The Consequences of Unsatisfied Psychological Needs in the Novels Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov and The Collector by John Fowles

“It is quite true that man lives by bread alone — when there is no bread. But what happens to man’s desires when there is plenty of bread and when his belly is chronically filled?” – Abraham Maslow. Abraham Maslow explored the motivations people have and believed that people possess a set of motivational systems aimed at achieving certain needs. These basic psychological, mental, emotional, and physical needs motivate the human race to meet these needs when they are unmet. A deficiency in love and belonging in the hierarchical levels in the pyramid Maslow coined often causes one to become depressed, isolated, and suffer from anxiety.

In the novels Lolita and The Collector, the antagonexperiencesence just this, and in an attempt to meet their need for love and belonging ethics are lost, mindsets are corrupted, and captors are stripped of their freedom, voice, and autonomy. In Lolita and The Collector, authors Vladimir Nabokov and John Fowles create antagonists that exhibit obsessive-compulsive behaviors to illustrate the consequences of unsatisfied psychological needs.

In Lolita, Humbert controls and uses Lolita’s youth and innocence to return himself, mentally, back to that time in his own life in hopes of reliving similar experiences with someone he could assure would be with him forever.

“Now I wish to introduce the following idea. Between the age limits of nine and fourteen, there occur maidens who, to certain bewitched travelers, twice or many times older than they reveal their true nature which is not human, but nymphic (that is, demoniac); and these chosen creatures I propose to designate as ‘nymphets.

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'” (Nabokov 17).

Nymphets are youthful creatures of innocence and purity, as Humbert claims them to be. These nymphic creatures have been adored and obsessed over by Humbert as they take him back to the years of his youth when he was in love with his nymphet – Annabel. However, Annabel died while still being a nymphet and Humbert never recovered from his loss, so his interest and obsession with overwithphets grew stronger as Humbert aged away from his youth and a wider gap grew between nymphets and his own living an age. Humbert’s strong interest in nymphets gradually strengthens as he ages – his desire for and affinity for nymphets causes him to be driven by his emotions and need to continue his obsession with nymphets. These nymphets symbolize to Humbert a young, soft, gentle, pure, and innocent being whocarriesy such qualities for a limited amount of time. This resonates with Humbert so strongly because his first and strongest love was a nymphet when he was around Lolita’s age, but he lost her and now Lolita is simply a replacement for that lost nymphet, who can help return Humbert to that time in his life. Nymphets symbolize a definition true to Humbert as he is the one who gives the young girls such a specific definition and description – it is only Humbert who sees these prepubescent girls as nymphets with seducing qualities. However, in hopes of attracting nymphets, he allows them certain freedoms or rewards that he uses to keep hold of Lolita.

“Her weekly allowance paid to her under the condition she fulfills the basic obligations was twenty-one cents at the start of the Beardsley era- and went up to one dollar five before its end. This was a more than generous arrangement see she constantly received from me all kinds of small presents and had for the asking any sweetmeat or movie under the moon – although, of course, I might fondly demand an additional kiss, or even a whole collection of assorted caresses, when I knew she coveted very badly some item of juvenile amusement. (Nabokov, 194).”

Humbert – as Clegg does, tries to validate his actions through insignificant “presents” that he gives Lolita to make him feel as though he is doing something less cruel than what is taking place in reality. This also exposes Humberts Humbert’sption of reality and what actions he is taking. Humbert’s overbearing protection and exploitation of Lolita: ‘see she constantly received from me all kinds of small presents and had for the asking any sweetmeat or movie unwithder the moon – although, of course, I might fondly demand an additional kiss’ to earn up to the living and ordinary child life Lolita had daily ‘obligations’ to fulfill earning her 21 cents then soon $1.05. This was perceived as extremely generous to Humbert and shows that he is just trying to validate his actions to himself looking back at his life with Lolita. Humbert is limited to her freedoms but is also using her for his sexual desires in of what he felt at her age with Annabel and the love he lost from that relationship when she died, Hubert is now just trying to replace that experience with Lolita because she fits his criteria.

Due to the absence of love and belonging, in The Collector, Clegg’s character attempts to satisfy his suppressed impulses through the kidnaping and controlling of Miranda as a defense mechanism. Through all the defense mechanisms modern psychology has been able to note, Clegg’s behavior strongly resembles that of regression, as he revisits what was his hobby of collecting butterflies in his youth again as an adult. However, he does so in a manner that exemplifies his obsession with controlling the innocent and beautiful. Additionally, revisiting this idea of collecting is a means of Clegg defending himself and using this “hobby” to revert him to a time in his life when he was a child and stilled needed to be loved and cared for. Using regression as a defense mechanism Clegg is hoping to fill the void that has been forever absent since his youth – that void being the tender love, care, and attention from his parents – who he never met.

“I felt happy, I can’t explain, I saw I was weak before, and now I was paying her back for all the things she said and thought about me. I walked upstairs, I went and looked at her room, it made me laugh to think of her down there, she was the one who was going to stay below in all senses, and even if it wasn’t what she deserved, in the beginning, she had made it so now. I had real reasons to teach her what was what.” (Fowles 114).

The empowerment Clegg has attained from owning and being able to control Miranda is causing him to feel this sense that he has absolute power, which he strongly does and in turn causes him to lose sanity, humanity, and ethical behavior towards Miranda. If one were to compare Clegg’s behavior from the start of the novel and this point it would be evident that Clegg’s actions grew more aggressive towards Miranda in instances where she’d try to run or escape. For example, at the beginning of the novel, it was routine for Clegg to gag Miranda’s mouth, however as the novel progressed and Miranda attempted to escape, the gaging increased, then the tying of hands began, and Clegg’s mind completely sifted and grew sickly dark with the thoughts he believed. Nevertheless, Clegg enjoys the power and that is because it is filling a void that had been so suppressed when he was young and so knowing that he could control Miranda’s emotions and freedoms help satisfy Clegg’s true desires. By controlling Miranda and all of her actions, freedoms, and beauty he is reliving his youth and is attempting to earn the psychological satisfaction that he never received when he needed it in his youth.

“I stayed a bit to see if she would be all right, I was afraid she might have just the strength to go to the window and attract the attention of anyone passing… I could hear her breathing, sometimes she was muttering, once she called for me and I went and stood beside her and all she could say was doctor, doctor, and I said he’s coming, don’t worry and I wiped her face, she couldn’t stop sweating. I don’t know why I didn’t go then, I tried but couldn’t, I couldn’t face the idea of not knowing how she was, of not being able to see her whenever I wanted. I was just like in love with her all over again.” (Fowles 292).

This passage presents Clegg’s true character and his subconscious desires and obsession for control over beautiful, delicate things like Miranda and his collection of butterflies.

Lying to Miranda and watching her die, Clegg always promised her something she would never get, and Miranda’s hopes of being free and escaping were never going to happen because Clegg would never let go of his only chance at satisfying his need to feel loved or in love, but the only love he felt was the affinity gained from holding power and authority over his captor. Clegg’s obsession with destroying beauty and attaining control are present themes that portray his need to possess dominance and superiority which spring out of his obsession with controlling and destroying sensitive, beautiful creatures that can not defend themselves. This moment in time was also a perfect opportunity for Clegg to immerse himself in the extraordinary feeling of having the power and ability he has at this point as Miranda was weak and powerless against him and Clegg could simply look down at her and feel amazing because he finally experienced an emotion that had the potential to replace the actual emotional needs that he psychologically needed when he was younger but never received, and so has to make up for that loss in some other form.

In Lolita and The Collector, Clegg and Humbert acquire obsessively controlling behaviors with their captors because they both fear losing what was once lost – again. Having captured Miranda, Clegg feels the freedom to treat her as one of his butterflies – as he knows no other way to treat delicate and beautiful creatures – which to him, includes Miranda.

“’Tell me about yourself. Tell me what you do in your free time.’ ‘I’m an entomologist. I collect butterflies.’ ‘Of course,’ she said. “I remember they said so in the paper. Now you’ve collected me. She seemed to think it was funny, so I said, ‘In a manner of speaking.’ ‘No, not in a manner of speaking. Literally. You’ve pinned me in this little room and you come and gloat over me.’ ‘I don’t think of it like that at all.’ ” (Fowles 42).

Fowles uses the conflicting personalities of Clegg and Miranda, as well as their perceptions of reality on the same issue to show just how skewed Clegg’s understanding of unethical behavior is. Clegg – like Humbert in Lolita, has a skewed perception of reality and tries to use his “ethical” treatment of Miranda as a way to validate his actions.

This is the reasoning for why Clegg won’t set her free and continues to lie about when she’ll be free. However, what is considered to be “ethical” treatment is a perception that can only be seen as valid through the mind of a psychologically disturbed person and ct, not in reality. Miranda directly tells Clegg what he has done to her and though it is true, Clegg refuses to see it through that lens and instead sees it as a way to get Miranda to form a feeling of love for Clegg. This misperception of factual information is the reasoning behind why Clegg won’t let Miranda go and instead lies about when she’ll be freed just for there to still be a possibility that she’ll fall in love with him – which is only possible to Clegg in his mind. Miranda represents another one of his butterflies, Clegg frames and pins her down, without ever wanting to touch or harm her in any way that will take away from her purity and beauty. He encloses her in a box – which is her room, as he would do with his collected butterflies. This strong interest – now obsession roots back in his childhood, when he started this hobby and formed this addiction to try and savor the beautiful and never let them go. This addiction grew stronger as Clegg aged and at this point in his life, he is doing so with Miranda because he has permanently lost what it means to be social and cognitively aware o reality and his actions as a result of never receiving the nurture and love form his parents as a child. Fowles presents this side of Clegg to expose his true nature, mindset, and obsession with collecting as well as how he is inflicting this obsession onto Miranda. Miranda’s character is the polar opposite of Clegg – she sees through what actions Clegg takes and strongly defends herself. Miranda symbolizes a character stronger than Clegg, but weak without her autonomy and freedom.

In Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov, the antagonist Humbert never doubts that what actions he is taking is unethical anyway. He repeatedly tries to validate his actions to the reader by saying that he would fulfill all of Lolita’s requests in return for the small favors she would then have to do for him. Similarly, Clegg gives repeated efforts in concealing what they are doing by using “moral” the treatment of these captors to compensate for their loss of freedom, voice, and life. Obsession has driven these two antagonist to see through a lens that eludes an understanding of realism and forces the mind to see the normality in the actions one takes.

“Lolita, the light of my life, the fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms, she was always Lolita. Did she have a precursor? She did, indeed she did. There might have been no Lolita at all had I not loved, one summer, an initial girlchild. In a princedom by the sea.” (Nabokov 9).

Humbert conveys through particular language conclusively what Lolita is to him. Just the simple pronunciation of her name takes the reader into the mind of Humbert, where one can see that his interest in Lolita goes into specific detail. Saying her name syllable by syllable communicates that every part of Lolita attracts Humbert and arouses his interest in her. ‘In a princedom by the sea’ Royalty is what Nabokov tries to communicate to the reader what Lolita translates to for Humbert. A princess surrounded by water – enclosed, shelter, and protected – that is what Humbert wanted to be for Lolita, her rescue, her protection, and her keeper forever. Because his biggest fear is losing a nymphet like his first – again, which is why he sets up limiting freedoms and controlling behaviors to assure that she will forever be with him and keep him in the child-like state of mind he also longs for. Lolita was, although forced to travel with Humbert and taken advantage of – was a very powerful, independent, andstrong-willedd girl, very much similar to Miranda’s character in The Collector. She is a character who chooses to do what pleases her (under the circumstances she’s in) and Humbert mainly supplies her with what she wants. In many ways Lolita manipulates Humbert but he has no choice but to make her happy by whatever means in return for her cooperation with their travels and to maintain his ownership of her. Through Lolita’s sexual encounters with Humbert she manages to figure out how to use Humbert – though she is the victim, it seems that Humbert and Lolita both use each other for the desired outcome.

Obsession, the need to control, and psychological damage are qualities Humbert Humbert and Fredrick Clegg endure their entire lives. Aiming to restore what they had lost – or simply never had, the subconscious drove them to behave in a manner that may have gotten them the mental satisfaction they needed, but in the darkest and wickedest way possible. All of what these antagonists saw was painted based on their skewed perceptions, desires, and psychological needs, which have driven them to obsessively control their captors. Both authors portray how traumatizing it is to the minds of Humbert and Clegg to never receive the sense of love and belonging, as well as how fundamentally scary this is to the state of one’s mental health as an adult. Touching the lives of those around them, Clegg and Humbert were too – victims of a wounding loss who were never saved, and could never understand how to provide themselves what they needed without losing control and building an obsession that would cause their treatmentdemise.

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The Consequences of Unsatisfied Psychological Needs in the Novels Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov and The Collector by John Fowles. (2022, Jun 27). Retrieved from

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