Lolita Summary and Analysis of Part Two, Chapters 20-36

Chapters 20-21:

Humbert regrets allowing Lolita to take up acting, as it schooled her in deceit. He regrets not having filmed her as she played tennis so he could now see her. He describes her tennis playing in detail - beautiful form that did not necessarily lead to good playing.

They play one day in Colorado at a hotel where they are staying. Humbert leaves to return a phone call supposedly from Beardsley, but it turns out no one from the school called. Humbert looks outside and sees Lolita playing doubles. Her partner, a man, spots Humbert and runs away to his gray car. Lolita decides to swim at the pool.

Humbert watches Lolita play with a dog by the hotel. Humbert sees a man by the pool watch Lolita, and he can tell that Lolita is enjoying the attention. The man notices Humbert and returns to the pool. Humbert vomits, then drinks gin for a while. The next morning, they continue driving.


Humbert's description of Lolita's tennis is a fair approximation of Nabokov's own feelings on what literature should do: "Her form was, indeed, an absolutely perfect imitation of absolutely top-notch tennis - without any utilitarian results." (It more conveniently fits under one of Oscar Wilde's defining epigrams, "All art is quite useless.") Literature should not be moral or didactic, but should plunge the reader in what Nabokov calls "aesthetic bliss." Lolita's game is aesthetically blissful without serving a useful purpose; she revels in the game, not in its outcome. It is only an approximation of Nabokov's art, though, since Lolita goes beyond game-like aesthetics and into profound questions about desire, fate, psychology, and even morality.

Lolita's doubles partner is Quilty; he is, in the Doppelgänger sense, Humbert's "double" partner as well. Quilty is also the man at the pool, prefigured by the red ball Lolita plays with and her "Aztec Red" bathing suit, the specific color of Quilty's convertible.

Chapter 22:

Humbert and Lolita get a motel room in the town of Elphinstone. He believes that Trapp's various incarnations were coincidental, and that no one is following him. Lolita has a fever, and Humbert takes her to a doctor, where she is taken away to another room. Humbert sits in the car for a while before driving back to the motel.

On Humbert's eighth visit to Lolita at the doctor's that week, he sees a crumpled envelope by her bed. The nurse says it is from her boyfriend, and Humbert believes she and Lolita are plotting together against him to allow her romance with another man.

The next day, Humbert is sick and delirious and is unable to visit Lolita. He calls and finds out that Lolita has already checked out with "her uncle, Mr. Gustave." Humbert drives to the doctor's, but he is unable to do anything. He resolves to track down the man who took Lolita.


The envelope by Lolita's bed is from Quilty, who has picked her up. He calls himself Gustave since Lolita has informed him that Humbert thinks he looks like his uncle, Gustave Trapp. The notion of their being related somehow is reinforced when Humbert calls him "my brother." They are doubles of one another, but it is still unclear if Quilty has only romantic intentions for Lolita, or if he somehow doubles Humbert's relationship with her in another way.

Chapter 23:

Humbert starts the thousand-mile stretch to Kasbeam, checking the registers of the 342 hotels and motels at which he and Lolita stayed. He discovers that Trapp stayed under aliases at nearby places, and once in the same motor court as them. He never reveals his identity through his aliases, but he does expose his sophisticated, literary personality. Humbert details and explains the games behind several of these aliases, though he does not understand some of them.


Quilty's trail of names is filled with allusions that reveal his identity to the highly diligent reader, if he has not already figured out who he is. For instance, "Ted Hunter, Cane, NH" is, as Humbert points out, an anagram for "The Enchanted Hunter." The word "Cane" recalls the Biblical Cain, and the two mentions of Quilty as Humbert's "brother" make his treachery all the more significant.

Other games indicate motifs only Nabokov could have arranged. The license plates - Q32888 and CU88322 - sound out Quilty's nickname, "Cue," but the numbers also add up to 52. Humbert and Lolita were on the road for one year, or 52 weeks, and the foreword informs us that all significant deaths in the novel occurred in 1952. There are also 52 cards in a deck, reminding the reader of the importance of chance and games in the novel.

Another significant number, 342, pops up again in the number of hotels Humbert and Lolita stayed at, adding another checkpoint of fate through which he must traverse.

Chapters 24-25:

Humbert returns to Beardsley and suspects a professor of being Trapp, but realizes he is wrong. Hiring a private detective also proves futile.

Three empty years pass. Lolita enters his dreams as Valeria or Haze. One day, Humbert destroys her collection of teen magazines. On her fifteenth birthday, he gives all her belongings to a home for orphaned girls. He spends some time in a sanitarium he has previously stayed in and composes a poem to Dolores Haze, which he reprints. Still, Humbert lusts after nymphets, and he says this is how Rita came into his life.


The 52 lines in Humbert's poem link to the 52 weeks he and Lolita spent on the road, as well as the year 1952 and 52 playing cards in a deck (see


for Chapter 23).

Humbert's hiring a private detective is the clichéd solution to a mystery. Not surprisingly, Nabokov has the snooping yield nothing productive, except for recalling the entry "Will Brown, Dolores, Colo." from Quilty's hotel register (Chapter 23) and Humbert's words "While brown Dolores" (Chapter 22). The detective's "answer" is only a verbal game of Nabokov, who likes to subvert the conventions of the mystery genre and provide unorthodox linguistic clues.

Chapters 26-27:

Humbert picks up Rita, a kind, slight divorcée near his age, at a bar one night and she soon becomes his constant companion as they drive around from 1950 to 1952, still searching for Lolita's kidnaper. An odd adventure in a hotel room inspires Humbert to write a paper on conceptual time, and lands him an appointment at a college. He considers revisiting The Enchanted Hunter hotel, but decides it is too painful.

Humbert receives a letter from John Farlow, informing him that Jean has died, he is living in South America, and since he is in charge of the Haze estate, he has learned that Lolita is missing. He suggests Humbert find Lolita. Humbert receives another letter from Lolita. Married to a man named Dick Schiller and pregnant, she asks Humbert for money.


Humbert mentions the unchanging stability of literary characters and how we want people in our lives to act consistently as well. This desire conforms with his previous wish for nymphets, and especially Lolita, not to grow up.

In addition, Humbert again pushes his notion of a determined fate from which we cannot deviate. Often, people who believe in fate do so at the expense of morality; if we do not have free will, then we can not be held responsible for our actions, and no morality can be attached to them. Humbert's insistence that fate governs our actions frees him from the immorality of his various actions.

Humbert also suggests that he has a hand in shaping the events retroactively, as an author. Since he admits that life occasionally throws in surprises which cannot be predicted (such as John Farlow's contradictory behavior), perhaps he has adjusted some events to conform to his vision of what should have been.

Chapters 28-29:

Planning to kill Dick Schiller with his gun, Humbert leaves Rita and drives to the small town Lolita lives in. He reaches the town and eventually finds their dilapidated home.

Lolita answers the door, pregnant and looking older. Her husband is not the kidnaper, but a naïve young man who does not know about Lolita's history. Humbert demands to know the name of the kidnaper, and when she tells him, he thinks about Hourglass Lake and feels that he always knew it. She tells him that the kidnaper was the only man she was ever crazy about and that he was an old friend of her mother. Humbert meets the friendly Dick, and does not harbor a grudge against him.

Alone with Lolita again, Humbert asks more about the kidnaper, Clare Quilty, whose nickname is "Cue." Quilty tried to enlist Lolita in his child pornography movies at a dude ranch, and when she refused since she loved him, he threw her out. Humbert still loves her and asks her to leave with him; he gives her $4000 no matter what her decision. Humbert cries, and she turns down his offer. He drives away tearfully.


After hearing the name of Lolita's kidnaper, Humbert echoes Haze's one-word dialogue of "Waterproof" at Hourglass Lake (Part One, Chapter 20). Rather than directly tell the reader who has not yet figured out that it is Quilty, Nabokov again forces us to piece together verbal links. After Haze said that, Jean Farlow nearly told a story about Quilty but was interrupted. Even in exposition, Nabokov refuses to conform to typical expectations of the mystery genre.

Another subversion here is Lolita's prudishness in describing (or not describing) Quilty's sexual demands of her. Lolita generally elides blunt sexual description, getting around it through elegant language, euphemisms, or even foreign words ("souffler" here, which means "to blow"). Lolita is not an erotic story, but a love story, and Nabokov teases the reader who desires graphic sexuality, much as Lolita teases Humbert.

We finally see how Quilty is a true double of Humbert: whereas Humbert is merely a pedophile, Quilty is a pedophile and a child pornographer. However, as Humbert himself admits, Quilty simply broke Lolita's heart; Humbert ruined her life.

More fated checkpoints emerge here. The Schiller home is on Hunter Road, which recalls The Enchanted Hunter motif. Lolita also owns a dog, an animal that pops up at important moments in the novel (Haze's death, notably).

Chapters 30-32:

Humbert drives on and reaches a town near The Enchanted Hunter.

Humbert thinks sadly that nothing will remove the stain of his actions with Lolita.

Humbert reflects upon his relationship with Lolita - how little he knew her mind, how she could be enchanting one moment and cruel the next, and how terrible a father he was.


Humbert is as honest as he has ever been in his reflections - honest both about Lolita and her capacity for cruelty and profundity, and honest about his terrible behavior which most likely forced her to be that way. After trying to shirk responsibility before with his notions of deterministic fate, he accepts that his own free will brought about his destruction of a young girl's life.

Chapters 33-34:

Humbert returns to Ramsdale and the Haze home, now up for sale, before taking a room at the hotel he had originally stayed at five years before. He informs various townspeople about Lolita's current events. He has an appointment with dentist Ivor Quilty and discovers where Clare Quilty lives. He readies his gun.

Humbert finds Quilty's manor on Grimm Road and decides to return in the morning. On the way back, he passes a drive-in movie and sees a character raising a gun.


Grimm Road may be an allusion to the Brothers Grimm, the prolific authors of fairy tales. Nabokov adored fairy tales and thought all stories should resemble them in some ways, and Lolita is shaping up for the climactic battle between good and evil most fairy tales address - except that it is unclear who is good or evil between Humbert and Quilty, an issue that take prominence in the final chapters.

The raised gun in the movie foreshadows the violence Humbert intends to inflict upon Quilty.

Chapter 35:

Humbert returns to Quilty's home in the morning. With no answer at the unlocked door, he opens it and enters. He inspects several rooms upstairs and takes the keys from their locks. Quilty emerges from a bathroom in a purple bathrombe and walks past Humbert without seeming to notice him. Humbert readies his gun and confronts Quilty, who is in a daze. Humbert tells him he is Dolores Haze's father, and warns Quilty that he will soon die. Humbert shoots at Quilty's foot, but the bullet hits the rug.

Quilty seems to wake up from this, and says he did not kidnap Lolita, but saved her from Humbert. Quilty attacks Humbert and knocks the gun under a chest of drawers. They wrestle and Humbert emerges with the gun. He makes Quilty read out loud a poem of his that accuses Quilty of taking advantage of him and stealing Lolita and states that Quilty must die for this. Quilty defends himself against these accusations and offers Humbert sex slaves and money if he will drop the gun.

Humbert fires his gun, but Quilty flees into the music room, where he briefly plays the piano. Humbert chases him in and shoots him in the side, but Quilty runs into the hall. Humbert shoots him several more times as they dash through the house, but the bullets only seem to energize Quilty. After an hour of the struggle, a point blank shot puts Quilty to rest.

Humbert goes downstairs and finds several people drinking liquor, among them two young sisters. He tells them he has killed Quilty, but they do not take him seriously. Quilty crawls out onto the landing of the stairs and stops, finally dead. Humbert leaves the house.


The fight scene, stretched out hilariously in an unending, frantic shootout (with such anomalous sights as Quilty playing the piano while being shot at), parodies the Doppelgänger tale to the extreme. Humbert uses the words "fairy tale" to describe the scene as he enters the house, and fairy tales are a major source of doubles. (Ironically, stepmothers are often the doubles - "Hansel and Gretel," "Cinderella" - while here a stepfather confronts another father figure.) Quilty, in a purple robe, the color of royalty, seems like the fairy tale equivalent of an evil king that Humbert is deposing. Mirrors in one room magnify the doubling, as they have throughout the novel.

However, the doubling here is intentionally murky. Humbert and Quilty are not that different from each other and do not represent the simple binary of good and evil, as literary doubles usually do: both have abused Lolita, both are pedophiles, both are literary men. Humbert seems to acknowledge this when he describes their wrestling match: "I rolled over him. We rolled over me. They rolled over him. We rolled over us." They are unified villains, not one hero and one villain.

Chapter 36:

Humbert drives away on the wrong side of the road, feeling that since he has disregarded laws of humanity, he might as well disregard traffic laws. To avoid some cars that block his path, he drives off the road, comes to a stop, and is arrested.

Humbert says that he is opposed to capital punishment, but that if he were a judge, he would sentence himself to thirty-five years for rape and dismiss the other charges. He wants his memoir published only after Lolita dies. He addresses Lolita, giving her advice and wishing her well. He says art is the only immortality he and she may share.

The foreword previously indicated that Humbert dies in jail soon after completion of his memoir from coronary thrombosis and that Lolita dies over Christmas during childbirth.


Ironically, Humbert is initially arrested for his bad driving, not for his murder. However, Humbert believes his only crime was raping Lolita. Though he has finally accepted full responsibility for his actions with her, he still marches to his own beat of morality. The reader understands (or perhaps has been persuaded by the silver-tongued narrator) that Humbert has been punished severely - by himself. His anguish over the loss of Lolita, and the destruction of her nymphet-ness, has destroyed his one true love.

However, Humbert has resurrected his nymphet, as he says, through the immortality of art. Enshrining her in eternal youth, he creates the stasis he longs for in nymphets. The symmetry of Lolita - the first words of the foreword and Humbert's narration and the last word of the novel are all "Lolita" - defines the boundaries of this locked case; Dolores Haze forever contains the memoir not as herself, but as Humbert Humbert's nymphet, Lolita.