Lolita

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Motels and Rented Houses Symbol Analysis

Motels and Rented Houses Symbol Icon
None of the residences in Lolita are permanent. Humbert Humbert is born in a hotel, lives in Ramsdale as a boarder, never really settles down in Beardsley, and spends most of his time in hundreds of motels and roadside inns. The same goes for Lolita, who has already left her childhood home and moved to Ramsdale by the time Humbert Humbert encounters her. Motels in Lolita are symbols for the emotional homelessness of the major characters, none of whom have a real family or deep roots anywhere.

Motels and Rented Houses Quotes in Lolita

The Lolita quotes below all refer to the symbol of Motels and Rented Houses. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Perversity, Obsession, and Art Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Vintage edition of Lolita published in 1989.
Part 1, Chapter 33 Quotes

In the gay town of Lepingville I bought her four books of comics, a box of candy, a box of sanitary pads, two cokes, a manicure set, a travel clock with a luminous dial, a ring with a real topaz, a tennis racket, roller skates with high white shoes, a portable radio set, chewing gum, a transparent raincoat, sunglasses, some more garments—swooners, shorts, all kinds of summer frocks. At the hotel we had separate rooms, but in the middle of the night she came sobbing into mine, and we made it up very gently. You see, she had absolutely nowhere else to go.

Related Characters: Humbert Humbert (speaker), Lolita (Dolores Haze)
Related Symbols: Motels and Rented Houses
Page Number: 141-142
Explanation and Analysis:

Humbert describes the events that transpire just after he informs Lolita of her mothers’ death. To compensate, he buys Lolita a litany of presents and then later observes how their mutual exile has brought them closer together—just as he had wished.

Nabokov is riffing, here, on a specific type of American consumerism. As a European, Humbert would have not grown up with such an obsessive relationship with purchasing objects, but he sees them as a way to seduce and sedate Lolita. He presumes she can be placated with toys and sweets—and especially by clothing. We can read this as both a personal strategy of Humbert’s and also a critique of the American belief that owning things provides a source of emotional significance and meaning. Lolita has just lost her mother, and yet the only response Humbert offers are purchased products and sexual manipulation. As an immigrant, Nabokov held an excellent critical eye for many such American practices, and this novel, in particular, takes aim at the magazine and film consumer industries Nabokov found distasteful.

The final lines in this passage shift the tone, however, from superficial to emotional and predatory. Humbert reflects with delight how entrapped Lolita has become in his game, for, without a mother, she can turn to no one except him. These lines should be recalled at other moments when Lolita seems complicit or even empowered in Humbert’s games, for her actions only ever exist on top of this fundamental state of desperation—even if the desperation is covered by a consumerist veneer.

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Part 2, Chapter 3 Quotes

We had been everywhere. We had really seen nothing. And I catch myself thinking today that our long journey had only defiled with a sinuous trail of slime the lovely, trustful, dreamy, enormous country that by then, in retrospect, was no more to us than a collection of dog-eared maps, ruined tour books, old tires, and her sobs in the night—every night, every night—the moment I feigned sleep.

Related Characters: Humbert Humbert (speaker), Lolita (Dolores Haze)
Related Symbols: Motels and Rented Houses
Page Number: 175
Explanation and Analysis:

As he continues to recount his travels with Lolita, Humbert becomes increasingly desperate. He lapses more and more out of a poetic tone, or even a critical one, and instead reflects on the actual horror of what is transpiring.

This moment of seeming honesty begins with an expression of exhaustion and despondency. Though they have traveled all over America, they “had really seen nothing,” which points to how Humbert has focused solely on Lolita and his own paranoia above all else. They have followed the narrative conventions of an American road trip, in which one goes in search of new experiences with different people and cultures, but instead Humbert’s gaze has remained fixedly solipsistic and inward, only moving to a new place to best position his relationship with Lolita. As a result, the journey seems suddenly drained of meaning. What was before a fantasy land is instead just the detritus of “dog-eared maps, ruined tour books, old tires”—all physical reminders of the sad, desperate road-trip.

He contrasts these desolate images with “the lovely, trustful, dreamy, enormous country”—a remarkably positive take on America considering how harsh the European Humbert has been on the nation before. That their journey has “defiled” America implies that the country was pristine to begin with, and casts their crimes as having a significant negative effect on the space. This is a notable shift from his earlier contention that pedophiles do no public harm, for here the very geography of America has been marked by their sinful travels. Nabokov positions Humbert, then, as increasingly aware of his moral complicity, not because he has necessarily come to a full self-accusation, but simply because the glamor of the travel has faded. In a sense, he can no longer seduce himself.

Furthermore, Humbert's brief admission that Lolita sobs every night when he himself is asleep is especially tragic and horrifying. It hints at other kinds of trauma that Humbert may have glossed over or repressed in his "confession," and is a stark reminder of the very real psychological horror Lolita is enduring at this time—something not even Humbert himself can deny any longer.

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Motels and Rented Houses Symbol Timeline in Lolita

The timeline below shows where the symbol Motels and Rented Houses appears in Lolita. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1, Chapter 2
Exile, Homelessness and Road Narratives Theme Icon
Life and Literary Representation Theme Icon
Women, Innocence, and Male Fantasy Theme Icon
...years old, but he was doted on by everyone in the “private universe,” of the hotel: his father’s lady-friends, tourists, and the hotel help. He lived a charmed life filled with... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 28
Perversity, Obsession, and Art Theme Icon
Life and Literary Representation Theme Icon
Women, Innocence, and Male Fantasy Theme Icon
As he waits for Lolita to fall asleep, Humbert Humbert walks through the hotel. He reaches a pinnacle of happiness as he realizes that Lolita is finally his. He... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 33
Exile, Homelessness and Road Narratives Theme Icon
...buys Lolita toys, clothes and baubles. She and he take separate rooms at the local motel, but she comes into his room late in the night for comfort. Humbert notes with... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 13
Perversity, Obsession, and Art Theme Icon
Life and Literary Representation Theme Icon
Patterns, Memory and Fate Theme Icon
...Humbert notes the coincidence between the name of the play and the name of the motel where he first raped Lolita, and is thrilled when she points this out. He assumes... (full context)