Psychoanalysis in Lolita

What better example of psychoanalysis in a text than that of Lolita? Lolita presents many psychological issues to say the least. What can be commonly referred to as “daddy issues”  can also bring to light the idea of the Oedipus and Electra complex that are present in the characters Humbert and Lolita.

Psychoanalysis in literature refers to the idea of interpreting texts in the psychoanalytic manner that is attributed to Sigmund Freud. The Oedipus and Electra complexes are  well known in Freud’s psychoanalysis.They represent the idea of the child coveting the parent of the opposite sex and their need to repress this and identify with the mother.

Another idea that is common in Freudian psychoanalysis is the idea of repression;”…the erotic desire for the mother, the desire to kill the father, and castration anxiety all represent forbidden desires stay alive, but only in the unconscious”(Parker, 119). In the case of Lolita, these desires are not properly repressed and therefore worm their way into the unconscious.

The Electra complex is the inverse of the Oedipus complex; the daughter in competition for the mother over the father. In a sense, this is exactly what happens in Lolita. There is some tension in the beginning due to Lolita’s lust for the father figure Humbert. This situation escalates when, by marriage, Humbert becomes, in essence her father. When this happens is when their love affair manifests itself more prominently.

Normally the child grows out of these stages in their infancy and grows to identify with the mother and project the love of the father onto an acceptable male figure. It is possible that Lolita could be stuck at one of those stages; “The child’s development can stall at the oral, anal, or oedipal stage, or it can move on partly but still have trouble growing completely out of those stages. And in what Freud called the return of the repressed, repressed drives can pop back up in the form of neurotic symptoms, disguised representation of unconscious desires”(Parker, 119). This could be due to her fathers death or her mothers treatment of her, but either way she still covets the father in an unhealthy way, and acts upon it.

Humbert as well can be considered as being stuck in the oedipal stage. This could be due to the event when he was fourteen of his love dying. Either way, he has created an interesting inverse of the Oedipus complex. He is stuck in his infancy, and perhaps his love of the mother still. His love of the mother and return of the repressed manifests itself instead into the young girls of 12-15, another stage in which he is emotionally stuck due to his scarring experiences with his past love.

Now, whether Humbert’s feelings are based off of being stuck at the oedipal stage or simply being stuck at the emotion stage of 14, it is possible to represent the mother of Lolita as the “father figure” that needs to be disposed of. In Humbert’s desire for Lolita he identifies more with the mother and marries her in order to satiate his desire for Lolita and effectively defer it. In Oedipal complex’s, the man would identify with the father in order not to kill him, therefore relating how Humbert’s actions reflect that of a child in throes of Oedipal confusion. This deference to the mother doesn’t work, which is shown by Humbert’s symbolic killing of her. He wishes her death but does not act upon it, yet it is his actions of writing in his diaries that set into place the actions that inevitably lead to Charlotte’s death.

By Amanda Ciufecu

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