What is the target of the satire in Nabokov's "Lolita"? I am not sure what Nabokov is attempting ridicule in his narrative.

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Satire is defined as a literary mode that employ literary techniques to evoke amusement, indignation, scorn or contempt for a particular society-wide or target behavior from the audience. While satire is very often associated with amusement and laughter, like in Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest," a satirist can also seek to evoke more somber emotions such as scorn and contempt that are calculated to bring the audience to enough of a recognition of how far from the cultural moral code the behavior singled out for satire has fallen with the purpose of eliciting an implicit agreement to return to the code. Satire employs some or all of the literary techniques of exaggeration, irony, oxymoron, ridicule, metaphor.

Vladimir Nabokov wrote Lolita as a satire of two concepts. The first is the concept the ease with which an individual or group of individual can reconstruct past events in their favor, i.e., rewrite history. This satirical element is said to have been motivated by Nabokov's having experienced both the Bolshevist takeover of power in Russia and the Nazi usurpation of power in Germany.

The second concept being satirized is the perverted vision and "rewriting" of personal history that individuals such as Humbert can contrive to explain and justify horrendous actions, attitudes and desires. The fact is that Lolita was a twelve-year-old girl who was, being from another era, an innocent, unexposed to sexuality. Yet, Humbert perceives her and writes of her as though she were a gorgeous, experienced temptress. She was a twelve-year-old school girl.

One commentator has said that Nabokov has so succeeded in his creation of a believable unreliable narrator in Humbert that filmmakers have repeatedly believed and rendered Humbert's representation of the vixen Lolita in film, the twelve-year old has never been represented in a film of Nabokov's Lolita. In that sense, since it seems satire's objective of social reclamation of the eschewed moral code was not achieved, one may say Nabokov's satire failed.