Study Guide

Lolita Visions of America

By Vladimir Nabokov

Visions of America

Book 1, Chapter 8
Humbert Humbert

America, the country of rosy children and great trees, where life would be such an improvement on dull dingy Paris. (1.8.4)

Humbert draws many comparisons between Europe ("the Old World") and America. Consider all of the qualities he associates with America.

Book 1, Chapter 13
Humbert Humbert

[Lolita] grasped [the apple] and bit into it, and my heart was like snow under thin crimson skin, and with the monkeyish nimbleness that was so typical of that American nymphet, she snatched out of my abstract grip the magazine. (1.13.6)

Humbert is aroused and amused by American children. Their freshness and friskiness is a source of endless fascination. How are they different from European children?

Book 1, Chapter 16
Charlotte Haze

I know how reserved you are, how "British." Your old-world reticence, your sense of decorum may be shocked by the boldness of an American girl! (1.16.5)

Charlotte truly misreads Humbert. She imagines herself as the inappropriate and brazen one.

Book 1, Chapter 20
Humbert Humbert

Bland American Charlotte frightened me. (1.20.16)

Humbert expresses very ambivalent feelings about America. Charlotte represents the parts he doesn't like – the mainstream, low-brow consumer type.

Book 1, Chapter 29
Humbert Humbert

There is nothing louder than an American hotel; and, mind you, this was supposed to be a quiet, cozy, old-fashioned, homey place—"gracious living" and all that stuff. (1.29.7)

Humbert conducts an extensive study of hotels. He loves them and hates them at the same time for their tacky, contrived, and hollow qualities.

Book 2, Chapter 1
Humbert Humbert

By a paradox of pictorial thought, the average low-land North-American countryside had at first seemed to me something I accepted with a shock of amused recognition because of those painted oilcloths which were imported from America in the old days to be hung above washstands in Central-European nurseries, and which fascinated a drowsy child at bed time with the rustic green views they depicted—opaque curly trees, a barn, cattle, a brook, the dull white of vague orchards in bloom, and perhaps a stone fence or hills of greenish gouache. (2.1.14)

Humbert was brought up with a distinct image of "America." Many of these images are confirmed when he actually visits the sights.

Book 2, Chapter 2
Humbert Humbert

We inspected the world's largest stalagmite in a cave where three southeastern states have a family reunion […] A granite obelisk commemorating the Battle of the Blue Licks, with old bones and Indian pottery in a museum nearby […] The present log cabin boldly simulating the past log cabin where Lincoln was born. (2.2.4)

You can find just about anything in America. And everything is a tourist sight. It's just that most of it lacks any real historical meaning (compared to Europe).

Book 2, Chapter 3
Humbert Humbert

[…] but no matter how I pleaded or stormed, I could never get her to read any other book than the so-called comic books or stories in magazines for American females. (2.3.14)

Despite being a raging nymphet, Lolita is dreadfully ordinary. Humbert often takes intellectual offense at her banality.

Book 2, Chapter 16
Humbert Humbert

I also noticed that commercial fashion was changing. There was a tendency for cabins to fuse and gradually form a caravansary, and, lo […], a second story was added, and a lobby grew in, and cars were removed to a communal garage, and the motel reverted to the good old hotel. (2.16.4)

From one year to the next, America undergoes enormous change. Unlike Europe, America is constantly being updated, renovated, and improved.

Book 2, Chapter 29

"Good by-aye!" she chanted, my American sweet immortal dead love. (2.29.92)

That Lolita is American is very significant to Humbert. What qualities do Lolita and America share, for good or ill?