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A Postmodern Cultural Perspective in Lolita and a Streetcar Named Desire

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A postmodern cultural perspective in Lolita and A Streetcar Named Desire

Postmodernism has emerged as a reaction to modernism thoughts and “well-established modernist systems”. (Wikipedia, 2005) Specific to Nabokov’s Lolita and Williams’ Streetcar Named Desire is the idea that both of the novels are written under the view of postmodernism as a cultural movement and that they are broadly defined as the condition of Western society especially after World War II (period in which the novel were written; 1947 for Streetcar and 1955 for Lolita).

While modernists viewed people as autonomous (capable of independent rational thought), postmodernists see human identity and thinking as the product of culture. (Xenos Christian Fellowship, 2005). The postmodern main assumption here is that culture and society create individuals as well as all their thoughts and attitudes. Lolita and A Streetcar Named Desire both treat of Cultural Relativism, which is the view that each culture has it's own truths that are relevant to them, but not relevant to other cultures. (Wikipedia, 2005)

Economic changes, immigration, capitalism expansion, development of mass and popular culture, which result of the post-war period will also play a great role in defining cultural perspectives in Nabokov and Williams’ stories and characters but also in defining the American culture itself. The main characters serve as archetypes of different cultures and symbolizes the integration of Europe in the the United States and a turn in the evolution and the definition of American culture itself.

A Streetcar Named Desire portrays the decline of Blache’s culture and the subsequent rise of Stanley’s one. Blanche Dubois embodies Old Southern America values, defined by the Old South culture. The term originally came into use after the American Civil War. (Wikipedia, 2005) Many southern whites used it with nostalgia to represent the memories of a time of prosperity, social order, "gracious living" and of white supremacy It is also a reference to the past times of slavery and the plantation economy. Stanley Kowalski, embodies a rising member of the industrial immigrant class but also the “devil” of the cold war period which opposed Western and Eastern countries located on the other side of the Iron Curtain, such as Poland (which is Stanley’s native land). He’s the personification of modern practicality, crudeness and brutality.

In Lolita, Humbert symbolizes the Old and erudite Europe, “the bespectated , round-backed Herr Humbert coming with his Central-European trunks to gather dust in his corner behind a heap of old books.” (Lolita, p56) He is born in Paris with “a salad of racial genes: a Swiss citizen, of mixed French and Austrian descent, with a dash of the Danube in his veins (Lolita, p.9), who immigrates in New York (as a reference to the American dream). His arrival symbolizes is encounter with US captilalistic culture “ In New York I eagerly accepted the soft job fate offered me: it consisted mainly of thinking up and editing perfume ads” (Lolita, p.32). But quickly, he will symbolize the European Influence when he will “complete my comparative history of French literature for English-speaking students (Lolita, p.32)

Lolita portrays the young, fast-growing America, symbol of Humbert’s dream, symbol of American dream.

The Culture clash common to both novels creates a similar tension and an instable environment between the

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