say man but individual, which alludes to both sex. Dolores took her liberty back under the patriarchal figure that ruled her life. No more was she to be controlled and ordered around like some sex zombie. The ruin he imposed on her she returned to him when she left. She knew how dependent he was on her so she switched the tables therefore leveling out the equality between the two. Before both suffered, Dolores suffering negatively while Humbert swim sin sexual angst. However Dolores takes control and now both are miserable from each other’s actions. In correspondence with feminism and how Dolores took back her life, lies an underlying theme of it. Since Dolores held that power and did something with it the reader could say that she held the power all the time she just hadn’t discovered how to wield it. That it’s really Humbert travelling under a matriarchal life. He depends on her for his happiness. Without his nymphet he is torn apart. Nabokov is commenting on how society actually could be living under a matriarchal way instead of men doing everything and being in control. Take Lysistrata for example; the men were completely reliant on the women for a warm welcome home but got revolt instead. Granted they wanted sex but they can’t perform the act unless they have the opposite gender, unless they were homosexual. Men have yet to change and still yearn for passion and will do most anything for it. Which can also be taken negatively and which has been shown in the book because Dolores is 12 and she was raped. The difference between a pupae and a butterfly is conviction. Being a pupae means being scared and hesitant because the world is a scary and intimidating place while being a butterfly is much easier because confidence and self­independence have grown majestically and a place in the world is becoming or has become clear.

Nabokov was deeply interested in butterflies and specifically in their genitalia. He would spend hours looking through a microscope gazing upon in wonder. He would focus on the male specimen parts more, trying to identify which species they were and how they related to others. This infatuation with butterflies and their genitalia helped to create the world of Lolita. They correlate almost identically. A butterfly is a delicate insect that isn’t very hard to catch. A sexually curious 12 year old girl paired with undivided attention and a decent looking man giving it to her is almost one in the same. Lolita is the butterfly and Humbert is the etymologist running trying to catch her.

Throughout the book Dolores Haze is clearly implied as being a pupae that blooms into a butterfly of her own species. She and Humbert have both ruined each other’s life. She when she left him and he when he raped her. If A occurred then B occurred, therefore A caused B. No matter what happens in life when something comes time to change, whether it be a spunky girl breaking out of her shell to grow further, or butterfly breaks loose, it’s bound to happen and most times it’s unstoppable.

Works Cited

Nabokov, Vladimir. Lolita. New York, New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1955. Print.
Morton, Ella. Nabokov's Butterflies: The Lolita Author's First, Fluttering Love. Slate 2015. Web. 28 March 2016.
Carroll, Robert Todd. “Post hoc fallacy”.The Skeptics Dictionary 2015. Web. 28 March 2016.
MinnesotaStan, The Relationship of Butterflies to Lolita. “Things You Wouldn’t Know If We Didn’t Blog Intermittently”: 2014. Web. 28 March 2016

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