One critic of Lolita says of Humbert that neither the crime nor the affair makes much of a difference to anyone but himself. Is this an accurate summary of Humbert's effect on Lolita, Charlotte, and Quilty?
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It is possible to take this approach with the novel. It could be said for example that Lolita, in spite of Humbert's attempts to constantly paint her as an innocent, is actually anything but, and she seduces Humbert just as much as Humbert seduces her. In addition, her character is shown to be questionable in the way that she uses the power that Humbert's obsession with her gives her to blackmail him and to profit from her situation. Arguably, Humbert's affair and abuse of Lolita made no change to her character and produced no lasting damage because of the way that her character was already set before she met Humbert, as her fooling around at camp the previous summer indicates. Likewise the characters of Charlotte and Quilty could be viewed as living empty lives anyway. All Humbert did with Quilty was to put him out of his misery.
However, this argument is something that Humbert himself would not agree with. In his defence of his crimes, he veers between arguing that what he did was justifiable, but then, in places, he reveals just how much he is aware of the damage he caused on those around him, particularly on Lolita herself, as the following quote demonstrates:
...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.
The sibilance in the "sinuous trail of slime" presents a grim, hideous image that of course not only covers America, but also Lolita and her robbed childhood that is conveyed through the repetition of "every night," as she cries when Humbert pretends to be asleep. To argue that Humbert's actions had no impact on those around him is to ignore such poignant quotations from the book.
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