How does Nabokov satirize the insipid banality of suburban America in Lolita?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One way in which Nabokov satirizes the insipid banality of suburban America in Lolita is through Humbert's perception of Charlotte.  Humbert has nothing but contempt for Charlotte for a variety of reasons.  One of them is that Charlotte pretends to be more elevated than she actually is:  

[Charlotte's] polished words may reflect a book club or bridge club, or any other deadly conventionality, but never her soul; women who are completely devoid of humor ... utterly indifferent at heart to the dozen or so possible subjects of a parlor conversation, but very particular about the rules of such conversations, through the sunny cellophane of which not very appetizing frustrations can be readily distinguished.

There is a certain boredom, something related to an insipid banality, that exists at Charlotte's core.  Humbert is repulsed by this because he recognizes it so clearly both in Charlotte and in Ramsdale in general.  By describing the pink toilet seat cover, the air of sophistication, and the idea that people in the town can elevate themselves to a particular point to prevent any real human intimacy or contact, Nabokov is able to satirize the life of American suburbia.

The "false gentility" of Ramsdale is what creates a veneer that prevents any real acknowledgement of being in the world. Charlotte embodies this as part of the suburb.  Humbert notes this in Charlotte's desire to pack Lolita off to camp: "...she was more afraid of Lolita's deriving some pleasure from me than of my enjoying Lolita."  It is this insipid banality that portrays Humbert as dignified, as opposed to peering into his true motives of being a predator.  This boredom and sense of conformity are something that Charlotte might have realized herself when she runs out into the street upon standing at the threshold of revelation, an instant where she dies as a result. In the depictions of Charlotte and the world of Ramsdale lie specific examples where Nabokov is able to satirize the insipid banality of American suburban life.

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