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Lolita As Viewed By Homer Essay Research

Lolita, As Viewed By Homer Essay, Research Paper

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 Odysseus overcomes, Humbert’s obstacles are, in essence, made by himself. His own guilty conscience and paranoia cause the obstacles that plague him. This is particularly evident when Humbert is driving cross country with Lolita. Humbert’s actions with Lolita are immoral and unlawful. He knows this, and therefore must always be conscious of the possible consequences that may occur as a result of his actions. This ultimately brings about Odysseus-like characteristics in Humbert Humbert.

Homer, continuing his commentary, would explain that both of these men’s journeys end quite differently. Odysseus’ odyssey ends triumphantly with Odysseus returning home and establishing order in his house. Humbert’s odyssey ends much differently, in fact it never really comes to a conclusion. He never finds the love he had with Annabel despite his attempts with Lolita. He truly loved Lolita, but the love was never completely requited. Homer, as well as the reader, is left with the impression that Humbert never came to terms with the loss of Annabel rendering his odyssey a failure.

In regard to the thematic comparisons between these two works, Homer would conclude by commenting on Humbert Humbert being viewed as heroic. Odysseus, who is undeniably heroic, has the grace of most of the gods. The gods helped him reach his destination. Homer would indicate that Humbert also had the grace of the “gods.” The specific reference that Homer would support this statement with would be when Charlotte Haze was killed. Humbert had toyed with the idea of killing Charlotte himself, if only he were able to commit the perfect murder. With this in mind, the fact that Charlotte was killed in a completely random accident shows that some force of nature (a god as Homer would express it) favored Humbert and thus helped him in the path of his odyssey. Homer would, because of this incident, consider Humbert Humbert to some degree a heroic character.

In Homer’s commentary on Lolita he would next discuss the similarities between his own writing style and the writing style of Humbert Humbert. Homer, in my opinion, would suggest that if Lolita was written in the same time period that he wrote the Odyssey, Lolita would have been an epic poem. Humbert describes his own odyssey in full detail, throughout the course of the book, in the same fashion as Homer. They both describe their leading characters’ tribulations with the same immense detail. Homer achieves this through writing in verse while Humbert’s writings are in prose. Many of Humbert’s passages, as would be noted by Homer, are written in a very poetic form, suggesting an epic poem type feel.

Homer would go on to make comparisons to the manner in which he and Humbert Humbert refer to their characters. For example, Homer, when speaking of Odysseus, almost always follows his name with a description such as, “Odysseus, master mariner and soldier”(X, 540) and, “Odysseus, master of land ways and sea ways”(X, 559). Humbert Humbert in his narrative calls himself many variations of his name, such as, “Humbert the Hummer”(Nabokov, 57) and “Humbert the Cubus”(Nabokov, 71). In the same manner that Humbert plays with his own name, he is constantly varying Lolita’s name. Even though this may be a trivial similarity, I believe that Homer would consider this use of language a major tie between his writings and the writings of Humbert Humbert.

Through an intense study of both the Odyssey and Lolita I am able to conclude that Homer, without reservations, would consider Lolita a modern day Odyssey. The similarities are too profound and the differences are too trivial to think otherwise.

Works Cited

The Odyssey Translated by Robert Fitzgerald

Lolita Vladimir Nabokov, Second Vintage International Edition, June 1997

The Odyssey Translated by Robert Fitzgerald

Lolita Vladimir Nabokov, Second Vintage International Edition, June 1997

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