(Pop) Cultural Analysis of Lolita

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov still has much influence today, specifically providing inspiration for the current Lolita fashion trend and subculture.  This subculture revolves around elaborate, extremely feminine dress and childlike attitudes and looks.  This fashion is popular among 20-somethings, especially in Japan.  People who dress in Lolita fashion wear clothing that would typically be seen in a kid’s dress-up box.  It is meant to be something innocent and childlike yet alluring, turning what looks like children’s clothes into something meant to be ‘sexy’.

lolitadress2   For example, this ‘girl’ is most likely in her twenties.



This perversion of Nabokov’s work is nothing new.  In fact, the very thing that launched Nabokov’s Lolita into pop culture, a movie of the same title directed by the (in?)famous Stanley Kubrick, missed the point entirely.  First, he made the title character, Lolita, much older than she was at the beginning of the book.  In the book, Lolita was a twelve year old girl, while in the movie, she was t least 14.  The actress who played her was chosen in part because she looked much older than she actually was.


Meanwhile, Humbert Humbert, the main character, was played as likable and sympathetic, according to one critic, while the Humbert in the novel was unsound and a pedophile.  Many events were changed in the movie as well, to make Humbert more likable.  Instead of threatening her with reformatory school, he swears to never bring hr there.  Another disturbing aspect of the movie is its genre: dark comedy.  Nabokov’s work is anything but, instead a story of a predator marrying a woman to gain access to her underage daughter, which he then abuses for years. As she grows up during the course of the novel, he thinks she is too old and fantasizes about raping her and then raping her daughter.

This was even used in a perfume ad, sexualizing a child’s body and referring to one of the most famous examples of pedophilia in literature to sell a product that is closely related to sex.  In the ad, Dakota Fanning was only 17.  She is wearing a childlike dress and has the perfume bottle placed in between her thighs.  The designer even said that it was supposed to be “seductive, yet sweet”.  Lola was a nickname for Lolita in the novel, and once again, the designer described Dakota Fanning, still a minor, as a “contemporary Lolita”.   Not only was this profiting off of the sexualization of a minor, but doing so in reference to a novel about the sexualization of a girl who is repeatedly sexually abused and even raped by her stepfather, who is a pedophile.


Nabokov’s intentions while writing this book are well documented, and fairly obvious from the synopsis and characters.  Humbert Humbert, the main character, confesses that he is a pedophile, although not in so many words.  He says of the 12-year-old, in the first line of the book, no less, “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my lions.”  He marries a woman to get to her stepdaughter, Lolita, who is not the first girl he has pursued.  When Lolita’s mother died, he began pursuing and abusing her in earnest, which continued for years before Lolita was finally able to escape, after years of abuse.  Humbert is seen as unhinged, rambling, unsympathitic, and brutal.  He is seen as a pedophile from the very beginning.  The idea of the novel was to show the barbarity of some men, and the horrible acts that they commit.  Nabokov was dismayed at the sexualization of Lolita by pop culture, as it perverses and even defies the point of the book: how horrible the main character really is.


3 thoughts on “(Pop) Cultural Analysis of Lolita

  1. nataliebeyer

    This is a really interesting cultural analysis because we tend to acknowledge the fetishization of young girls in famous books and movies like Lolita and all its adaptations but less in present day culture. A lot of the imagery I see in magazines and billboards are definitely worrisome especially when you think about how youth obsessed the modeling world is and that is the pool for which many of these girls come. Many of the models we see on the cover of magazines are barely 18 and there are put in very sexual, revealing clothing. It’s really glamorizing the fetishization of young girls and almost promoting sexualizing under-aged girls which sadly could yield more sexual deviancy. I think its time we show actual women to sell women’s clothing and not young young girls. Great analysis though, definitely made me think.

  2. mitchelleubank25

    In all seriousness, I think this post single-handedly justifies the Police’s reference to “that book by Nabokov” in the lyrics to “Don’t Stand So Close to Me.” Our obsession with youth culture, and pandering to children and teenagers in everything we say and do, is really creepy. The fact that some of those youths willingly volunteer to take part in such acts, in the name of showing what is essentially false maturity, can only make matters worse from there. I get that the natural aging process is going to take its toll on all of us one day, but there doesn’t seem to be any point to sexualizing people that young, that soon, outside of making money through exploitation. “Lolita” may be considered a classic, regardless of medium, but again, the consequences of ignorance, willful or otherwise, are many, varied, and for the most part, awful for all involved. “To Catch a Predator” entered the public lexicon little over a decade ago for a reason, after all.

  3. Jordan

    To the comment logged above, I had never thought of Don’t Stand So Close to Me in this way! This is a really interesting take on such a popular song!

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