Throughout Lolita, Humbert Humbert seems to believe that his life is following the pre-established pathways of his fate. He tries to fit every event in his life into a mysterious pattern, finding subtle, hard-to-explain connections everywhere. Annabel Leigh’s mysterious connection to Lolita is the first instance. Sunglasses appear on the cave floor with Annabel, and then again when Humbert Humbert first sees Lolita. Humbert Humbert also notices that life-changing things tend to happen to him around toilets and telephones: they are places “where [his] destiny [is] liable to catch.” Another pattern in Humbert’s story is the recurrence of the numbers 42, 52, and 342, each of which appears many times in the novel. You could go on from there, but the general idea should be clear: behind the confusion of events in Lolita, there seems to be a deeper pattern. Humbert Humbert imagines these patterns in his life as the creations of “McFate,” a character he has invented to explain his strange destiny. Humbert Humbert’s confrontation with Clare Quilty seems like another instance of the workings of fate: earlier in Lolita, Humbert finds two posters in Lolita’s room, one with his own name written on it, and the other with a picture of Clare Quilty.
It is unclear whether the patterns Humbert notices exist in the real world, or are merely products of his imagination. Humbert Humbert’s artistic gifts might be interfering with his perception of reality: his vivid, obsessive imagination creates links between events and perceptions in his memory which may have no “real,” relationship. Humbert Humbert often dwells on the difficulties of memory, in particular, memory’s contamination by time, desire, and the imagination. Often, this contamination is symbolic. Humbert Humbert remembers the windows of Annabel’s home as actual playing cards, because the adults were playing bridge inside while he and Annabel snuck out. The difficulties of memory, and the reality of patterns in fate, are recurring themes in almost all of Nabokov’s novels.
Patterns, Memory and Fate ThemeTracker
Patterns, Memory and Fate Quotes in Lolita
My very photogenic mother died in a freak accident (picnic, lightning) when I was three, and, save for a pocket of warmth in the darkest past, nothing of her subsists within the hollows and dells of memory...
In this wrought-iron world of criss-cross cause and effect, could it be that the hidden throb I stole from them did not affect their future?
Quine the Swine. Guilty of killing Quilty. Oh, my Lolita, I have only words to play with!
Lolita had been safely solipsized.
I felt instinctively that toilets—as also telephones—happened to be, for reasons unfathomable, the points where my destiny was liable to catch.
We rolled all over the floor, in each other’s arms, like two huge helpless children. He was naked and goatish under his robe, and I felt suffocated as he rolled over me. I rolled over him. We rolled over me. They rolled over him. We rolled over us.