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by Vladimir Nabokov

Lolita Theme of Justice and Judgment

It's easy to forget that the entire memoir is supposed to present a realistic and historical account of the relationship between Humbert and Lolita and how it led to the murder of Clare Quilty. Throughout Lolita, Humbert, our criminal narrator, refers to the readers as his jury, making appeals and presenting "evidence" to gain sympathy. He does make gestures toward admitting that he is a monster and a maniac who deprived Lolita of her youth, but he also dares the reader (and the jury) to prove it. In other words, he never takes full blame. From the beginning we know he is imprisoned for committing a crime, but the exact nature of it remains unknown. Did he murder Charlotte or Lolita? We do know that as he writes his story, he is waiting to be judged and so takes every opportunity to slip in a defense. However, he dies before his trial begins.

Questions About Justice and Judgment

  1. There is a lot of death at a young age in the novel. Do these deaths imply any sense of judgment about the characters?
  2. What purpose does the oddly stiff introduction by John Ray Jr., Ph.D. serve? Does it actually establish a way of reading the novel or is it soon forgotten?
  3. How does Quilty's crime differ from Humbert's, if at all?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

By dying before his trial, Humbert never faces justice. It is unlikely that his memoir would have presented convincing defense material.

While Humbert's crime against Quilty is one of passion, his crime against Lolita is far more calculated.

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