Humbert Humbert and Lolita travel farther west. A red Aztec Convertible begins following them on the highway, and Humbert worries it might be a police detective. The man in the car reminds him of his uncle, Gustave Trapp. He begins having what he thinks are hallucinations: one night at a motel, he finds himself naked and standing outside, with a masked man looking at him. He never determines definitively whether or not this was real. During a stop at a gas station, he catches Lolita speaking to an older man: the driver of the car. He begins to suspect the occupant of the red convertible isn’t a detective, but someone whom Lolita knows.
Just as his desires made it hard for him to distinguish between fact and fantasy, jealousy makes it difficult for Humbert to determine whether or not his rival is real. The red color of the convertible reminds us of the red color of lips and apples, symbols of sin, sexuality, and infidelity. Fast cars also have a sexual connotation, especially in the 1950s America of Lolita. It is ironic that Humbert mistakes Quilty for a detective. After Lolita’s disappearance, he will become a detective himself, attempting to find out just who Quilty is.
Humbert Humbert is alarmed by Lolita’s good mood and teasing attitude about their pursuer. Humbert is eventually able to shake off the red Aztec, but he becomes suspicious again after taking Lolita to see a play in Wace, Nebraska. The play is by Vivian Darkbloom and Clare Quilty. As they stand up to leave, Humbert becomes concerned: Lolita is beaming at the stage, where the writers are making an appearance. He asks her about Quilty, whose poster she had in her room as a child, but she deflects him by asking if he means the Ramsdale dentist with the same name.
Vivian Darkbloom is an anagram for Vladimir Nabokov. By linking his alter ego with Clare Quilty, Nabokov is letting us know that Quilty’s role as Humbert’s rival and tormentor is similar to his own role as a novelist. Quilty is the secret agent behind Humbert’s fate (losing Lolita), just as Nabokov is responsible for the fates of all his characters. By mentioning Quilty’s appearance earlier in the novel, Humbert the narrator is giving his readers clues to the identity of the mysterious rival, inviting us to go back and notice the scattered references to Quilty which appear throughout the text.