Analysis Of The Doubles For Humbert Humbert In Nabokov’s Lolita

A doppelganger, or a double is a character that mirrors and reflects the protagonist of the text. The doppelganger may physically resemble the protagonist, or the two characters may share other common traits. In Nabokov’s Lolita, the use of the double questions the extent of Humbert’s reliability, as it gives reason to suspect his insanity, and thus, the trustworthiness of his narration. Humbert Humbert often refers to himself differently. The following quotation is an example. “Humbert the Terrible deliberated with Humbert the Small whether Humbert Humbert should kill her or her lover, or both, or neither”. The use of the double is observed when Humbert expresses his fury, after having discovered his wife’s infidelity. 

By referencing the different aspects of himself, the sanity of the narrator may be questioned, as it suggests that Humbert may suffer from dissociative identity disorder. When the sanity of the narrator is compromised, so too is his perception of reality. His various titles dissociate and disentangle himself from himself, or more clearly, it emphasizes the dissociation between Humbert the narrator and Humbert the character. As seen in this quote, “Humbert the Terrible deliberated with Humbert the Small whether Humbert Humbert...” is quoted rather than “[I] deliberated with [myself] whether [I]…” Thus, Humbert Humbert draws attention to the fact that he too, is both the narrator and the main character. For a narrator to refer to himself as if he were both the narrator and a character in the story gives readers a reason to suspect his reliability. As defined in the introduction, a narrator can be unreliable because of his personal involvement. 

The use of the many names, such as Humbert the Terrible, Humbert the Small and Humbert Humbert demonstrates that Humbert Humbert the narrator is not only involved in the story, but rather, that the story revolves around him. Humbert the Terrible and Humbert the small are not the only doubles for Humbert Humbert. Another double for Humbert Humbert would be his adversary, and rival for Lolita’s affections, Clare Quilty. Nabokov hints that Humbert and Quilty are doubles by showing how they resemble each other physically. When Lolita and Humbert travel around America, Humbert notes that a man resembling his uncle is stalking them. This solidifies the doubling relationship between the two characters as it is later discovered that the stalker was indeed, Clare Quilty. Humbert begins to grow suspicious that the driver too, is romantically involved with Lolita. It is then discovered that both Quilty and Humbert share the same kind of dark humour, both are well educated, and both are pedophiles, who lust for Lolita. “[H]is genre, his type of humor — at its best, at least — the tone of his brain, had affinities with my own”. Thus, it is established that they are doubles. When Humbert arrives at Quilty’s manor to murder him, the fight scene is narrated in such a way that the pronouns do not distinguish between the two characters. 

“We rolled over me. They rolled over him. We rolled over us” (Nabokov, 299). The mislabelled pronouns suggest that there is only one character, who is conflicted and fighting an internal battle. Thus, this highlights how the Quilty and Humbert may not be distinct or differentiable. It can then be inferred that the murder of Clare Quilty is a metaphor for the death of the pedophilic desires lurking within Humbert Humbert. The death of Quilty is what will lead Humbert to repent and feel remorse for having sexually assaulted Lolita, as he reflects on this in the subsequent chapter. Thus, it can be concluded that Clare Quilty may not have actually existed in the fictional world. Rather, he was most likely a figment of Humbert’s imagination, where he existed as a metaphor for his pedophilic condition. 

The blurred lines between Humbert’s reality and imagination act as an obstacle, obstructing the truth, and thereby calling for the readers to form their own judgements. Humbert’s friend and colleague, Gastin Godin is another doppelganger. Godin and Humbert Humbert are similar in that they are both professors, and it is implied that Godin is also a pedophile. Godin, Humbert remarked, is always surrounded by young boys, and he knows the names of every little boy on the block. The following is a quotation implying Godin’s pedophilic behaviour. “He knew by name all the small boys in our vicinity (he lived a few blocks away from me) and had some of them clean his sidewalk and burn leaves in his backyard, and bring wood from his shed, and even perform simple chores about the house, and he would feed them fancy chocolates, with real liqueurs inside — in the privacy of an orientally furnished den in his basement, with amusing daggers and pistols arrayed on the moldy, rug-adorned walls among the camouflaged hot-water pipes”. 

Thus, it is concluded that there are multiple doubles for Humbert Humbert in the text, and many versions of Humbert Humbert exist. Nabokov is suggesting that Humbert Humbert cannot be trusted. The doubles in the text are a projection of Humbert Humbert himself. They may not have actually existed in Humbert’s reality. They may have only existed in his mind. This is the philosophy of solipsism which is also referenced in the text. Solipsism is the theory that all that can be known to exist is oneself, and everything else that is believed to exist may not actually exist outside of the mind. This theory is brought to light with the many doppelgangers in the text, and it challenges the reader’s faith in Humbert Humbert to tell the truth. Although Humbert Humbert is misleading the “ladies and gentlemen of the jury”, and attempting to sway his audience, his unreliable narrative has the opposite effect, in that it causes his readers to form their own judgements rather than relying on his.  

16 December 2021
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