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Themes and Colors
Perversity, Obsession, and Art Theme Icon
Suburbia and American Consumer Culture Theme Icon
Exile, Homelessness and Road Narratives Theme Icon
Life and Literary Representation Theme Icon
Women, Innocence, and Male Fantasy Theme Icon
Patterns, Memory and Fate Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Lolita, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Exile, Homelessness and Road Narratives Theme Icon

Lolita is in many ways a novel about exile, about characters who have lost their homes. It is important to notice that there is no real “home,” in Lolita: every place Humbert Humbert and his nymphet live is a temporary dwelling. Humbert Humbert’s life begins at a hotel, and ends in a prison. In between, he lives in boarding houses, rented apartments, and motels—hundreds of them. He doesn’t stay anywhere, or with anyone, for more than a few years. Further, he is an exile from his cultural home: a bewildered European in America. Lolita, too, is homeless. In Ramsdale, she is a newcomer who has lost her father and her hometown. With Humbert, she becomes a kidnapped orphan, with no way of putting down roots and living a normal life. Lolita is not only a story of exile, but a road narrative: a story of adventure by car which spans the length and breadth of the United States. The themes of exile and the road are part of what make Lolita a strong contender for the title of “The Great American Novel.” The U.S. has always been a nation of immigrants, adventurers and exiles, and its history has been marked by internal migration and uprooting on a vast scale.

Exile is one of the great themes of Nabokov’s novels. Nabokov himself was an exile from his home country, Russia, and he never really settled down permanently after leaving. He died in a hotel in Switzerland. Humbert and Lolita’s wanderings were in part inspired by the cross-country butterfly collecting trip Nabokov took while composing the novel.

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Exile, Homelessness and Road Narratives ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Exile, Homelessness and Road Narratives appears in each chapter of Lolita. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Exile, Homelessness and Road Narratives Quotes in Lolita

Below you will find the important quotes in Lolita related to the theme of Exile, Homelessness and Road Narratives.
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.

Part 2, Chapter 21 Quotes

Who can say what heartbreaks are caused in a dog by our discontinuing a romp?” (238)

Related Characters: Humbert Humbert (speaker)
Page Number: 238
Explanation and Analysis:

Humbert, by now, is in the depth throes of anxiety and jealousy, and he has started to make sense of the actions of other humans and animals in a very warped way. Here, he offers a confusing question on a terrier with which Lolita has stopped playing.

The idea that a dog would experience “heartbreaks” (not just one but several!) from a child is on one level poignant, but on another rather far-fetched. So Humbert seems to be mapping his own frustrations with Lolita onto the behavior of the dog. This terrier, then, becomes a symbol of his own repeated “heartbreaks” every time Lolita halts their interaction. “A romp,” after all, can mean either lighthearted childhood play or sexual activity, and this is the precise way that Lolita and Humbert’s perverse romances have played out: Humbert wishes to cast them as cheerful and meaningless by cloaking them in the language of childhood and of play. Yet the image of the dog also implies a sharp shift in the power dynamics between the two characters, for it presents Lolita as now the owner of Humbert. Nabokov shows, then, how Humbert’s ability to experience the world through images and romantic tropes can turn against him. It causes him to find even in the simplest interactions a form of personal desperation.