Lolita pokes fun at the middle-class consumer culture of the American suburbs in the 1950s. As a savvy European aesthete, Humbert Humbert narrates his journey through his adopted country in a voice dripping with contempt. Many of the places and people in Lolita are pure caricatures of American “types.” The novel makes fun of everything which was quintessentially “American” in the late 1940s and 1950s, good and bad: Hollywood movies, middle-class consumerism, motels, Freudian psychology, slang, racial stratification, and youth culture.
Humbert Humbert struggles to adapt his elite European sensibilities to his kitschy American environment. Much of the novel’s humor comes from moments when highbrow Humbert must endure American kitsch for the sake of lowbrow Lolita. This satire is particularly apparent in Humbert’s marriage to Lolita’s mother Charlotte: he is disgusted by her middle-class pretensions—especially her taste in art and her desire to take a cruise—but he plays along in order to stay close to Lolita. Although Humbert Humbert mocks the United States, one might say that the novel, in turn, mocks him. He is a caricatured member of a faded European literary elite, and his outrage is so outrageous that it makes him as ridiculous as the elements of American life he mocks.
Suburbia and American Consumer Culture ThemeTracker
Suburbia and American Consumer Culture Quotes in Lolita
In the gay town of Lepingville I bought her four books of comics, a box of candy, a box of sanitary pads, two cokes, a manicure set, a travel clock with a luminous dial, a ring with a real topaz, a tennis racket, roller skates with high white shoes, a portable radio set, chewing gum, a transparent raincoat, sunglasses, some more garments—swooners, shorts, all kinds of summer frocks. At the hotel we had separate rooms, but in the middle of the night she came sobbing into mine, and we made it up very gently. You see, she had absolutely nowhere else to go.
Mentally, I found her to be a disgustingly conventional little girl. Sweet hot jazz, square dancing, gooey fudge sundaes, musicals, movie magazines and so forth—these were the obvious items in her list of beloved things.
If some café sign proclaimed Icecold Drinks, she was automatically stirred, although all drinks everywhere were ice-cold. She it was to whom ads were dedicated: the ideal consumer, the subject and object of every foul poster.
We had been everywhere. We had really seen nothing. And I catch myself thinking today that our long journey had only defiled with a sinuous trail of slime the lovely, trustful, dreamy, enormous country that by then, in retrospect, was no more to us than a collection of dog-eared maps, ruined tour books, old tires, and her sobs in the night—every night, every night—the moment I feigned sleep.
O Reader! Laugh not, as you imagine me, on the very rack of joy noisily emitting dimes and quarters, and great big silver dollars like some sonorous, jingly and wholly demented machine vomiting riches; and in the margin of that leaping epilepsy she would firmly clutch a handful of coins in her little fist, which, anyway, I used to pry open afterwards unless she gave me the slip, scrambling away to hide her loot.
We must remember that a pistol is the Freudian symbol of the Ur-father’s central forelimb.