Lolita, As Viewed by Homer
Homer’s Odyssey is the story of one man’s epic journey to return home and reestablish the proper order in his life. Throughout Odysseus’ journey, he encounters many obstacles that he must overcome in order to reach his destination. Homer describes Odysseus as ” . . . that man skilled in all ways of contending, the wanderer, harried for years on end…”(I, 2-3). With this in mind, I think if Homer were asked to comment on Lolita he would be able to relate many similarities between his own Odyssey and Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita specifically through thematic parallels and similarities in their writing style.
When speaking of the author of Lolita, I will be speaking of Humbert Humbert not Nabokov. The reason for this is, the story of Lolita is being told by Humbert Humbert through his manuscripts. Therefore I’ll be speaking of Humbert Humbert’s writings in terms of Homer’s writings in the Odyssey.
Homer would immediately see a striking similarity in the beginning of both works. Homer begins by giving a brief synopsis of his poem. He tells of Odysseus and his wanderings, and ultimately his quest to reach his homeland. Humbert, in the same way, begins his story by giving a vague overview of what is to come in his writings.
In the first chapter we are introduced to Lolita. We are told that there was another love in his life, before Lolita, without whom Lolita may have never existed. Humbert hints at Lolita’s age, and we learn that he murdered someone. Both introductions whet the lips of the reader and invoke a genuine hunger for what will come in the following pages.
Upon reading the first chapter of Lolita, the major thematic similarity between the Odyssey and Lolita is uncovered.Homer would conclude that Humbert Humbert, over the course of the book, will be embarking on an odyssey. This odyssey, which is two-fold, is defined more clearly in the chapters to come. The first part of the odyssey is Humbert’s quest to reacquire his first love, Annabel. Annabel had died while she and Humbert were merely two youths in love. Her death left Humbert permanently scarred. Humbert admits, ” . . . the shock of Annabel’s death . . . made of it a permanent obstacle to any further romance throughout the cold years of his youth”(Nabokov, 14). This, as Homer would comment, is the principle reason for Humbert’s epic journey and would be paralleled to Odysseus’ yearning to reach home.
The second part of Humbert’s odyssey is his quest to keep Lolita at the same stage of her life that Annabel was at when she had passed away. Homer would agree that the second part of Humbert’s odyssey would complement Odysseus’ regaining of his house from the suitors. Unlike the second part of Odysseus’ odyssey, Humbert’s second part is not nearly as obvious.
The first hint of Humbert’s second odyssey comes when he says, ” . . . Lolita began with Annabel”(Nabokov, 14). This is the first of many references made by Humbert comparing Lolita with Annabel. The most obvious of these references occurs when Humbert, speaking of Lolita, calls her, ” . . . Annabel Haze, alias Dolores Lee, alias Loleeta . . .”(Nabokov, 167). In this reference Humbert actually associates Annabel and Lolita as the same person. By doing this he shows the reader that to him, Lolita is Annabel, and she will be Annabel to him as long as he can has any control over Lolita.
Homer’s opinion of Humbert’s odyssey would also point out the many similarities between Humbert’s manner of conducting himself and Odysseus’s manner of conducting himself. Both of these men are skilled and clever, in their own respects, in the way that they overcome the many obstacles that they face. Through quick thinking they avoid being caught or detained. However, although they share many of the same attributes, Homer would not go as far as to equate Humbert with Odysseus. Odysseus is by far the nobler and more respected of the two characters.
The obstacles that these two men encounter arise for different reasons and therefore are dealt with using different means. Unlike the obstacles that