How ‘Lolita’ Reflects the Contemporary Culture

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As Vladimir Nabokov's novel 'Lolita' was released, it sparked a firestorm of controversy. Humbert Humbert, the novel's protagonist, had a normal upbringing save for his mother's passing. She falls in love with Annabel Leigh when she is nine years old. Humbert never returns from Leigh's death due to typhus. Instead, he creates a character that fantasizes about and has sexual relationships with young people. The young ladies, he says, are charming and arouse his feelings. His last lover is Lolita and he does all forms of crime and immoral acts, ranging from marrying the mother of Lolita, murder, and kidnapping, just so he can be with his young lover. The novel is regarded as unreliable narration mainly due to the fact that it is told from the perspective of Humbert. However, the contemporary culture of America resembles various aspects of the novel. Men seem to be obsessed with young girls and women view Lolita as an icon. This essay will describe the contemporary American culture in relation to Nabokov novel ‘Lolita’. Men obsession with youthful girls is to blame for increase in crimes such as teenage pregnancy, children prostitution, use of bodies of young girls in advertisement, use of school-girls images by celebrities in music and movies, kidnaping among others.

In Lolita, Humbert is ready to do anything just so he can be with the young girls whom he refers to as young nymphets. He even goes to the extent of cold blood murder just so he can be with his nymphet. This shows some level of psychological disorder. He describes himself as ‘a murderer with a sensational but incomplete and unorthodox memory’ (Nabokov, 217). From this description it is apparent that he can recognizes that he is not psychologically fit. In the same way, people are in today’s society are willing to do just about anything so that they can be with the women they clay to love. Some people, just as Humbert kill others who are perceived as obstacles in their way to love. Some people who are detained for murder simply killed to protect their self-interest on the people that they love. On the other hand the psychological disorder may be in relation to feelings of desperation and low self-esteem as is the case of many child prostitutes. In the novel, Lolita goes with Humbert after the accident that left her mother dead and have sex with him. Lolita is in despair because she does not know any other person that she can go to.

One of the emergent issue in the contemporary culture of United States is that there is increased teenage pregnancy. According to Honing (p. 182) 85% of the teenage pregnancies are not planned. Also, only 50% of teenage mothers are able to attain high school diploma by the age of 222 compared to 90% of girls who attain college diploma by the same age if they don’t get pregnant (Honing, p. 182). This is similar to the case in ‘Lolita’. Lolita does not have the privilege to advance with her studies though she is still of school age. In Chapter 24 of the novel Humbert meets with Lolita after three years since she escaped. Lolita is pregnant and very reluctant to point out the name of the man that she disappeared with. This shows that she is not proud of him and the pregnancy that she is carrying. The pregnancy has however meant that she stays home as a wife and a future mother even though her age mates are in school.

Poverty rate in the society today is more rampant among single family households especially those that only have mother and children. Often times this mothers were seduced by older men who were charmed by their beauty. After being left they remain helpless and poor. Lolita lives in poverty even after escaping from Humbert. Her life seem to have been filled with misery especially after her mother (also a single mother). However, given that the book is written from the perspective of Humbert the reader is made to sympathize with Humbert other than Lolita. Similarly, in today’s society people are not willing to sympathize with the young single mothers who live in poverty and are easily deceived by men. Furthermore, many young girls have lost their lives during childbirth just as Lolita did. This is mostly because their bodies are not well matured to facilitate giving birth.

Some love affairs that people are obsessed with such as sexual relationship with teenage girls are wrong and the people that engage in them know that they are committing crime. For instance, there is a rise in the number of people who view pornographic images and films. They do so because they are obsessed with erotic images even though they understand that what they are doing is wrong. Also, sex trafficking and kidnaping of young girls is common in the contemporary world (Scala, p. 7). People not only marry related people such as the case of Humbert marrying Lolita’s mother to target Lolita but also marry very young girls. A real life example is Edgar Allan Poe who was a poet, editor and writer in America. Poe married his nephew who was only nine years old after writing a poem titled ‘Annabel Lee’- the name of Humbert’s first lover. Nabokov brings out this kind of feeling well in the statement; ‘in my twenties early and early thirties I did not understand my throes quite so clearly. While my body knew what it carved for my mind rejected my body’s plea’ (Nabokov, 67). Humbert recognizes that relationship with young girls is wrong by virtue of his mind not being in agreement with his body. However he the obsession makes his body feelings to be stronger than judgment.

Many companies that produce and sell beauty products such as perfumes, make up kits and jewelries use the images of young girls to market their products. This is because they understand the psychology of today’s women. Since women wish to be attractive and to have the power to captivate men with their beauty they relate the images of young girls shown in the commercial adverts with the products. They then purchase the products with the hope that it will make them look in similar to the young girls used in the advertisements. This can partly be attributed to Lolita since the novel presents her as being very charming such that he makes Humbert to do anything just so he can be close with her. In chapter twelve of the novel Humbert describes what he feels for Lolita as bordering insanity (Nabokov, p. 59). This implies that the urge to be with Lolita is too much such that he cannot control it. Companies have taken advantage of the obsession that people have for beauty and used it to sell their products.

In the contemporary culture most women desire a charming beauty and remaining young especially those in show business. Most of pop music nowadays either describes features that are similar to those of Lolita or have images of young school girls. Some films such as the mid-cult which was directed by Dwight MacDonald. The GQ magazine also attracted controversies after publishing an article with photos of actors in school glee club named ‘glee gone wild’. According to Well who is an editor of the New republic magazine the photos was condemned for sexualizing the female characters who act in plays for high-school aged character. This kind of obsession has made some women to even develop some disorders such as anorexia nervosa because they don’t eat so that they can have tiny bodies. Also, anti-aging products are selling rapidly because most women wish to remain youthful.

In the contemporary world men seem to be obsessed with young girls and women view Lolita as an icon that they can emulate. This has made some men to engage in crimes such as having sex with minors, committing murder to protect their young lovers, viewing pornography to mention a few. On the other hand, women seem to be obsessed with a desire to have a youthful look. They therefore spend a lot of money buying beauty products with an aim of looking younger than their actual age. Companies have taken advantage of this b advertising using related images to attract customers. Celebrities and people in the show business are also using images of young but charming girls to advance their business. This can partly be attributed to Nabokov novel ‘Lolita’.

Work Cited

Honig, Alice Sterling. "Teen pregnancy." (2012): 181-187.

Nabokov, Vladimir. “Lolita.”(1995).

Scala, Devone. "Media, Objectification and Sexual Assault." Dissenting Voices 2.1 (2013): 7.

Wasmuth, John. "Unreliable Narration in Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita." (2009).

Wells Ira, (May 28, 2015) “Forgetting Lolita: How Nabokov’s victim became an American Fantasy.” New Republic Magazine. Accessed from

July 20, 2022



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