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This presentation will focus on the ideas of agency and motivation within the narratives of the novel Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, and the film American Beauty by Alan Ball.

A narrator’s motivation within a novel or film is one that can be explored through the idea of agency. Nabokov’s “Lolita” is narrated by the character named Humbert Humbert, a man in his mid-thirties who gets deeply involved with the young preteen named Dolores Haze. Humbert recounts his experiences with Dolores as if it were a confession in the novel, addressing the readers as a jury. Similarly. Alan Ball’s film, “American Beauty” is narrated by Lester Burnham, a middle-aged man growing tired of a typical suburban life that he takes ultimate control of once he meets his teenage daughter’s friend, Angela. In what most would call a “mid-life crisis”, Lester begins to pursue who he wants to be, and what he truly wants in life, including the pursuit of Angela. Both of these narrators are telling their stories from the end of their lives- Lester from the afterlife, and Humbert from a prison cell. As agents, these narrators are choosing to tell their stories- which makes us as the reader/audience ask, what is their motivation? Agency relates to intention, each of these narrators have something that they’re trying to achieve by choosing to tell their stories. While Lester’s message in “American Beauty” is easier to comprehend and speculate, Humbert’s intentions by sharing his story is more difficult to approach. This presentation will focus on the complexity of the narrator’s use of agency and the motivation behind it all.


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  • Subject
    • English

  • Institution
    • Oconee

  • Event location
    • SRC 522

  • Event date
    • 2 April 2015

  • Date submitted

    18 July 2022

  • Additional information
    • Acknowledgements:

      Matthew Horton