Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 16. Nr. Mai 2006

2.2. Models of Victimization in Contemporary Cultures
Herausgeberin | Editor | Éditeur: Fatima Festic (Los Angeles) 

Dokumentation | Documentation | Documentation

The Nymphet as Consequence in Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita and Sam Mendes’s American Beauty

Tracy Wendt Lemaster (W. Birmingham, USA)



My essay "The Nymphet as Consequence in Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita and Sam Mendes’s American Beauty" compares the use of the "nymphet" figure in the novel Lolita to the film American Beauty as reflecting the sociological construction of female children into the paradigmatic artistic vehicle for the male psychological portrait. Raising questions about the use of pedophilia in these two genres, I argue that the reciprocity between the pedophile and the nymphet stems from the Victorian invention of the concept of childhood and the metaphoric, dual, and even sexual parameters the child’s definition operates within.

Since its inception in the Victorian era, the image of the sexualized female child has been an aesthetic vehicle for the artistic expression of men’s internal desires. As portrayed through pedophilic tendencies, these desires are superficially for the child but represent a separate, more complex psychological need or sketch, the supposed larger goal of the author or filmmaker. The child as metaphor begins with the invention of the concept of childhood, therefore disallowing the child from having any actual referent, only theoretical ones. James R. Kincaid argues in Child-Loving: The Erotic Child and Victorian Culture that attempting to imbue this "nothingness" with social idealizations of a child’s innocence and purity, the primary qualifier of childhood being that a child is not yet sexual, paradoxically calls to light the issue of sexuality and unwittingly makes "the definitional base erotic" where "the child is the embodiment of desire and also its negation." If the "vacant child" is a "blank image waiting to be formed," "a state of being that was pure nothingness, secretly nourished by its opposite," then pedophilia becomes more a response to an inherency rather than a separate, incongruous malady. Therefore, sexualized girls are positioned as owning this definition, or their sexuality, and thus encouraging the pedophilic response. Thus artists eroticize, and victimize, the child both under the pretext of metaphor, or as an artistic venture, and as a reaction invited by the victim.

While Nabokov is effective in creating a pedophile who, despite his brilliant composition skills, is nonetheless presented unreliably and fallibly as a victimizer and murderer, contemporary society has misread and reinterpreted the nymphet and pedophile in romanticized, aestheticized terms in the film American Beauty and numerous other adolescent female media representations, thus ignoring and/or deflating the victimizer-victimized component.


The Nymphet as Consequence in Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita and Sam Mendes’s American Beauty

  There are many striking correspondences between [the novel] Lolita and American Beauty, both of a ‘small detail’ nature [...] and in terms of the overall moral and aesthetic vision of the film. Unfortunately, I cannot go into this argument here without making this a much longer essay. - Susan Bordo

Since its inception in the Victorian era, the image of the sexualized female child has been an aesthetic vehicle for the artistic expression of men’s internal desires. As portrayed through pedophilic tendencies, these desires are superficially for the child but symbolize a separate, more complex psychological need or sketch, the larger goal of the author or filmmaker. The child as metaphor begins with the invention of the concept of childhood, therefore disallowing the child from having any actual referents, only theoretical ones. James R. Kincaid argues in Child-Loving: The Erotic Child and Victorian Culture that we attempt to imbue this "nothingness" with social idealizations of a child’s innocence and purity, the primary qualifier of childhood being that a child is not yet sexual (11). However, by creating parameters for the child that exclude sexuality we paradoxically call to light the issue of sexuality and unwittingly make "the definitional base erotic" where "the child is the embodiment of desire and also its negation" (7,78). Kincaid’s emphasis on the use of child as metaphor, as well as other derivative theories on the child’s duality, "Otherness," "malleability," and eventual "mirror[ing]" of its observer- the pedophile, illuminate Nabokov’s novel Lolita and director Sam Mendes’s film American Beauty, in that each shares nearly identical female depictions and male depictions (63,66,90). The novel and film share the notions of the "nymphic" aestheticized girl, the likeable yet arrogant male figure, the pedophilic father figure, the male figure reclaiming his youth through the child, the male’s eventual demise, the girl’s inherent sexuality and thus inevitable promiscuity, the critique of popular and consumer culture, aesthetic theory, and humor.

Although the novel and film parallel one another in multiple characterizations, themes, and theories, the works’ major discrepancy regards the degree to which the male protagonists’ depictions invite censure. This divergence ultimately implicates a disturbing social trend in pedophilic media and a larger gendered relationship involving women. While American Beauty’s principal male character, Lester, does not have intercourse with the child, countering the numerous implied sex scenes in Lolita, he is more idealized and less criticized than Nabokov’s unreliable narrator Humbert Humbert. American Beauty’s male acts as the film’s hero who dies not because of his own sexual, psychological, and physical violence, which causes Humbert to murder, but because his idealism cannot survive in contemporary capitalist society. Lester’s pedophilic desires are portrayed as the harmless, quirky result of a mid-life crisis, not a lascivious, carefully fabricated plot by a repeat offender, thus diffusing the stereotypical pedophile image and prompting viewer support. Although Humbert Humbert is an active pedophile and Lester only a vicarious visionary, Lester’s approving depiction is more detrimental. While the image of the sexualized female child has been and remains a dominant artistic tool, society’s gradual acceptance of her and her pursuer culminates in this most current pedophilic illustration: "While this unconventional relationship between Lester and Angela, so thematically resonant of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, arguably constitutes the crux of the film’s attraction, it has rarely been characterized in online public discourse as a pedophilic one" (McKittrick 6). Choosing Lolita, widely acknowledged as a classic American novel, and American Beauty, a multi-Oscar winning film, I argue that the sexualized girl’s unfaltering popularity is a response to not just children’s social construction but women’s as well, where the "nymphet," by fulfilling Kincaid’s theoretical parameters of duality, malleability, and the like, becomes the ultimate manifestation of the Madonna/whore syndrome as a dichotomous figure that reveals society’s desire to trouble and displace women’s sexuality under the pretext of metaphor.


Part One

Kincaid’s argument regarding the Victorian "invention" of the idea of childhood, a previously unrecognized developmental phase, as constructed in terms of metaphor and polarity elevates the sexualized girl figure as a the paradigmatic artistic vehicle. Viewing culture in social constructionist terms, Kincaid observes society’s basis in metaphor and our investment in simplifying through binaries. Both theories combined position the child for an unconsciously sexual, symbolic reception. The child materializes from "pure nothingness":

"the child" was invented in the late eighteenth century to occupy an empty psychic and social space[...] what we think of as the child was not there, that "the child" became a conceptual and thus biological and social category... flowering in the nineteenth century. [...] Childhood can be made a wonderfully hollow category, to be filled up with anyone’s overflowing emotions. (11-12,61)

The "empty child," like the "empty" from which it originated, is conceptually a metaphor (5). Kincaid borrows from George Lakoff in his holistic interpretation of society’s structuring around metaphor: "our ordinary conceptual system, in terms of which we both think and act, is fundamentally metaphorical in nature... we define our reality in terms of metaphors and then proceed to act on the basis of the metaphors" (19). Although the child is only one in a system of figurative definitions, a "series of metaphors we commit ourselves to," the female child, specifically female, specifically sexual, is the most prone to artistic interpretation as I will discuss later (19). Because "A child is not, in itself, anything" a child can only represent something, acting as metaphor (5). This something is not simply the passion of the sexualizing agent but something larger, revealing either that agent or his world. In Lolita and American Beauty, the girls, while most importantly recognized by the viewer and the pedophile as children, are nonetheless abstractly represented as aesthetic figures who exist for the purpose of humanizing the male, not themselves.

Meaning is transposed onto "this vacuum" called childhood by our tendency to define through binaries (12). "[O]ur habit of creating oppositions" parallels the most obvious recognition of what demarcates the child, namely that it is not an adult and not sexual (13): "Most apparent is the division between adult and child... the child is that species which is free of sexual feeling or response; the adult is that species which has crossed over into sexuality. The definitional base is erotic: our discourse insists on it by loudly denying its importance" (6-7). Social idealizations of "purity [and] innocence," those terms adults do not fulfill but wish to, are applied to children in absolute measures, where "these paradigms were fitted to the child" (5,50). However, both by affirming so extreme a representation and basing that representation on the issue of sexuality, we inadvertently invoke its failing, opposite, and "other binaries" (7). Kincaid notes the theoretical transition: "what we think of as ‘the child’ has been assembled in reference to desire.[...] [Additionally] Purity, it turns out, provides just the opening a sexualizing tendency requires [...] all purity is figured as negation" (4,12-13). Kincaid refers to desire doubly: both the adult’s "desire" to be perfect and innocent, "the child is that which we are not but almost are, that which we yearn for so fiercely [...] we attribute to the child the central features of desirability in our culture- purity, innocence, emptiness," as well as sexual desire (5,7). Kincaid sees our adamancy to turn the child into a desirable yet undesiring figure as counter-interpretive: "By insisting so loudly on the innocence, purity, and asexuality of the child, we have created a subversive echo: experience, corruption, eroticism. [...] The child is the embodiment of desire and also its negation" (4-5,7). Whether or not Nabokov and Mendes present the child sexually as a result of interpretative "negation," there is no denying that, simultaneous to the Victorian creation of the pure child, so came the impure child and resulting historical depictions of children’s mischievousness, immorality, and power, which ultimately culminate in the image of the "nymphet."

If the "vacant child" is a "blank image waiting to be formed," "a state of being that was pure nothingness, secretly nourished by its opposite," then pedophilia becomes more a response to an inherency rather than a separate, incongruous malady (13,78-9). Therefore, sexualized girls are positioned as owning this definition, or their sexuality, and thus encouraging the pedophilic response. We will see how Humbert and Lester interpret the child as aware of this power and the men’s supposed resulting powerlessness, a displacement of guilt for men who possess the power to conceptualize the girl. Yet, while Kincaid argues that "power" is an integral part of the idea of "child-loving," he concludes that gender does not figure in the equation (18): "Gender or any other set figure of sexual opposition is of very little importance to child loving. [...] Gender is a construction far less important to pedophilia than to other forms of perception" (13-14). When Kincaid interprets the prepubescent child as a "neuter" he ignores the influence of binaries and power he has touted thus far (15). The female child, as opposed to the male child, adopts the legacy of metaphor, aestheticism, and powerlessness applied to women throughout literary history. The female child becomes the model manifestation of those elements considered controllable, superficial, and malleable. In reference to Kincaid’s theory of how the child operates as society’s "Other," he cannot deny the parallel to women, though he considers it only minor: "the quality of difference we force on the child [is] a difference which can resemble very closely the otherness with which we formulate women" (64). From a feminist perspective, and the social constructionist context Kincaid adopts, the distinctly female child, termed by Humbert as the "girl-child," is "assembled" on multiple levels (9,19,88). Imbued with the dichotomous characteristics of purity and eroticism, of powerlessness and power, the female child fulfills a pedophilic sketch: "What drives me insane is the twofold nature of this nymphet- of every nymphet, perhaps; this mixture in my Lolita of tender dreamy childishness and a kind of eerie vulgarity. [...] A combination of naiveté and deception, of charm and vulgarity [...] I am going to tell you something very strange: It was she who seduced me" (Nabokov 44,132,147-8).


Part Two

When the child is "a blank image waiting to be formed," the adult becomes the "artist and madman" who creates the "image" where, in Lolita, Humbert "ha[s] only words to play with,"and, in American Beauty, Lester constructs through the gaze (Nabokov 17,32). Humbert and Lester enter as writer and narrator through meta-reference, Lolita shifting between first and third person often to predict, and deconstruct, the reader response, and American Beauty shifting from in-scene narration to voice-over to exhibit Lester’s detachedness and critique of his personal situation and society. Humbert delivers "as a poet might have said" scenes which he moves in and out of as both an elusive yet dominant author (72): "As she bent her brown curls over the desk at which I was sitting, Humbert the hoarse put his arm around her... my innocent little visitor slowly sank to a half-sitting position upon my knee" (48). Conscious of the story’s composition, Humbert notes that "Of course, such announcements made in the first person may sound ridiculous," implicating himself as fabricating with an excessive investment the reader is forced to consider unreliable (104). However, the reliability of Lester’s point-of-view is never questioned because he presents himself as the disillusioned Everyman of middle-class society, paralleling his identity to the viewer. As well, Lester constructs the girl, Angela, aesthetically through his gaze, the camerawork implying his formulation with a slow motion close-up on his face as all outside noise is blocked, the public disappears except for him and her, and mystical music begins. His imagining and re-imagining of Angela occurs through fantasy with aesthetic symbolism, detailed later, evoking an artistic sketch he controls as the scene breaks back into a reality he does not. The clear element of removal in American Beauty differentiates Lester’s envisioning from reality and thus portrays a reliable plotline and protagonist. In conclusion, Humbert’s inaccessibility due to a slanted, brilliant, "fancy prose style" occludes a parallel the reader would make with the protagonist that Lester’s fallibility and likeability invite (9). With these techniques in mind, American Beauty is seldom classified as a pedophilic sketch. Regardless of aesthetic abstraction and protagonist relatability, both Humbert and Lester are presented as artists, compositional and visual, who "want [their] learned readers to participate in the scene [they] are about to replay" (Nabokov 57).

When "the ‘child’ is nothing more than what it is construed to be, nothing in itself at all," the artist enters to manipulate the child "waiting only to be molded" (White qtd in Kincaid 90). The girls’ "malleability" and absence of identity are two defining characteristics necessary to position them for an abstract recasting. Lolita’s multiplicity of names and Angela’s insistence on being viewed as "special," not "ordinary," present the girls’ identities as fluid and removed from actual referents. Lolita possesses no singular identity, or interiority, but only circumstantial titles. Her superceding title of "Lolita," granted by Humbert to the actual "Dolores Haze," is the primary character type she operates under only because Humbert views her this way: "she was mine, mine, mine" (161). Nabokov introduces Lolita’s construction in the novel’s opening when Humbert phonetically plays with her various names (only four of fifteen total). These identities he accredits to her different situations yet Dolores never exhibits corresponding personality changes: "Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lol-lee-ta. [...] 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 Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita" (9). Despite Lolita’s malleability, she does possess an actual personality- temperamental and tragic- and a secret life that surfaces in the novel’s conclusion. However, this interiority is primarily obscured for those identities Humbert attributes. In a scene where Humbert experiences sexual release not through intercourse but rather through Lolita’s motions on the couch next to him, he is pleased that she remains unaware. Through this degree of separation, he theorizes on his own self-delusion and on Lolita’s constructedness:

I felt proud of myself. I had stolen the honey of a spasm without impairing the morals of a minor. [...] Thus had I delicately constructed my ignoble, ardent, sinful dream; and still Lolita was safe- and I was safe. What I had madly possessed was not she, but my own creation, another, fanciful Lolita- perhaps more real than Lolita; overlapping, encasing her; floating between me and her, and having no will, no consciousness- indeed, no life of her own. (62)

Humbert’s "dream" of pedophilia is fulfilled while Lolita remains "safe." Sexually interacting with a figment of mutual desire, "another, fanciful Lolita," Humbert realizes "what [he] had madly possessed was not she, but my own creation." The idea of Lolita is "more real than Lolita." His imagining envelops Dolores, "overlapping, encasing her," where she is the "empty child" "having no will, no consciousness" and "no life of her own." Therefore, Humbert will "create" Lolita’s "will," "consciousness," and "life" to fill up the framework of a child. The "vacant child" is present in "her grave grey eyes more vacant than ever" (285). Therefore, Lolita becomes less a manifestation of a real girl and more a reflection of her artist’s desires as "[his] creation."

In American Beauty, Angela is malleable because she operates half the time she is on-screen within Lester’s fantasies. Whether she is dancing, bathing, or surreally floating, Angela is presented in any combination of erotic backdrops fabricated in Lester’s visions. Although she, too, has a personality and is not strictly illusion, as revealed through interactions with Lester’s daughter, she is constantly questioning her own identity in these real-life scenes. Adamantly desiring to be "special" not "ordinary" because "There is nothing worse in life than to be ordinary," Angela undermines the validity of her real identity for one where she is recognized by all as "beautiful." When told her self-doubt, personality, and looks are "ordinary" she flees crying and, in this vulnerable stage, gives in to Lester’s sexual advances for approval, asking him "am I ordinary" as he removes her clothes. He replies, "there is nothing ordinary about you," providing the identity she desired all along against the "emptiness" she subconsciously felt. Together the girls, "waiting only to be molded," are sufficiently "empty" for an artistic representation where their interiority is further minimized and their identity outwardly controlled through aesthetic, one-dimensional symbolism.


Part Three

When children "are waiting only to be molded, presenting to us the opportunity to make something beautiful," they can be crafted into aesthetic symbols as "graceful and harmonious shapes" (Kincaid 90). The aesthetic imagery chosen to characterize Lolita and Angela reinforces Kincaid’s theory on the child’s duality, as possessing "purity and its negation." Humbert interprets Lolita as a "nymphet," describing her in ethereal, non-human terms. She acts as both a playful, inviting, "enchanted nymph" and a "daemon child" capable of "perilous magic" (20,134,172). Although "she had been so pretty in the weaving of those delicate spells, in the dreamy performance of her enchantments," she conversely torments as an "immortal daemon disguised as a female child" (139,230). Simultaneously good and bad, Lolita’s "fantastic power" over Humbert, contradictory in that she possesses no actual power in the pedophilic relationship she abhors, is a power Humbert displaces from himself onto Lolita to explain his attraction (172). Contrasting her "human females [and] terrestrial women" counterparts, Lolita is admired as a type of spirit for her transcending appeal, yet is valued strictly for her body in intercourse (18). By portraying Lolita as supernatural, Humbert makes Lolita operate under two contradictions: first as an enchanting fairy yet dangerous demon, and second as his physical lover yet psychological vision. In American Beauty, from Lester’s first viewing her at a pep rally to his subsequent fantasies, Angela is continually coupled with the image of abundant red rose petals. The roses are not simply a backdrop or decoration, markedly separate from Angela, but, instead emanate from and enclose her. This union is portrayed in surreal imaginings where roses float out of Angela’s chest, she bathes completely submerged in their color, and she lies in a blanket of them with strategic petals covering her privates. Roses physically construct Angela, making up portions of her body, as she is not merely associated with them but defined by them. Roses operate on many contradictory levels in American Beauty, as discussed later, but their prominent dichotomy for Angela is the evoking of her sexuality, working from the traditional literary and imagistic parallel of roses to women’s genitalia. However, when pairing this iamgery with the film’s larger aesthetic argument that rejects traditional renditions of beauty for, instead, "an empty, wrinkled white plastic bag," Lester is trying to have it both ways, where Angela’s roses ultimately represent his passion for new definitions yet his tie to past ideals. Angela becomes the dichotomous vision of attraction and repulsion by harkening to new aesthetic developments yet being configured by past ones, thus displaying a dually interpretive aesthetic.

"[T]his is how I see Lolita," Humbert remarks of his "nymphic" aesthetic containing contradictory good and bad characteristics (11): "Now I wish to introduce the following idea. Between the ages of nine and fourteen there occurs in 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’" (16). Humbert constructs "the following idea" of female children, within a particular conceived developmental window he has "chosen," as "creatures" that "bewitch." The appealing "nymphet," a child’s "true nature," is reciprocally "demoniac," making the definitional base both positive and negative. Kathleen Rowe Karlyn writes: "A feminist analysis of the nymphet shows that the desires attributed to her are in fact projected onto her. ... The very existence of the nymphet requires a second child, socially constructed as innocent, to conceal the source of the desires projected onto her" (69). Humbert further clarifies the metaphoric parameters he’s "project[ing]" by materializing "time": "It will be marked that I substitute time terms for spatial ones. In fact, I would have the reader see ‘nine’ and ‘fourteen’ as the boundaries- the mirrory beaches and rosy rocks- of an enchanted island haunted by those nymphets of mine and surrounded by a vast, misty sea" (16). In the mystical realm Humbert places the child, he reconfigures the "boundaries" of age as the topographical boundaries of an island, simultaneously "enchanted" and "haunted," alluring and ominous. Humbert’s "nymphets of mine" are not necessarily "nice, or ‘cute,’ or even ‘sweet’ and attractive,’" but operate under a new aesthetic (17). Bordo writes, "The nymphet’s allure is very particular. To the lover of the nymphet, as Humbert assures us, conventional female beauty is irrelevant, even an obstacle to desire" (131). Humbert differentiates nymphets from "essentially human little girls" (17):

Neither are good looks any criterion: and vulgarity, or at least what a given community terms so, does not necessarily impair certain mysterious characteristics, the fey grace, the elusive, shifty, soul-shattering, insidious charm that separates the nymphet from such coevals of hers as are incomparably more dependant on the spatial world of synchronous phenomena than on the intangible island of entranced time where Lolita plays. (17)

The nymphet’s delightful "grace" and "charm" are paradoxically "fey" and "insidious." Where the "coevals of hers are incomparably more dependant on the spatial world," Lolita remains on Humbert’s "island of entranced time" where she, as I further argue Humbert wishes for himself, will "Never grow up" (21). First and foremost in this listing of common misconceptions, Humbert addresses "vulgarity," a term he returns to often, as not discrediting the aesthetic he is creating. Far from "impair[ing]" his vision, "vulgarity," or "depravity" as he likewise terms it, embodies the aesthetic of a sexualized child. Clearly the vulgarity he perceives in children is his, portraying more a "mysterious" and "elusive" picture of Lolita than his own. Kincaid writes, "the child can be molded to be something lovely to look at, which is, even better, a something, quite wonderfully, us. The child is more than our little clay pot; he is our mirror" [his emphasis] (90). The child is a metaphor, or "mirror," for men’s psychology. As "the little deadly demon among the wholesome children," Lolita is muse for Humbert to fabricate an ethereal child figure containing both innocence and experience, "beauty" and "vulgarity," inviting a pedophilic response within the pedophile’s conflicted feelings and vision ("While my body knew what it craved for, my mind rejected my body’s every plea") (17-18,39). Transferring his emotionality onto Lolita does not remove his desire, however, as he eventually fulfills his sketch with "ethereal caresses" (45).

Humbert maintains Lolita’s first and primary casting as a nymph or "nymphet" but includes numerous other imagistic renderings, two commonly revisited are of ghosts and animals. Humbert’s preoccupation with envisioning Lolita aesthetically begins the instant he sees her when Lolita’s mother introduces her in passing: "‘That was my Lo,’ she said, ‘and these are my lilies.’ ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘yes. They are beautiful, beautiful, beautiful!" (40). Lolita’s malleability as an "empty child" "to be filled up with anyone’s overflowing emotions" is analogous to her malleability as an aesthetic image. Humbert reflects on how he envisions Lolita versus other lovers:

There are two kinds of visual memory: one when you skillfully recreate an image in the laboratory of your mind, with your eyes open (and then I see Anabel in such general terms as: "honey-colored skin," "thin arms," "brown bobbed hair") ... and then the other when you instantly evoke, with shut eyes, on the dark innerside of your eyelids, the objective, absolutely optical replica of a beloved face, a little ghost in natural colors (and this is how I see Lolita). (11)

Through remembrance, Humbert "recreate[s]" those less ethereal girls in tangible, specific, fragmented characteristics. Lolita, however, can only be seen with Humbert’s eyes closed, therefore "evok[ing]" his own psychological imagining (and psychology). Hence we have "a little ghost," an empty abstraction, based not on the actuality of Lolita’s appearance but on her effect on Humbert, haunting his memory. "[W]ith shut eyes" Humbert constructs Lolita as a figment, most tellingly in her casting as a "ghost": "I was already lying on my cold bed both hands pressing to my face Lolita’s fragrant ghost" (47). Lolita, as apparition, is "fragrant" and beautiful, an image to embrace. One should note that Humbert does, contradictorily, often depict Lolita’s body in straightforward description as when he envisions his first childhood love recreated in Lolita: "the same frail, honey-hued shoulders, the same silky supple bare back, the same chestnut head of hair" (39). However, what first begins as realism soon deconstructs and returns to Humbert’s more conceptual themes:

And, as if I were the fairy-tale nurse of some little princess (lost, kidnapped, discovered in gypsy rags through which her nakedness smiled at the king and his hounds)... those puerile hips on which I had kissed the crenulated imprint left by the band of her shorts- that last mad immortal day behind the "Roches Roses." The twenty-five years I had lived since then tapered to a palpitating point, and vanished. (39)

Humbert immediately creates a fictional narrative, moving away from realism into a realm he controls. The passage beautifully dissolves into abstraction, returning to the nymphet’s "immortal" theme then "vanish[ing]," where "the vacuum of [his] soul managed to suck in every detail of her bright beauty" (39).

Humbert refers to Lolita multiple times as his "pet," comparing her to a cat and small dog, her limbs becoming paws. He engages in this imagery where, with Lolita as his "prey," he becomes the "hunter." Revealing Humbert’s sense of ownership and control, authority he vehemently denies attributing it instead to "her fantastic power," he names Lolita "my pet," "the pet," and "Precocious pet!" (45,49). Lolita’s physical features are likened to "little" animals’ features: "the slightly feline outline of a cheekbone, the slenderness of a downy limb," "their soft brown puppybodies," "[she] began to shake her poodle head" (17,19,27). Lolita is portrayed as a small-domesticated animal that, like the "nymphet" and "ghost," is distinctly non-human, purely psychological and artistic. Humbert reciprocates Lolita’s petite and vulnerable animal imagery by creating a conversely large and powerful animal image of himself: "I held, and stroked, and squeezed that little hot paw," "she placed her trembling little hand on my ape paw" (51,258).

Humbert’s "ape paw," termed as such twice in the novel, overcomes Lolita’s "little" "poodle," "puppy," or "cat" "paw." His "aging ape eyes" view her "juvenile breasts" in an animalistic interpretation of the gaze (39). The transition, and power relationship, is complete in Humbert’s vision of Lolita as his "prey":

[T]he moralist in me by-passed the issue by clinging to conventional notions of what twelve-year-old girls should be. [...] Finally, the sensualist in me (a great and insane monster) had no objection to some depravity in his prey. [...] The bathroom door has just slammed, so one has to feel elsewhere about the house for the beautiful warm-colored prey. [...] Now it seemed to me that the enchanted prey was about to meet halfway the enchanted hunter. (49,124,131)

"[C]onvetional notions of what twelve-year-olds should be" do not exist in Humbert’s "sensualist," aesthetic interpretations. Humbert invites "depravity in his prey," sexualizing Lolita into "something" "beautiful." Humbert now interacts in his "enchanted island" as an "enchanted hunter" to his "prey." Although Humbert adopts, to a much lesser degree, the aesthetic description he gives Lolita, he nonetheless casts himself as the aggressor. The supernatural and dual aesthetics Humbert uses on Dolores Haze ultimately reveal the "vulgarity" of a highly skilled imagist and writer. Humbert’s psychological sketch, through Lolita, is satiric, beautiful, and disturbing. Whether or not Humbert, or Nabokov as many critics argue, is an aesthete, promoting "moral decadence through artistic decadence," Humbert’s aesthetic "mirror," Lolita, reflects a decadent vision of pedophilia inextricably tied to the "idea" of child as metaphor.


Part Four

In American Beauty, the single aesthetic device of rose petals is used both to sexualize Angela and to reference the movie’s larger aesthetic theories that "mirror" Lester’s character development, making Angela’s depiction the primary vehicle for Lester’s psychology. In Angela’s first scene in the film she is cheerleading at a basketball game, inciting the forlorn Lester into surreally imaging Angela as epitomizing the type of beauty, or life, he craves. Robert K. Johnston writes in Useless Beauty, "American Beauty tells the story of Lester’s revelation ... The life that is initially portrayed in American Beauty is a life of green lawns, designer labels, fake smiles, marketing mania, and corporate greed. [...] Lester, on the other hand, has learned to question this American way of life" (59-60). Lester opens the film through a God-like voice over: "I have lost something. I’m not sure exactly what it is. But you know what? It’s never too late to get it back." The "something" Lester has lost among the materialism and capitalism of American society is a connection to both his wife and daughter and the freedom of mobility, sexuality, and thought experienced in his youth. Lester’s desire to "get back" what he has "lost" prompts him to regress into an juvenile state, quitting his company job and working at a drive-through, smoking pot, verbally insulting his family, idealizing the life of the young neighbor boy, buying a new sports car, working out with weights, and accepting "as little responsibility as possible." Most importantly, like Humbert’s desire for Lolita and himself to "Never grow up," Lester’s climax into adolescent regression is his lusting after an adolescent. If "the child can be molded to be something lovely to look at, which is, even better, a something, quite wonderfully, us," the "something" Lester seeks will ultimately be portrayed through the child as his desired self (Kincaid 90). Lester’s sexual attraction to Angela, representative of his attraction to a new way of life, manifests in the aesthetic of roses.

Lester’s "revelation" and "path to enlightenment" thus presents him as the "Everyman" figure who casts off societal conventions and ideals for new ones, making him the hero of the film or, as he humbly states, "I’m just an ordinary guy with nothing to lose." Kathleen Karlyn critiques in "Too Close for Comfort: American Beauty and the Incest Motif":

American Beauty discourages a critical perspective on Lester by portraying him not only as an Everyman but as an ego-ideal because of his heroic rebellion. [...] Upgrading the tradition of the romantic artist-hero with New Age spirituality in its meditations on the nature of beauty and reality, American Beauty creates a hero with a unique sensitivity that authorizes his transgressions. (78-79)

Lester’s "sensitivity" as the film’s artist, namely Angela’s artist, will show him simultaneously taking on the activities of a new life while openly pursuing Angela as his aesthetic vision and sexual conquest. Because the film positions Lester as reliable and accessible, the viewer is expected to dismiss his pedophilia. In "I Laughed and Cringed at the Same Time: Shaping Pedophilic Discourse Around American Beauty and Happiness," Casey McKittrick tallies data from the Internet Movie Database, the most frequented internet forum for film discussion, to place "American Beauty as the number two ranking movie of all time on the site, just below The Godfather" (4). However, out of extensive commentary on the film, "[o]nly 2 of the 492 critics used the word ‘pedophilia’ in their assessments of American Beauty. Aside from another mention of Lester’s object choice as ‘jailbait,’ no other account gives name to a relationship that bespeaks outright legal and moral illicitness" (7). One critic even decries those who would consider this "relationship" pedophilic: "Kevin is inextricably drawn to Mena, yet no attempt is made to challenge the tired Western stereotype that adult men cannot love teenage girls" (7). Karlyn aptly summarizes the film’s plot without the theoretical accoutrement where American Beauty, at its core, is trying to valorize and legitimize a pedophile: "Lester Burnham, middle aged and middle management, throws off the responsibilities of the comfortable life he has come to despise when he begins to fantasize about having sex with his teenage daughter’s best friend" (69).

To understand the duality of Angela’s imagistic representation one must first address the film’s gesture toward aesthetic theory. Ricky- the neighbor boy whom Lester idealizes stating "This kid is cool!"- videotapes as a hobby and, through his unconventional choices of what he deems "beautiful," the film dispels traditional aesthetics for new, truer ones. These two categories, those items traditionally considered beautiful versus those considered banal or undesirable, parallel the film’s plotline on Lester’s rejection of the materialistic American dream for a different, freer version. In conclusion, Angela’s association with rose petals contradicts the film’s larger statement on "the nature of beauty and reality" made by Ricky’s redefinition. The film introduces nontraditional aesthetics when Ricky films a dead bird and recalls filming a deceased woman, justifying these images as "beautiful":

Angela says: "What are you doing, Creep-o?"
Ricky replies: "I am filming a dead bird."
Angela: "Why?"
Ricky: "Because it is beautiful." [...]
Ricky: "I did see this homeless woman who froze to death once, just lying there on the sidewalk. She looked really sad. I got this homeless woman on my camera."
Jane: "Why did you film that?"
Ricky: "When you see something like that, it is like God is looking right at you for just a second. And if you are careful, you can look right back."
Jane "And what do you see, when you see God like that?"
Ricky: "Beauty."

Through Ricky’s artistic medium of film he chooses those images he finds compelling and "beautiful" despite their contrast to conventional ideals of "Beauty." The significance of both his selections being deceased foreshadows Lester’s later murder and the closing shot of the film as a close-up on the blood oozing from his gun-shot wound to the head onto his marble cabinet. Clearly the film attempts to internalize and work through systematically those theories it presents but, in the case of Angela, fails to disconnect what is, at least in the literary world, a relentless association between women and roses.

The film’s penultimate aesthetic statement occurs when Ricky shows Jane a film clip of "the most beautiful thing [he’s] ever seen," a plastic bag blowing in the breeze. He narrates the scene:

We are in an empty parking lot on a cold gray day and something is floating across from us. It is an empty, wrinkled white plastic bag. [...] as the wind carries it in a circle around us, sometimes whipping it about violently and without warning , sending it soaring skyward, letting it float gracefully down to the ground. [...] This bag was just dancing with me like a little kid, begging me to play with it. For fifteen minutes. That’s the day I realized that there is this entire life behind things, and this incredibly benevolent force that wanted me to know that there was no reason to be afraid. Ever.

"An empty, wrinkled white plastic bag" becomes a symbolic vehicle, not surprisingly likened to a child, of a "benevolent force" that brings peace to the viewer. Ricky concludes by reaffirming this new category of aesthetics, stating: "sometimes there is so much beauty in the world, I feel like I can’t take it, and my heart is going to cave in." The film’s unconventional choices of "beautiful" images do not transfer to Angela except in that her rose petals are free floating and not attached to stems, in comparison to Lester’s wife’s rose garden and her manicured, well-kept perennials. Regardless, director Mendes’s choice of aesthetic imagery for his female child is more predictable and less revolutionary than his own film trumpets and Nabokov writes. Thus, Angela’s aesthetic contradictorily argues toward an innovative lifestyle through non-innovative imagery, making her operate dually. Three scenes portray Angela as Lester’s artistic vision: first, when seeing her and his daughter cheer at a basketball game, second, when fantasizing of her bathing, and third, when imagining her floating. When Lester attends a basketball game to watch his daughter perform as a cheerleader he instead focuses on Angela where the camera speed slows and closes in on her to mimic Lester’s "gaze." The film is so invested in Lester’s point of view that, by having the camera mimic his gaze, the audience is forced to adopt it where the camera "support[s] identification with Lester" (Karlyn 78). Additionally, the film empties the stadium and cheerleading troupe of all but Lester and Angela to prioritize Lester’s focus. Robert K. Johnston notes the audience’s vicarious gaze:

When Lester enters the fantasy world of his lust, the bars of the window through which he watched Carolyn manicuring red roses give way to erotic images of rose petals cascading out from Angela’s blouse or filling a steamy bathtub in which his "angel" is bathing. The confines are gone, the photography is lush, and the colors are vivid. We are, in this way, invited to engage viscerally in his dreams, being both attracted to and repelled by what the screen is suggesting. (67)

Angela, like Lolita, is complexly and brilliantly cast, creating conflict in the viewer between artistic rendering versus subject, an abstracted and much lesser manifestation of the conflict felt by the pedophile. However, Humbert Humbert’s continual struggle with his pedophilic tendencies is overstepped by Lester’s unwavering confidence. Angela coyly advances down the court towards Lester, slowly unzips her blouse, opens it, and throws her head back lustfully as an infusion of roses petals floats from her breasts into the air and outwards: "In the first sequence, a point-of-view shot in which Angela morphs from cheerleader to stripper, she is lit with hyperreal intensity and filmed in slow motion, making her an icon who exists only for Lester" (Karlyn 86). Lester sexualizes Angela through this aesthetic that, ultimately, only reveals his own sexual tendencies. Now that Lester has become the artist, Angela’s presence is unnecessary as he subsequently constructs her in her absence. Lester fantasizes about Angela while masturbating at home, dreaming of her bathing in a stark white bathroom where endless rose petals cover her body in the tub. He envisions himself in the dream too where he, fully clothed, squats next to the tub, staring at Angela, and reaches his hand into the bathwater to touch her genitals. Third, Lester fantasizes about Angela lying in her most surreal backdrop where endless rose petals fill the screen and fall onto her from above, only slightly covering her private areas. The development from Angela actually being present to being imaginatively evoked removes her from direct description into pure fabrication and thus positions her as a "mirror" to Lester’s psychology, not an illumination of her own identity. For critic Richard Chachere in Jungian Reflections on Literary and Film Classics: Opus 1 American Beauty, this fabrication is most obvious when Lester confronts Angela about his fantasy and she, confusedly, cannot reciprocate the sexpot figure he constructed:

"Jane is mad at me because I think you are sexy."
Lester grins. "Do you want a sip?" offering her a beer. "So," he adds, "are you going to tell me?"
Now there is the man’s part of it. "Are you going to tell me?" He’s there with a head loaded with fantasies. Right? And he asks, "Are you going to tell me what I want to hear? Are you going to tell me how you know exactly what I’m thinking? Are you going to tell me how you are going to live out my fantasy? Do you get it?" This is Lester’s first encounter with Angela and the first thing he says to her is: "So, are you going to tell me?" The reality is that she is sixteen. Of course she doesn’t get it.
She asks, "What?"
He replies, "You don’t know?"
Here is another big giveaway about a man’s psyche. He is sure that she’s been having those fantasies with him. But she doesn’t have a clue. (11)

By deconstructing Lester’s aesthetic fantasy when she does not "know" how to fulfill it, Angela reveals Lester’s "psyche." Lester is finally demystified when, as he opens Angela’s blouse to expose her breasts (reminiscent of his original fantasy) and presumably have intercourse with her, Angela tells him she is a virgin. The assumption that Angela is promiscuous is prompted by her flirtation, an assumption Nabokov realizes in terms of Lolita’s sordid pornographic history and her subsequent flight from this victimization. The transparency in Angela’s childish flirtation, to the attentive viewer, only serves to further her youthfulness: "The difference between her fantasy and her reality is enormous because throughout the movie, she has been behaving like ‘Miss Sexpot,’ adopting an adolescent pose of worldliness. In reality, she is inexperienced, admitting to Lester- only at the crucial moment- that this is her ‘first time’" (Chachere 10). If Lester is our hero who can "meditate on the nature of beauty and reality" he fails in this perceptivity: "For although finding a child achingly beautiful, being sexually shaken by that beauty, even enshrining it in words and images, is not monstrous, forgetting that she is a child- not a sexual equal, whatever her precocity- is" [her emphasis] (Bordo 127). Lester brings Angela to the point of victimization, then ends his advances and adopts "paternal posturing" by wrapping a blanket around her shoulders, putting his arm around her, and moving her into the kitchen to talk as a caring father figure to a confused youth (McKittrick 6). Karlyn notes the irony in the now-valorized Lester who, she satirically concludes, might have been pardoned if Angela was promiscuous: "He ‘possesses’ his nymphet, and he gets to act like a good father at the same time, wrapping his jacket around Angela. [...] [H]is obsession with Angela causes her no harm and in fact restores her self-worth. Had Angela been as sexually experienced as she let on, Lester might have been forgiven for having sex with her" (Karlyn 80).

Mendes’s aestheticizing and sexualizing of Angela "celebrates [Lester’s] obsession both visually and narratively, creating fantasy sequences about Angela that are among the most beautiful and witty in the film" (Karlyn 76). Like Nabokov’s masterful composition, the film "celebrates" Lester’s fantasies with special lighting and camera effects. Roses emanate from, are drawn to, and enclose Angela as the primary aesthetic device used to fill up the "vacant," or "ordinary" as Angela so laments, child. Angela is unwittingly used as both catalyst and conduit for Lester’s "regressive and self-indulgent" behavior and visions, behavior not generally received as pedophilic: "[Internet] respondents deal with Lester and Angela’s relationship by incorporating it into a more overarching narrative of Lester’s self-development. In this vein, the desire for a teenager is not an end in itself but a means to masculine self-actualization and attaining a more cultivated aesthetic relationship to reality" (McKittrick 7). With Lester as our "artist-hero," Angela becomes a projection of Lester’s desired life and desirous self against a materialistic, limiting climate (Karlyn 81): "needing the idea of the child so badly, we find ourselves sacrificing the bodies of children for it" [his emphasis] (Kincaid 6). Angela is sacrificed as metaphor while Lester is gratified imaginatively, emotionally, and artistically: "You are the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. From the first moment I saw you I’ve wanted you."


Part Five

American Beauty ’s child and imagery reenact Nabokov’s "nymphet," a figure that assumes women’s sexual constructedness. The "tradition" of the sexualized girl as metaphor is historically maintained as Karlyn parallels the inception of the nymphet to its recreation in Angela’s roses:

The nymphet- a highly ambivalent term- is part of a tradition of idealized American femininity rooted in Victorian culture and heightened with the development of the cinema nearly a century ago. Lolita helped put the word ‘nymphet’ in the popular vocabulary of the sexually liberating 1960s. Similarly, Menu Suvari in American Beauty combines all-American girlishness with a disconcerting sexual ripeness suggested by the red rose petals that coyly cover her body in Lester Burnham’s fantasies. (Karlyn 72)

The figure of the sexualized girl becomes a feminist issue when she embodies "idealized American femininity." Because "there is no doubt that American culture eroticizes little girls who act like women, and women who act like girls," the dual nature of feminine sexuality is promoted, a dichotomy originating in the Madonna-whore syndrome (Karlyn 73). With the male’s desire for a publicly virginal yet privately licentious partner, the woman must operate in both realms simultaneously. This objective achieves its final manifestation when men desire the paradigmatic virginal figure- the child. The child, fulfilling the virginal polarity, thus becomes sexualized to satisfy the contrary as well. Combining the historical construction of women with the historical construction of children, the "nymphet" becomes a metaphor equally for the male’s psychology as for the chronology of women’s contradictory parameters. American Beauty reissues Nabokov’s "nymphet:" "American Beauty tells the story of an apparently precocious nymphet and a father figure. [...] In Lester’s fantasies we see the degree to which the nymphet exists as a projection of male desire. [...] American Beauty tells the nymphet’s story as male fantasy: she exists for the man, the power she holds over him is illusory" (Karlyn 71,86-7). "Lester’s obsession with the nymphet" parallels Humbert’s fixation, as both girls’ coquettishness, emptiness, duality, and metaphoric use label them identically.

American Beauty ’s most famous scene of Angela’s cheerleader performance, parodied in cartoons and sitcoms, is drawn directly from Lolita. Out of the multiplicity of scenes in which Humbert constructs his nymphet aesthetically, he admits his favorite event for admiring Lolita is when she plays tennis. Humbert’s gaze is particularly prevalent when Lolita plays tennis because he is seated, immobile, and under the guise of simply watching the game instead of Lolita alone, his intentness interpreted as processing the match. Additionally, it is the second longest description of her in connection with a single motif, after his "nymphet" illustration. Immediately before reflecting on Lolita’s playing style, Humbert opens the chapter with strategy sheets Lolita used to practice stage acting which are meant to prompt her reactions to numerous objects, the last listed paralleling American Beauty: "Knead with your fingers the following imaginary things: a piece of bread, India rubber, a friend’s aching temple, a sample of velvet, a rose petal" (230). Next Humbert mentions other extracurricular activities during which he watches Lolita: "On certain adventurous evenings, in Beardsley, I also had her dance for me with the promise of some treat or gift, and these routing leg-parted leaps of hers were more like those of a football cheerleader" (230). Humbert then declares his "cheerleader" is most gratifying when at tennis: "But all that was nothing, absolutely nothing, to the indescribable itch of rapture that her tennis game produced in me- the teasing delirious feeling of teetering on the very brink of unearthly ardor and splendor" (230). Lester too appears on the "very brink" of ecstasy when observing Angela. Humbert continues, illustrating Lolita’s appearance and castigating himself for not videotaping her: "the white wide little-boy shorts, the slender waist, the apricot midriff, the white breast-kerchief where ribbons went up and encircled her neck [...] Idiot, triple idiot! I could have filmed her! I would have had her now with me, before my eyes, in the projection room of my pain and despair!" (230-1). Nabokov evokes film, with Humbert’s "projection room" read both literally and figuratively as his "projection of male desire." Humbert continues by equating the imagined with the real: "Her tennis was the highest point to which I can imagine a young creature bringing the art of make-believe, although I daresay, for her it was the very geometry of basic reality" (231). Lester’s "art" is merging the "make-believe" of floating rose petals with the "basic reality" of Angela as a youth. Finally, Humbert twice pronounces Lolita’s tennis vision as beautiful: "I remember at the very first game I watched being drenched with an almost painful convulsion of beauty assimilation. [...] It had, that serve of hers, beauty" (231-2). At "the very first game" Lester is confronted with his own "beauty assimilation." In a span of three pages, Nabokov evokes a "rose petal," a "cheerleader," and "film," mixing "make-believe" with "reality" as Humbert remembers the "first game" he "watched," the gaze being paramount. These multiple parallels indicate that American Beauty’s climactic scene is derived from Lolita, just as its girl figure mimics Nabokov’s "nymphet."



The "nymphet" figure’s popularity in contemporary media continues to grow and, at the expense of girls’ innocence, an advertising trend that sexualizes children while desensitizing adults remains remarkably successful. Mirroring American Beauty’s vast acclaim, so too was Lost in Translation well-received and awarded, a film chronicling the attraction between, though never consummated relationship of, the underage Scarlett Johanson and three-times-her-age Bill Murray. Expected out this fall 2005, the film Shopgirl stars Claire Danes as the love interest for the more than twice-her-age Steve Martin. While arguably not young enough to be a "nymphet," interviews with Danes and Martin describe her film character as young and "vulnerable," and their love scenes as "erotic:" " ‘It’s hard to find the right expression for this, but its her beauty that she keeps within, you know?’ Martin said. ‘She has this incredible capacity to be beautiful and plain. She allows you to see right into her in some extraordinary way. She's not frightened to be vulnerable. She has that ability that allows you to put yourself into her" ( Outside a cinematic medium, Britney Spears’s unprecedented musical success for a young female performer placed her on the Forbes list despite a marketing campaign containing sexualized lyrics, video, and print ads of her since age fifteen. Spears’ lyrics continually pair terminology evoking a child, like "girl" and "little girl," with sexual phrases, like "I want to have sex with you," as in her song "Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman." Her imagery repeatedly presents a sexually clad and posed figure in childlike environments and props, such as a Rolling Stones magazine spread with her leaning over a tricycle wearing pink hot pants that say "Baby." Most importantly, Spears’s image is not just of a highly sexualized young girl but of one whose presentation often connotes tones of uncertainty, innocence, and fear. Spears’s lyrics, including "sometimes I hide, sometimes I’m scared of you," her album cover picturing her in shredded garments helplessly seated on a street corner, and her multiple videos filming her from above as she confusedly looks up suggest undercurrents of pedophilic dominance and violence. These more current media depictions lack the artistic complexity and metaphoric male psychology of Nabokov’s masterpiece, instead tracing the gradual acceptance of a victimized portrait and society’s growing identification with her victimizer.

Defining the child through the qualities of duality, malleability, and emptiness ultimately constructs the female child as a sexualized vehicle for the male’s interiority. The nymphet embodies images of male desire that are imaginative, skilled, and artistic. Conversely, the nymphet reveals a limiting mindset that is regressive, self-indulgent, and even violent. Although "The child is more than our little clay pot; he is our mirror," reciprocal meaning should not be confused with reciprocal power. Pedophilic sketches and acts display the most extreme use of power, artistic and otherwise. When the male is not positioned for criticism, the art’s beauty will desensitize and distract. Therefore, "Humbert Humbert’s desire for Lolita is acknowledged as a perversion" and "American Beauty’s use of the incest motif directs audience sympathy toward the male hero as victim" (Karlyn 81). Evoking larger feminist concerns over the male’s displacement of women’s sexuality and the division of the female self, the sexualized female child speaks to greater social tendencies to problematize feminine agency and sexuality. In its most extreme form, the sexualized girl as "nymphet" is a "monstrous" artistic and social manifestation that leaves us in a paradoxical position where we must criticize the act, yet herald the art (Nabokov 32).

© Tracy Wendt Lemaster (W. Birmingham, USA)


American Beauty . Dir Sam Mendes. Perf. Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Mena Suvari. DreamWorks Pictures. 1999.

Bordo, Susan. "The Moral Content of Nabokov’s Lolita." Aesthetic Subjects. Matthews, Pamela R. and David McWhirter, eds. University of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis, 2003.

Chachere, Richard. Jungian Reflections on Literary and Film Classics: Opus I American Beauty. Cypremort Point Press: Lafayette, 2003.

Johnston, Robert K. Useless Beauty: Ecclesiastes through the Lens of Contemporary Film. Baker Academic: Michigan, 2004.

Karlyn, Kathleen Rowe. "Too Close for Comfort: American Beauty and the Incest Motif." Cinema Journal . Vol. 44 No.1, Fall 2004.

Kincaid, James R. Child-Loving.The Erotic Child and Victorian Culture. Routledge: New York, 1992.

Lakoff, George and Mark Johnson. Metaphors We Live By. University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 1980.

McKittrick, Casey. "I Laughed and Cringed at the Same Time: Shaping Pedophilic Discourse Around American Beauty and Happiness." The Velvet Light Trap. Number 47, Spring 2001.

Mitchell, William. Rescue the Children or, Twelve Years Dealing with Neglected Girls and Boys. William Isbrister, 1886.

Nabokov, Vladimir. Lolita. Vintage International: New York, 1997.

2.2. Models of Victimization in Contemporary Cultures

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For quotation purposes:
Tracy Wendt Lemaster (W. Birmingham, USA): The Nymphet as Consequence in Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita and Sam Mendes’s American Beauty. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 16/2005. WWW:

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