Lolita and Humbert Humbert spend the next year (August 1947 to August 1948) traveling across the country. They go everywhere, from New England, to the South, to the Rockies, to the Pacific Coast, to the Canadian border, back through the Midwest, and finally back to the eastern “college town of Beardsley.”
Although Humbert and Lolita are not living ordinary American lives, their status as orphans and wanderers is what makes Lolita an ideally American story. From its beginnings, America has been a nation of immigrants and misfits. Stories of wandering and migration are central to American history.
Along the way, Humbert keeps Lolita obedient and under control by threatening her: if she misbehaves, he will take her to an isolated cottage to learn French and Latin. If she reports him to the police, he warns that she will become a foster child living a life of poverty. Humbert keeps Lolita occupied by trying to keep her excited about the next destination on their cross-country trip. Along the way, they become expert in motels and hotels, which they classify and critique.
Humbert uses a combination of coaxing and threats to control Lolita. Above all, he tries to keep her interested in the next stage of the journey. The way Humbert controls Lolita’s attention is similar to the way he tries to control his readers and our attention. Never letting us outside of what he wants us to see, he must keep his readers interested until the very last page, so that he can fully justify himself. Unlike Lolita, Humbert has never lived in his own home—only hotels and rented rooms. The motels that Humbert and Lolita stay in function as a reminder that neither character has a real home to return to.