Young America and Old Europe in Nabokov's Lolita
In Lolita's afterword, Nabokov describes two opposing views of the book, displayed by two readers. One felt that Lolita was a tale of " 'Old Europe debauching young America,'" while another saw it as " 'Young America debauching old Europe'"(p. 314). The question is, who or what exactly represents young America and old Europe? In the context of the book, young Dolores Haze is the embodiment of young America and its culture, while Humbert Humbert represents the older, refined European culture. Just who is debauching whom is another question entirely.
What exactly is young America? During the post-war period in which Lolita takes place, young America was a new culture of consumers - materialistic, spoiled, obsessed with objects. These are teenagers who are obsessed with movies, soda fountains, and roller rinks. To a European like Humbert, their culture is shallow. Thoughts of Europe evoke images of cathedrals, fine art, elegant cuisine. Compared to this, American culture seems cheap and unsophisticated. Culture would prove to be one of the greatest differences between Dolores and Humbert - other than that most important difference in age.
Dolly's childish love for Humbert began in the...
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