Guns Don?t Kill People, People Kill People: The Inability to Separate
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Vladmir Nabokov is considered to be one of the most masterful writers of his time. His prose is beautiful and he weaves intricacies in his works that catch the reader?s eye and allow for multiple interpretations of each text. In the novel Lolita, Nabokov uses the image of Humbert?s gun to parallel the character of Humbert himself. Humbert?s decaying outward appearance, helplessness and skewed self image are mirrored in descriptions of his gun throughout the novel. In the modern world, a gun can be linked to both violence and protection, and the parallel of a gun to Humbert illustrates how he is unable to separate violence from protection.
From very early in the text it is evident that Humbert Humbert sees himself as a rather comely human specimen, continually stating that he is ?an exceptionally good looking male?, though his arrogance about his looks leads us to doubt the truth of his words (25). His image of himself as a striking man is echoed in his description of his gun. ?There, snuggly wrapped in a white woolen scarf, lay a pocket automatic: caliber .32, capacity of the magazine 8 cartridges, length a little under one ninth of Lolita?s length, stock a checked walnut, finish full blued? (216). What is written here lends us a picture of an exquisitely made instrument that is powerful in its ability to take a life. Yet such power is hidden by it being finely attired in a white woolen scarf. Such is how Humbert sees himself, the device of protection for Lolita that is cleverly disguised as to seem harmless and genteel.
Violence, unlike protection is a senseless, ugly thing. Humbert?s good looks have faded and his inner ugliness begins to shows as the journey to avenge himself upon his doppelganger, Quilty, progresses. ?I was on the point of identifying myself when, with a pang of dream-embarassment, I became aware of my mud-caked dungarees, my filthy torn sweater, my bristly chin, my bum?s bloodshot eyes? (289). He has become a shady character. Dirty, and unwelcome in the neighborhoods of his past, like the violence that he hopes to soon dispense. His gun undergoes a similar change: ?I bandaged him up with a rag, like a maimed limb, and used another rag to wrap up a handful of spare bullets? (293). Gone is the fanciful white scarf, replaced by rags, as are Humbert?s fine clothes. The attractive walnut exterior is obscured by filth, as Humbert is caked in mud and unshaven. As the day of its bloody usage approaches, the gun begins to look worse and worse, much like its owner.
Humbert has always viewed himself in the role of protector as he attempts to conduct his relationship with Lolita. At first, trying to protect her innocence by hiding his ecstasy from her. Then by trying to keep their relationship a secret and make her happy. He rarely resorts to physical violence, restraining himself to imagined instances, and instead mentally terrorizes his adopted daughter. In his childish desire for revenge against Clare Quilty he breaks, and opens himself up to his brutal nature. However, when faced with this act of brutality, he falters, struggling with the connection between protecting Lolita from this fiend and his need to use violence to do so, a connection that cannot seem to be overcome. ?I pointed Chum at his slippered foot and crushed the trigger. It clicked. He looked at his foot, at the pistol, again at his foot. I made another awful effort, and, with a ridiculously feeble and juvenile sound, it went off? (297). Eventually, Humbert does kill Quilty, but is later arrested for his murder and thrown in jail for the crime. It is ironic that the despicable things he did to little Lolita and his pedophilia did not put him there; it was his inability to separate protection from violence. This character flaw proves to be Humbert?s downfall and his inability to restrain himself to an imagining will effectively end his own life by caging him in jail.
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