The Relevance of Voice for Understanding Ethical Concerns Raised by Nabokov’s 'Lolita' and Burgess’s 'A Clockwork Orange'


In Nabokov’s Lolita and Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange controversial situations of misbehaviour are represented: Humbert and Alex rape, kill, and fight people. While the reader might find the justifications of the characters’ misbehaviour inadequate, s/he is asked, as a result of Cohn’s double pact of fictional autobiography, to accept it as true and coherent. Not only is the reader trapped inside the narrator’s mind, but other characters’ inner selves are also made unreachable. Lolita and the State in A Clockwork Orange are purely Others, and the narrator does not feel any guilt for hurting them. Initially, Quilty and F. Alexander are purely Others too. Nevertheless, both these third-person characters reveal themselves to be symbolically related to the narrators’ selves, mirroring their subjectivity, thus – unusually for first-person novels – forcing the reader to adopt an external point of view on the solipsistic narrators. This distanciation provides the reader with a landmark and gives him or her a chance to perceive the narrator’s unethicality. Such a detachment emphasises the fact that it is possible to consider two contradictory interpretations in Lolita and A Clockwork Orange at the same time. The unethical first-person narrative paradoxically makes the book ethical: the reader is uncomfortably led into the realm of unethicality, and it is his or her own responsibility to question it or not.


Ethics. Narrative. Lolita. A Clockwork Orange

How to Cite

Estournel, N., (2013) “The Relevance of Voice for Understanding Ethical Concerns Raised by Nabokov’s 'Lolita' and Burgess’s 'A Clockwork Orange'”, Opticon1826 15, Art. 11.







Nicolas Estournel



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