Summary: Chapter 1
Humbert and Lolita begin their travels across the United States, and Humbert describes in detail the many typically American motels and hotels they stay in. Describing Lolita as a child driven by whims, Humbert indulges most of her fancies, except when she wants to mingle with other tourists. He occasionally allows her to mix with other girls her own age, but he restricts her access to boys. Humbert realizes that he must secure Lolita’s cooperation in order to continue in this fashion and to keep her from complaining too much. He emphasizes to Lolita that she has no one else but him: if she accuses him of rape, she’ll end up at a state-run reformatory school. Humbert continues to distract her with new destinations and new gifts. Over the course of a year, they travel all over the country, ending up in the northeastern town of Beardsley, Lolita’s birthplace.
Summary: Chapter 2
Humbert states that their tour did not do America justice. Rather, they wandered from tourist spot to tourist spot simply in order to keep Lolita tolerably amused. Lolita is always eager to pick up hitchhikers, and Humbert realizes that their continual sexual activity has given Lolita an air that attracts other men and boys. He tries to prevent her from seeing other boys, but Lolita likes to flirt. Humbert enjoys watching other female children play, but Lolita would rather ride horseback or play tennis. Once, during a match, Humbert believes that he sees a man holding a racket and talking to Lolita. Humbert claims that he tried everything to show Lolita a good time but admits that he was mainly concerned with keeping the affair secret and keeping Lolita happy enough to have sex with him. He states that he is very happy, but Lolita constantly hurts him with her indifference and her desire to meet other people.
Summary: Chapter 3
Humbert attempts to relive his experience with Annabel by taking Lolita to the beach. He fails to re-create the past and consoles himself by having sex with Lolita in beautiful outdoor locations. They make love by the mountains and get caught by a woman and her children, barely managing to escape. Humbert and Lolita see many popular movies, and at one two women catch him fondling Lolita in the movie theater. Once again, Humbert just escapes without incident. Even when they occasionally encounter policemen, Lolita does not reveal their arrangement. Anxious about the legality of the situation, not to mention dwindling funds, Humbert decides to settle in Beardsley and teach at the Beardsley Women’s College, while sending Lolita to the sedate girls’ school. Humbert realizes that despite their wide travels, they have really seen nothing, and he believes their trip has somehow defiled a great country. He also knows that Lolita cries every night, while he pretends to sleep.
In Part Two, Nabokov writes his version of the all-American road novel, but from a jaded, distracted, and distinctly European point of view. Humbert and Lolita go everywhere suggested by their various road guides, but they see very little of consequence, since Humbert plans the trip mainly to evade society’s prying eyes and to keep Lolita entertained. Like many expatriates, Nabokov included, Humbert is simultaneously appalled and intrigued by American kitsch. In particular, he notes the odd names of their destinations and the particularities of that populist American invention, the motel. Humbert appreciates America’s natural beauty even as he admits that their trip, prompted by a pedophiliac relationship, did not do America justice. Like many teenagers, Lolita is even less charmed by their vagabond lifestyle, preferring the movies and the company of strangers to vaguely educational, mostly touristy destinations. Humbert fails in his efforts to educate Lolita about the various significant places they pass, since he himself isn’t particularly interested in anything but their secret relationship. Unlike more classically reverential road-trip tales, in which the travelers gain a deeper understanding of the world and themselves through their journeys, Humbert and Lolita’s trip is ultimately a sham, a blind stumbling from location to location without any subsequent spiritual growth or deeper meaning.
Humbert has now crossed over into a world without any internal or external moral boundaries. Because of their constant travels, Humbert remains outside society’s regulations and manages to convince most people that he is merely an overprotective father. Never remaining anywhere for long, he manages to evade society’s watchful eye. He is caught fondling Lolita twice and has multiple encounters with the police, but he always makes a quick escape before meeting any real opposition. Though he constantly worries about the law, Humbert rarely experiences any hindrance from official authorities. In some ways, this freedom indicates a willful blindness on society’s part, and perhaps even a certain amount of complicity in Humbert and Lolita’s relationship.
By traveling constantly, Humbert has eliminated not only external obstacles to his affair with Lolita but also any internal moral qualms he might have had if they’d stayed in one place. He wastes his thoughts on their next destination or sexual encounter, rather than on the consequences of his actions. Before their first sexual encounter, Humbert’s dreams were limited to drugging and fondling Lolita, stopping short of actually having sex with her. Now the reader can see how naïve this plan was—and how completely Humbert’s desire has consumed him. He terrorizes Lolita into staying with him by threatening her with reform school, then doubles his efforts with bribery, a tactic he knows is corrupting Lolita’s morals. Indeed, as the novel continues, Lolita sees their relationship as an increasingly financial one. Humbert hears Lolita’s sobs at night, and though they cause him pain, they don’t prompt him to reconsider his plans for her. He remains convinced that he can make Lolita happy and still keep their sexual relationship intact.