What symbols are in Lolita? Are they archetypal images?

The story of Lolita is a tragedy. Humbert begins the novel by stating that he loves Lolita, and that he wants to share their love with the world. However, his obsession with her leads to the destruction of both Dolores and him (both metaphorically and literally). Cite This Essay

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Lolita is filled with symbols, although few are archetypal. First, let's consider what an archetypal image/symbol is. According enotes.com, an archetype  "is an original model of a person, ideal example, or a prototype upon which others are copied, patterned, or emulated; a symbol universally recognized by all. In psychology, an archetype is...

This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

a model of a person, personality, or behavior." Archetypes connects the reader to the text because they make a storyline more familiar. For example,  Thus most authors will use them.

However, Nabokov uses more straightforward symbols throughout the text. Rain/water is a recurring symbol in Lolita. This could be archetypal because it prompts some of our most ancestral memories. Rain can both cleanse and dirty. It can also restore or destroy. For example, when Humbert first goes swimming with Charlotte in Part One of the novel, it is a refreshing experience for her. However, all Humbert can think of is how easily he could drown her and not be caught, thus leaving him in sole custody of their shared daughter, Lolita.

Fog and the color gray are used to convey confusion. In Part Two of the novel, Humbert is driving with Lolita when he believes that they are being followed by a detective. However, Humbert is unsure if it is really or happening or if he is losing his mind. He refers to gray colors throughout the experience. In addition, when Humbert is prepared to meet Lolita again towards the end of the novel, he finds himself traveling through fog, conveying his his lack of mental lucidity.

In short, the symbols used in Lolita help convey the mood and atmosphere of the story.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

If you were going to look for archetypal symbols in Lolita, you could start with Lolita herself.  If you were to look carefully at her full name, Dolores Haze, she demonstrates in many ways the idea of haziness throughout the novel.  She is often mercurial, swinging from one emotion to the next and also chooses to play the innocent role when it suits her and then the manipulative role when it suits her.  She is in some ways the archetypal or prototypical example of a constantly changing woman or became such a model after the novel's popularity grew and the use of her as an example or archetypal character grew along with it.

There are other symbols, like the "nymphets" that exist in Hubert's mind that act as symbols of his illicit sexual desires.  Whether they are archetypal or not is perhaps open for debate, but there are other symbols as well in the book that could be seen in such a way.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team