Humbert Humbert is, without a doubt, a criminal. He admits it himself in the closing statement at the end of the novel, “Had I come before myself, I would have given Humbert at least thirty-five years for rape” (Nabokov 308; Pt. 2, Ch. 36). He has committed an immoral crime of molesting and raping an underage girl, and he makes no effort to deny that he is not guilty of such an offense. If a jury were to hear Humbert’s trial in today’s modern time, they would definitely convict him of his unlawful transgression with Lolita. However, after analyzing Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Lolita, it becomes evident that Humbert’s criminal behavior is not far from the natural behavior of all men and women. The root of Humbert’s problem did not come from his abnormal character flaw of having unnatural attractions to young girls (nymphets), but it came from a God-given character trait that is common in all of mankind; Humbert suffered from lust.
It all started with Humbert’s brief affair with Annabel at an early age. When Humbert was young with a maturing body and a growing interest/drive for sexual intercourse he grew deeply attached to a similar, very willing, adolescent named Annabel. Despite being “madly, clumsily, shamelessly, agonizingly in love with each other; hopelessly, I should add” Humbert could not relieve himself of his sexual tension (Nabokov 12; Pt. 1, Ch. 3). His brief moments of physical contact with Annabel were not even close enough to satisfy him and it “drove our healthy young bodies to such a state of exasperation that not even the cold blue water, under which we still clawed at each other, could bring relief.” (Nabokov 12; Pt. 1, Ch. 3). According to Sigmund Freud, a famous psychologist, if the needs of a person are not immediately met then it will result in anxiety and tension (Freud 126-139). That is exactly what happened to the young lovers; in developing bodies which hungered sexual contact, Humbert and Annabel were suffering from their lack of immediate gratification. They were distressed from unfulfilled physical lust.
Originally, Humbert’s position was comparable to any other boy in a similar situation. Humbert is not the first male to undergo extreme desire for sexual intercourse at a developing age when hormones start kicking in. According to Claudia Wallis, a published author from Yale University, when a child is around 12 to 18 their “sex hormones are especially active in the brain’s emotional center–the limbic system” (Wallis 3). This means that most teens are in constant standby mode for sexual affairs. Using a metaphor to describe this situation, one could compare it to a computer that is always running the same program, even when it is put on standby or sleep mode. Whether conscious or subconscious, most teens are physically, if not emotionally, ready for sensual intercourse at any time. Humbert was no exception. With a heightened emotional state and active sex hormones he lusted for his sweet, beautiful Annabel just like all other males lust for their sweet and beautiful Annabels. The only difference between Humbert and other young boys is that Humbert remained infatuated with his childhood sweetheart while other males typically mature with age and grow attached to more adult-like attractions.
After Annabel died, without helping Humbert overcome his initial sexual desires, Humbert developed a unique case of sex drive; he lusted for young girls, nymphets as he called them, that were similar if not completely alike to Annabel. Humbert himself said that he was “perfectly capable of intercourse with Eve, but it was Lilith that he longed for.” (Nabokov 20; Pt. 1, Ch. 5). If Humbert would have had his chance to possess his darling Annabel without distraction by two bearded swimmers then it would be safe to say that his future would have been different. If his initial sexual desires had been met then Humbert might have had a chance to grow up a normal life without the ill effects of becoming a pedophile. Because his initial desire was not met Humbert Humbert became the person that he was. He was not born a pedophile; he became a pedophile because of his lust.
Looking at Humbert’s relationship with Lolita, it was obvious that it was founded solely on his physical desire, solely on sex. Humbert desired Lolita to a point of uncontrollable addiction. He writes how Lolita tortured him when “she proved to be a cruel negotiator whenever it was in her power to deny me certain life wrecking, strange, slow paradisal philters without which I could not live more than a few days in a row” (Nabokov 184; Pt. 2, Ch. 7). When Lolita was sick he still attempted to fondle her but realizing that sex was impossible and “giving up all hope of intercourse,” he reluctantly took her to a hospital (Nabokov 240; Pt. 2, Ch. 22). Even when Humbert was feeling guilty of raping Lolita “with my soul actually hanging around her naked body and ready to repent” he was still overcome by his physical lust when “all at once, ironically, horribly, lust would swell again” (Nabokov 285; Pt. 2, Ch. 32). Humbert was driven by a form of lust that is presumably no different, although perhaps much stronger, than any other form of lust that both men and women experience. The only exception is that Humbert’s focus was temporarily narrowed down to Lolitas, to nymphets.
The final supporting point comes when Humbert finds yet another woman in his life. Rita is a very interesting character in the book because Humbert says that she “saved” him (Nabokov 259; Pt. 2, Ch. 26). Throughout the novel it is often referenced how often Humbert had his fill of Lolita. To a person who is supposedly addicted to fulfilling sexual fantasies with nymphets, it would seem completely illogical that an older woman, a non-nymphet, could save him. Rita was a somewhat foolish female who could not possibly have provided an intellectual like Humbert any service other than sexual relief. That was the foundation of their temporary relationship. After having sex with Lolita for years, Humbert could not, both physically and emotionally, get over her loss and he needed an outlet for his stored up tension. Rita could not relieve him of his emotional loss, but she did her part in helping him get through his physical loss. Looking at this in a different way, Humbert presumably suffered from lack of sexual intercourse. There are many examples about men who were unable to overcome temptations during a period of isolation. One example is The Crucible by Arthur Miller where the main protagonist, supposedly a godly and righteous man, sleeps with another woman when his wife was sick. It is common for men have moments of weakness when their sexual addictions or sexual habits are not met. When he lost his lovely Lolita Humbert felt that he would go crazy, but as soon as he found a replacement, although a temporary one, he was somehow able to avoid a complete mental breakdown. All these factors point to Humbert’s original problem; that he suffers from lust more than from an unnatural attraction to underage nymphets. The very origin of his criminal behavior comes from his need for sexual gratification.
Sigmund Freud’s controversial psychological theories only attempt to explain Humbert’s position. Most of Sigmund Freund theories revolve around human sexuality; how a child is developed through certain stages and the different sexual aspects involved with each stage (Freud 15-19). However, Humbert can’t be specifically categorized as he only remains true to one of Freud’s theories; that everything is derived from a person’s sex drive (Freud 27). Throughout the entire Nabokov novel, Humbert is chasing his sexual passion, chasing his unfulfilled gratification with Annabel, chasing the chance to realize his forbidden fantasies. If one would have to compare Humbert to any other healthy male/female, it would be quite obvious that Humbert shares a common sex drive that is not, by any means, absent in other people.
Vladimir Nabokov’s novel was severely criticized when it was first published. For one reason or another, a segment of the population refused to relate to Humbert in Lolita and rejected the novel. However, taking a deeper look into the novel and its characters, it becomes clear just how similar Humbert’s problems are to everyone else. Yes, he was a rapist. Yes, he was a criminal. Yes, he was a pedophile. Yes, Humbert was, but he was also very human. His drive for Lolita is not much different from the drive most men have for other women. His needs for tender caresses are not much different from a woman’s need/desire for physical contact. Humbert is not very different from every other human on earth since everyone suffers from the same natural God-given character trait; everyone suffers from lust.
Freud, Sigmund. Three Contributions to the Theory of Sex. Trans. A.A. Brill. Ed. Smith Ely Jelliffe and WM. A. White. 2nd ed. New York and Washington: Nervous and Mental Disease, 1920. Google Books. Plain Label Books. Web. 17 May 2010.
Nabokov, Vladimir Vladimirovich. The Annotated Lolita. Ed. Alfred Appel. New York: Vintage, 1991. Print.
Wallis, Claudia. “What Makes Teens Tick.” Time Magazine. CNET, 2009. Web. 22 May 2010.