Vladimir Nabokov

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Lolita: Part 2, Chapter 21 Summary & Analysis

Humbert Humbert is going mad with anxiety. He expects Lolita to try and escape from him very soon, at any moment. One morning by a motel pool, he is alarmed to notice that a strange man—who he thinks he recognizes from previous encounters—is ogling Lolita. For a moment, beneath the “peacocked shade,” of a tree, the man looks like a lustful satyr. But something changes, and he begins to look like Humbert’s uncle, Gustave Trapp. He is even more alarmed when he realizes that Lolita is aware of the man's look, and seems to share some kind of sexual understanding with the man. Suddenly, Humbert feels ill: he vomits. While he is being sick, he notices Lolita giving him a suspiciously calculating look.
Humbert’s jealousy has so provoked his imagination that men he sees looking at Lolita appear to him as satyrs, creatures from mythology known for their insatiable sexual desire and which are usually paired with nymphs. Once again, Humbert cannot tell the difference between reality and fantasy. Ironically, the man he sees probably is his real rival, Clare Quilty. One of the central “jokes,” of Lolita is that Humbert’s insane, fantastical suspicions just happen to be true. We are meant to think that Lolita and Quilty might be poisoning Humbert, another ironic reversal of the situation in Part One, in which Humbert was planning to sedate Charlotte and Lolita. This is a continuation of the theme of Lolita’s lost innocence: she has become a schemer and poisoner, like Humbert himself.
Perversity, Obsession, and Art Theme Icon
Life and Literary Representation Theme Icon
Women, Innocence, and Male Fantasy Theme Icon