Parent-Child Relationships in the Novels “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov and “Sula” by Toni Morrison
The problem of parent-child relationships is one of the most examined and actual eternal questions. This question concerns the problems of love and hatred, manipulation and resistance, protest and control.
This point is often discussed in the works of different writers. But in the context of sexual upbringing and instilling of live value, the most significant works are the novels “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov and “Sula” by Toni Morrison. Both writers were the Nobel Prize Winners in Literature. Their works are distinguished by the critical and truthful description of reality.
The novel “Lolita”, which made Nabokov famous, at first was rejected by American critics and publishers. They reckoned that the novel was obscene and pornographic, and were afraid of being persecuted in case of its publication. After “Lolita” had been published in Paris, the USA and Great Britain, some literary critics comprehended it as the description of a sexual perversion.
However, despite the fact that the plot of this novel depicts the revealing story of the passion of middle-aged Humbert Humbert to adolescent girl Dolores Haze, and of their affair, the novel is full of profound symbolic sense and does not set a task to describe a sexual pathology. Thrilling says about “Lolita”, “it is not about sex, it is about love” (Thrilling, 16).
Special attention should be paid to the works of black women-writers, who tried to think through motherhood. Morrison seems to be the most successful Afro-American writer, who raises the problem of interaction and influence of parents and children. Daughter and mother in her novels are the embodiment of the painful experience of racism and sexism.
Hirsh thinks their interaction is not deprived of ambivalence, fear and anger. Analyzing the novel “Sula”, the researcher emphasizes, “Mothers and daughters can’t talk to each other frankly, mothers can not manage to tell the stories which they wanted to tell” (Hirsh, 180). The formation of women identity is realized through the cognition of the mothers’ experience that was metaphorically implemented in quilt-making, gardening, songs and folk stories.
Discrepancy of the character with the world is the metatheses of Nabokov’s prose. The poem “Lilit”, in which the fibula of “Lolita” is outlined, accentuates the key theme of the novel – the discrepancy of the adult characters with the childhood paradise. “Lolita” is unique not only because the world of children is shown in comparison with the world of adults, but Humbert also aspires to reproduce his childhood and adolescent love in relationships with teenager.
Charlotte Haze is a middle-aged woman of middle-class American type. She is religious and devoid of a sense of humor. She tries to make an impression of a woman of European intelligence and wisdom, but she looks absurd and ludicrous. She “combined a cool forwardness with a shyness and sadness that caused her detached way of selecting her words to seem as unnatural as the intonation of a professor of speech” (Nabokov, 26).
She sees in Humbert an embodiment of her dreams about sophisticated, refined European man. When she noticed the liking between Lolita and Humbert, Charlotte takes her daughter as a competitor and immediately sends her to the camp.
Humbert writes, “She was more afraid of Lolita’s deriving some pleasure from me than of my enjoying Lolita” (Nabokov, 35). Charlotte has not the real love of mother to Lolita. The girl never shares her secrets and any feelings with her mother. Though Charlotte is not a wonderful mother, her presence hinders Humbert to realize his lust to Lolita and protects the girl from kidnapping. Charlotte’s death gives a free hand to Humbert.
Humbert combines Lolita with the image of his first love, and finds the physical proximity that he didn’t have with Annabelle. But adult Humbert doesn’t correspond to the world of the girl. Being a husband of Charlotte, he says that Lolita is his child. For some time, Humbert behaves as a father and keeps a distance. Lolita trusts him, revealing him about her affairs in the camp.
Humbert was not the first lover for Lolita, but he entered the secret adolescent world, where he was a stranger. The teen-girl Lolita personifies in the novel a tempter. She is correlated with Lilit, the legend about the first man’s wife, passionate and seductive woman. At the same time, Lolita is associated with the childish purity and innocence. She is an attempt of Humbert to recall his first love.
But his lust to Lolita kills innocence in her, and his illusory victory turns to be a failure. In his notes Humbert is searching for justification of his infatuation of nymphet. He appeals to the antic time, as anything maintained by the Roman law can be regarded as normal. “The canon law of the church grew out of the great civilizing achievement of Roman jurisprudence…
This is a conception more effective in Western Europe and the Americas and the English-speaking world than anywhere else on the planet, and we owe it to Rome” (Highet, 9). Lolita goes through great changes in the novel.
From an innocent girl of twelve, though experienced in sex, she becomes a woman without past, and thus without future. Dolores has no childhood. She had no father, her mother wasn’t good enough to protect from the ruinous influence of the world. The girl was left to herself. When Humbert appears in her life, her individual is transformed to the sequence of events imposed by the adult.
The characters of the novel “Sula” by Toni Morrison are the residents of the community, where all live by steadfast rules. The family ties determine there the behavior and life positions of its members. The experience of the parents is directly adopted by the children.
Life principles of the adults are acquired by the children on the subconscious level, taking shape to their characters and future life. The novel shows the story of two friends, Sula and Nel. They grew up in the different families, having opposite examples of their mothers. At last this difference led them to the division. The character of Sula tells us the tragic story of a woman with crippled childhood and the distorted system of life values.
Hannah leads a life of promiscuity. She doesn’t care of her children. She has a lot of men, and she likes to be attractive to men and spend time with them. But she is not going to marry, because she doesn’t want to loose her independence from others. Sula succeeds her temperament. As Hannah, she doesn’t feel love from her mother. She tries to fill this emptiness by numerous affairs chiefly with married men.
When a child, Sula heard the conversation of her mother with her friend about their children, and Hannah says, “You love her, like I love Sula. I just don’t like her. That’s the difference” (Morrison, 42). These words destroyed the idea of the real value of Sula’s life and trust.
When the dress on her mother burnt, Sula witnessed the fire but did nothing. Eva “remained convinced that Sula had watched Hannah burn not because she was paralyzed, but because she was interested” (Morrison, 64).
Sula adopts the characteristics of Hannah and Eva. She grew up, looking at the women of her family and becoming like them more and more. Eva is a mother for all in the house. She feels her responsibility for her children, though her love for them is peculiar. Her attempt to save her daughter, when Hannah’s dress caught fire, shows that she loves her daughter.
But there was a big gap in their relationships, as Hannah felt been rejected. The continuation of the story witnesses for this. In the way to hospital Eva smothers Hannah. Some time before, Hannah becomes a witness of the murder of her brother Plum.
Eva kills him, because he has a drug addiction. Eva’s reason for her action is that she saves him from immoral life and suffering. For Sula these actions were the reflection of Eva’s treatment toward her children. She remembers her mother’s words, commenting, “Nothing was ever different. They were all the same” (Morrison, 245).
The novels raise the problem of the lost childhood. The stories of their protagonists show that the characters and further life of persons are laid in the childhood. And the influence of the family is paramount. Lolita and Sula have anti-childhood. They receive not enough love and warmth from their mothers.
As a result of the lack of moral education they have the fault idea of men and women relationships, motherhood and the role of a woman in society.
These characters can not be regarded as typical, but their feelings are close for many adolescence girls and boys nowadays. These novels can be taken as the negative examples of parent-child relationships, and the call for the responsibility of every person for the development of future generations.
Highet, Gilbert. The Classical Tradition. Greek and Roman Influences on Western Literature. New York: Oxford University Press, 1957.
Hirsh, Marianne. The Mother/Daughter Plot: Narrative, Psychoanalysis, Feminism. Bloomington: U of Indiana P, 1989.
Morrison, Toni. Sula. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 1999.
Nabokov, Vladimir. Lolita. New York: Vintage International, 1955.
Trilling, Lionel. “The Last Lover: Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita.” Encounter 11.4 (1958): 9-19.
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