“This is where we start.”

—Lolita to Humbert Humbert in Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita

We get our definition of a nymphet, and even our usage of the word, from that most famous pedophile Humbert Humbert who, in Nabokov’s Lolita, tells himself that “it was all a question of attitude… there was really nothing wrong in being moved to distraction by girl-children.” He goes on to remind the reader that  “Rahab[1] was a harlot at ten years of age,” and that in “Lepcha[2] old men of eighty copulate with girls of eight, and nobody minds.” He continues: “…Dante fell madly in love with his Beatrice when she was nine, a sparkling girleen, painted and lovely, and bejeweled, in a crimson frock… And when Petrarch fell madly in love with his Laureen, she was a fair-haired nymphet of twelve, running in the wind, in the pollen and dust, a flower in flight…”  Humbert tells us that “[b]etween the age limits of nine and fourteen there occur 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.'”  Fabulous monsters, depraved little demons—hear poor old Humbert cry, “It was she who seduced me.”

Whether we take Humbert at his word on this depends on how we read the book, or watch the films that have been made of it. Nabokov himself was, somewhat crankily, insistent about his own view of the morality of Humbert’s sense of his relationship with his young beloved. [3]  “I  do  not  give  a damn  for  public morals, in America or elsewhere, ” he says, and then describes Humbert Humbert as “a vain and cruel wretch who manages to appear ‘touching.'” Lolita is, in its way, another Red Riding Hood story, this time told from the point of view of the wolf, and although Nabokov himself seems to have meant for Humbert Humbert’s narrative to be unreliable, the subsequent tellings of the story—in the two films that were made of it, in a recent novelistic incarnation called Lo’s Diary by Pia Pera, which gives us Lolita’s side of things, and even in the tabloid tales of Amy Fisher, the 16-year-old “Long Island Lolita” who, as we shall see, ended her long affair with 35-year-old Joey Buttafuco by shooting his wife in the head—have gradually lost that irony and so make the nymphet an accomplice to her own ruin. In the modern idiom Lolita is no longer the innocent victim of pedophilic rape—now her name has become synonymous with young slut and she’s just another underage “easy lay.”

13-year-old Sue Lyon in Stanley Kubrick's "Lolita," 1962

15-year-old Dominique Swain looking sultry in Adrian Lyne's "Lolita," 1997

[Note the braids—just like Dorothy.]

Nabokov’s first rendering of the story of an older man who is smitten by a young girl was what he calls in his Author’s Note “the first little throb of Lolita,” a novel written in Paris in 1939, whose story, he explains, was prompted by a newspaper item about an ape in the Jardin des Plantes who, after months of training by a scientist, produced the first drawing ever charcoaled by an animal. Its subject? The bars of its cage.[4]

The Enchanter (Volshebnik), which was written in the author’s native Russian and translated by his son Dmitri for publication in the United States in 1986, is described in its prelude as “the story of an outwardly respectable man and his fatal obsession with certain pubescent girls whose coltish grace and subconscious coquetry reveal, to his mind, a special bud on the verge of bloom.” Note the word “subconscious.” And the phrase, “to his mind.” Unlike the Lolita we think we know, this girl is a complete innocent, doing nothing to deliberately attract the attention of her seducer to what he perceives to be her intrinsic sexuality.

The name of the middle-aged protagonist in The Enchanter is Arthur, and like Humbert Humbert, he is a European. The girl is French, but she is unnamed, acting as a symbol, an object of his desire and not a person with needs of her own, whether innate or projected, as Lolita would become. There would seem to be no textual connection to the artistic ape that Nabokov says inspired him to write the novel, except in the most abstract and metaphorical sense—where Arthur maybe sees his sexual inclination caged by its forbidden circumstances and the social taboos that prevent him from satisfying his lust for the girl, even if she wanted to indulge it, too.

Who, after all, is the eponymous enchanter? Picking this book up after reading Lolita and watching the films that were made of that novel, you would think that it must be the girl. But no. It is Arthur who enchants the girl, not the other way around. This girl is not a charmer, she is a child, a princess sheltered from the world, kept ignorant and innocent so, he hopes, she won’t know that what this man is doing to her is wrong and will have no reason to tell anybody else about it either. It is her sexual innocence that this magician means to keep entranced, until he can take it from her himself.

“…and yet, for what could one possibly reproach the enchanter?… He knew he would make no attempt on her virginity in the tightest and pinkest sense of the term until the evolution of their caresses had ascended a certain invisible step. He would hold back until that morning when, still laughing, she would hearken to her own responsiveness and, growing mute, demand that the search for the hidden musical string be made jointly.” (p. 74)

 Arthur meets his beloved when he comes to the house to buy furniture from her widowed mother and finds her in her room, sitting on the bed, rocking back and forth with her arms wrapped around her knees in a pose that is almost fetal until it turns sexual, when at her mother’s command she gets up and he is given a tantalizing glimpse of “the soft skin of her underside and the tiny wedge of her taut panties…”  This is no flirty Lolita, and Arthur is not a clever Humbert. She is a lamb; he is a wolf. She is a child and he is a pedophile, given to us in the third person, without the construct of a first person narrative to pull the wool over our eyes and try to make us doubt just who is enchanting whom.

In one of the first scenes between them, the girl is standing at the window of her bedroom when Arthur comes in.

“He moved closer and closer… closer to the little concavity of her spine, to the gathers at her waist, to the lozenge-shaped checks of the cloth whose texture he could already palpate from seven feet away, to the firm, light-blue veins above the edge of her knee-high stockings, to the whiteness of her neck sheeny from the sidewise light next to her brown curls, which received another vigorous toss (seven-eighths habit, one little eighth flirtatiousness).” (p. 51)

If she is flirting with him, then, it’s not much, and we can guess that if she were more sophisticated than she is, then all the pleasure of his conquest would be gone. He tells her to press her elbows against her sides to see if he can lift her but their playful experiment is interrupted by the appearance of the mother and he backs off, embarrassed but not ashamed, with “still an aching, frustrated, gnawing weakness in his calves.”

He compares the girl to her mother—”Those broad bones, those multiple caverns, the bulky velvet, the formless anklebones. The repulsively listing conformation of her ponderous pelvis, not to mention the rancid emanations of her wilted skin.”(p. 55)—who is sick with some undefined disease of the internal organs, which we guess has something to do with that “massive grouchy organ,” her uterus. (p. 59)  There’s nothing more disgusting than a woman of a certain age, it seems.

He marries the old bag anyway, but she soon goes into the hospital. The girl has been sent away to live with a friend, so Arthur sets out to get her and bring her home to her mother’s side before the woman dies.

He thinks, “…by nightfall we’ll be back here, the two of us, in utter seclusion, the little thing will be tired and sleepy, get your clothes off quick, I’ll rock you to sleep—that’s all, just cozy-cuddling… the stillness, her naked clavicles, the little straps, the buttons in the back, the foxlike silk between her shoulder blades, her sleepy yawns, her hot armpit, her legs, her tenderness…” (p. 65)   And so it is that with the mother dead and “the lone wolf…getting ready to don Granny’s nightcap,” it is this unprotected girl’s own innocence that puts her in harm’s way, as she doesn’t know any better than to trust the man to whose lust she is now prey.

She’s sleepy, he fondles her, kisses her, but they are interrupted by an old man who pounds on the door and tells him that there is a policewoman waiting for him downstairs. He is sure he’s been caught, but it turns out to be a misunderstanding and in an almost comically Freudian turn he can’t find his way back to the child again. When, after wandering a labyrinth of twists and turns, false starts and dead ends, he does finally get to the right door, she is already in bed, in her bathrobe, supine on the bed, and lost in what he calls an “enchanted slumber.” He undresses himself and lies down next to her. He studies her for a moment, as if she were a painting, a “priceless original: sleepy girl, oil.”

He strokes her legs “with his fingertips, trembling and casting sidelong looks at the plump promontory, with its brand-new downiness, which, independently but with a familial parallel, embodied a concentrated echo of something about her lips and cheeks… and there they were those strange, sightless little breasts, swollen with what seemed two tender abcesses…”  This seems to be another rendering of Iris Steenma’s “two young doves hiding from a winter wind.”

“Then, starting little by little to cast his spell, he began passing his magic wand above her body almost touching the skin, torturing himself with her attraction, her visible proximity, the fantastic confrontation permitted by the slumber of this naked girl, whom he was measuring, as it were, with an enchanted yardstick…”

Just as he ejaculates, she awakens and seeing what he’s doing, she rolls away from him, shrieking. He tries to tell her that it’s nothing, just a game. But she won’t stop screaming. He puts on a raincoat (traditional perv-wear) and makes a break for it, downstairs, outside, and into the street, where he’s run over by a truck and killed. The end. The girl has not been physically violated—though she may be a bit more worldly now—and the pedophile is dead.

According to Dmitri Nabokov’s notes at the end of the American edition of this book, The Enchanter is a “study of madness seen through the madman’s mind.” It is the story of the man, not the girl. She is, as Dmitri says, “an instrument for his (the man’s) gratification.”

Not so Lolitanow not only does the girl have a name, she also gets top billing this time around, and she is truly at the center of Humbert’s story, which is less about himself than it is about her. Rather, it is about his telling of her. And, it turns out, here the telling is as, if not more, important than what gets told. Now we really are seeing madness through the madman’s mind, as he narrates the events in the first person, and his is the only voice we hear.

 ∞

The story that Humbert tells us begins with his recollection of adolescent love, for 14-year-old Annabelle who died of tuberculosis after their young summer of sex. Now he’s a much older professor, a boarder in the widowed Charlotte Haze’s house, and infatuated with her daughter, 12-year-old Delores (Lolita). The girl gets packed off to camp, Humbert marries Charlotte, Charlotte reads his diary—in which he confesses both his love for the beautiful daughter and his contempt for the old cow of a mom—and bolts into the street, where a car runs her down. Charlotte’s death leaves Humbert free to pursue his passion—he picks Lolita up at camp and for the next year they travel around the country together as lovers before settling down in a college town as an apparently respectable step-father and -daughter. Eventually Lolita begins to grow up—as girls will—and want a life of her own, so she runs off with an even more perverse middle-aged playwright, Clare Quilty. Straight from the frying pan, into the fire. Humbert spends several years trying to track her down until finally they meet again, in Alaska (as far away as you can get?) where she has married a simple (and deaf!) young man whose child she is carrying. Altogether transformed, this Dolly Schiller is no longer Lolita Haze. She tells Humbert of her time with Quilty—who wanted to use her for pornography—and how she managed to get away from him. Humbert writes her a check—very fatherly now, portrait of a patriarch to this new family—and then sets off to find the playwright, whom he guns down in a retributive rage—pretty much the same way that Travis Bickel went after Sport to avenge the underage Iris. As for Lolita, she dies a few months later, giving birth to a stillborn daughter. And Humbert is in jail, writing this story, pleading his case to us—”ladies and gentlemen of the jury”—by way of the narrative that is the novel we have read.

It’s important to note—when we start looking at the films that were made of the book to see what the figure of Lolita has come to mean to us in our culture now—that when Nabokov’s Humbert tells us that it was she who seduced him and not the other way around, we don’t take his word for it. He is, as Nabokov himself said, a vain and  cruel man, a narcissist who projects his own desires onto an otherwise innocent Lolita, until she has been ruined and there is nothing left for her but to grow from a girl into a woman and, as a woman, die. That the book was reviled as obscene and banned as pornography when it first appeared in France in 1955 only goes to show how from the very start there were readers who didn’t get the joke and with all sanctimonious seriousness took old HH at his word, rising up to defend the purities of girlhood from degradation by the poetic fantasies of dirty old men.

Movie poster for "Lolita," 1962

Stanley Kubrick’s cinematic rendering of Nabokov’s book fades in on the luxurious folds of hanging drapes, and then a feminine bare foot appears, with the name “Lolita” superimposed along its instep. A male hand cradles the foot in one hand and lovingly brushes on bright nail enamel, slipping wads of soft white cotton between the pretty toes. Over this, the titles roll:  James Mason as Humbert Humbert, Shelley Winters as Charlotte Haze, Peter Sellers as Clare Quilty, and introducing Sue Lyon as Lolita. We might find it interesting to observe that the credit for the screenplay goes to Nabokov himself, led to believe that maybe this gives the film’s depiction of the girl more credence than if she had been developed for the screen by another writer, mere visitor to the book. Such an assumption would be wrong, though, because it turns out that the sensibilities of the film belong not to the author, but to Kubrick himself. Legend has it that Nabokov at first rejected Kubrick’s offer to adapt his novel into a movie, but after he dreamed that he was reading the screenplay he changed his mind. His script came in at 400 pages, almost four times longer than is usual—figuring one minute of screen time per page, two-hour movies are made from scripts of 120 pages or less. Even his edited version proved unsatisfactory to Kubrick, who, with producer James Harris, rewrote the script, leaving, by Nabokov’s own estimate, only about twenty percent of the original adaptation. And so if the Lolita of the book has been misrepresented on the screen, maybe this is why.

In the early 1960’s, it seemed unlikely that a novel featuring a pedophile and his lust for a girl could be made into a successful film at all, to the point that when it was released in 1962, “Life Magazine” exclaimed on its cover: “Yes, they did it: Lolita IS a movie!”  After all, the book had been banned in France, and it wasn’t published in its full form in the United States or the United Kingdom until 1952. Maybe it was out of respect for those sensibilities that Lolita’s age was raised from twelve to fourteen in the film.

After the pedicure, the story begins, with a shot of a station wagon crawling through fog up to an old and ruined gothic mansion—its decadence is reminiscent of Hearst’s San Simeon, with its marble statues and big brass candlesticks and heavy drapes. Quilty, bleary-eyed and drunk, tries to keep his enemy at bay by distracting him with conversation and a crazy game of ping pong. But Humbert is intent upon his mission to avenge his beloved little girl, and finally he moves in on his prey, stalking him up the stairs, then shooting him down like a dog.

The film then flashes back to “four years earlier,” and this is when we get Humbert’s somewhat detached voice-over—”Having recently arrived in America where so many Europeans have found a haven before, I decided to spend a peaceful summer in the attractive resort town of Ramsdale, New Hampshire.”—that brings us to the scene where, after a disheartening tour of his new digs with the voluble and voluptuous Charlotte, he first encounters the love of his life.

She is lolling on the grass in her mother’s garden, wearing a two-piece bathing suit, broad-brimmed straw hat, and glamorous movie star sunglassess.[5]  She is reading a fan magazine, posed like a calendar girl, lying prone on her elbows, back arched, one knee bent, bare foot dangling in the air. The film gives us no explanation for Humbert’s infatuation, except for Lolita’s natural allure—he just seems to lust after her because she is a young girl and not because of any nostalgia that he has for his adolescent love of another nymphet, Annabelle, who is not mentioned here. The implication is that his desire for Lolita is inspired by her, rather than by something within himself, as it is in the book.

When next we see them together, they are at the drive-in, watching a horror film, and he is flanked by the mother and her daughter, who, to his delight, grips his hand in a kind of thrilled fear.

As in the book, Lolita gets sent off to camp, Humbert marries Charlotte, and Charlotte is run over by a car. The new but not grieving widower goes to fetch his step-daughter, intending to get her alone for a night or two at a nearby inn—aptly named The Enchanted Hunters—where he means to enchant her and make her his own. Turns out though, it’s she who seduces him, the next morning, when she wakes up.

“I learned some real good games in camp,” Lolita says. “One in particular was fun.” She tells him that she played it with a boy named Charlie. He asks her to describe it to him, and she coyly whispers the rules in his ear, then giggles. Humbert looks worried, so she whispers a few more words, then asks, “You mean you never played that game when you were a kid?” When he shakes his head, she smiles—”All righty then…”—and the screen discreetly fades to black. She will show him how it’s done.

It’s only later, after they’ve had sex and are on the road again—she stinging and sore from the morning’s romp—that Humbert reveals the truth of the situation to Lolita, that her mother is dead and now he is all she has. And with that knowledge, everything is changed—Lolita is doomed. She cries and cries, not, we guess, for the mother she so despised, but for herself, and for the girlhood she has lost.

By the end of this film, old Humbert is behaving toward Lolita like an over-protective father, and likely that’s because we don’t get to see the sex that they’ve been engaging in. He doesn’t want her to be with boys. He accuses her of being secretive, sneaking out, making phone calls to persons unknown. He goes crazy when he sees her talking to a man at a gas station. His paranoia is in full bloom. But Lolita is quick to explain and deny. She is reasonable and cool, wide-eyed and innocent, flirtatious even, as she comes up with such believable excuses that it’s hard to know whether or not she really is telling the truth about where she’s been and what she’s done and with whom.

As with most runaways, when Lolita abandons Humbert Humbert for Clare Quilty, she is running away from an intolerable situation, not toward something else that she wants.

Their last scene alone together comes several years later, at her home in the Pacific Northwest where she lives with her deaf husband and is carrying his child. That the husband is damaged only makes her marriage to him seem even more pathetic and banal. She has told Humbert what happened when she left him, how she’d been conniving with Quilty all along, and how she came to be here. He responds by making a final plea to rescue her from this sordid life, to take her back to their own more glamorous and passionate world of the past. Over a soundtrack of melancholy piano music, he begs her to come with him. She thinks he wants to take her to a hotel again. He explains, she’s got it all wrong. “I want you to leave your husband and this awful house,” he says. “I want you to live with me and die with me, and everything with me.” She thinks he’s crazy, they can’t go back and start all over again, it’s too late, she’s going to have a baby in three months, and she can’t abandon her husband, because he needs her. Humbert sobs uncontrollably, then gives her the money that she has asked him for, and more. True to fatherly form, he is generous, handing over way more than she expected, more than she even needs, almost $13,000 in cash and check and mortgage papers. Lolita is at once astonished and concerned. “Oh, come on now,” she tells him, “don’t cry. Try to understand. I’m sorry I cheated so much, but I guess that’s just the way things are.” It’s as if she is the one who has ruined him.

The film ends where it began, at the mansion, with Humbert approaching in the fog. An epilogue rolls up the screen:  Humbert Humbert died of coronary thrombosis while in prison awaiting trial for the murder of Clare Quilty. There is no indication that she died in childbirth. As far as we can tell, this Dolly Schiller, now a woman, a cow like her mother, lives on.

 ∞

Adrian Lynne’s film stars Jeremy Irons as the infatuated Humbert, Frank Langella as corrupt Quilty, and 16-year-old Dominique Swain as Lolita. Again this time the story is told in flashback, but here the actual murder is saved for the end, so we’re not sure who exactly it is that’s been shot. Might be the girl, as Humbert twiddles a woman’s hairpin with his bloodied thumb. Might even be Humbert himself, as his car weaves and lurches drunkenly back and forth across the narrow country road. Irons’s slightly lisping voice-over rides upon a lugubrious score, reciting the famous first paragraph of the book, but picking up none of the playful humor in the words: “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul.” We hear no irony here, only an expression of this man’s violent love for a girl.

What had been cut from the script in the Kubrick’s film is back in place again here, and that’s the back story of Humbert’s first youthful obsession with Annabelle Leigh. But she is no girleen. She’s mature, full-breasted (built something like Judy Garland’s Dorothy, but dressed in a revealing bathing suit instead of a demure pinafore, without the wrappings to flatten her chest down), more a woman than a nymphet, especially next to the adolescent Humbert, who comes off as boyish and awkward in her arms.

When Hummie shows up to fetch his darling from camp (after her mother’s unfortunate accident and his lucky break) Lolita has him pull the car over to the side of the road as she throws herself upon him, positions herself in his lap, facing him, and says, “I guess I’m going to have to show you everything.” Once again, here she is the one who initiates the sex between them, and he seems only pleasantly surprised. It’s Quilty who is the real pedophile, the real pervert in this film—pornographer and pimp whose sexual preferences are made to seem deliberately vague, deviant and debauched.

The film follows the plot of the novel closely—but once again the sex scenes between Lolita and Humbert are muted or altogether off-screen, assumed and implied. As with Kubrick’s version, the masturbation scene that comes near the beginning of the book—before she even goes off to camp—and initiates the sex that will be the foundation of their relationship, is left out altogether. Lolita flirts with Hummie, she seems to enjoy the sex that she has with him, she seems, even, to love him in a way.

At the end of the film, when he finally catches up with her, Dolly Schiller calls her Humbert “Dad.” She is very visibly with child, a stereotypical housewife, barefoot and pregnant, no longer an irresistible girl. But he loves her, he says. And he would willingly spend the rest of his life with her, even when she is an old woman. Yet, after he’s given her the money, when he is about to drive away, he looks at her standing on her front porch and has a dreamy vision of her as she was, when she was still his nymphet. He hears the cries of children at play and mourns the absence of Lolita’s voice from that chorus. And yet, the girl that he seems to be missing is not the one he met in the garden of her mother’s house—it’s the one who was his lover, the one who gave him everything she had to give, including her girlhood itself. It’s almost as if the innocence that is lost to her now and that Humbert longs to have again was not sexual, but ideological. It was there in her relationship with him, corrupted by Quilty, lost when she woke up from the dream of her life with Humbert to know that it was wrong, normalized their relationship into one of daughter and dad, and found a more squalid and experienced reality as a wife and a mother-to-be.

When Humbert kills Quilty at the end, he is again a vengeful father, crying melodramatically as he fires: “You cheated me out of my redemption! You have to die!”  Lolita’s story is now less about the sexual love that a vain man has for a young girl than about the incestuous relations of a beloved daughter and her doting dad.

“Hummie is practically mine. I know what it takes with men.”

—Lolita in Lo’s Diary by Pia Pera

In these two films that were made of Nabokov’s novel—films that are, as usual, more seen than the book is read—it is the irony of Humbert’s voice has necessarily been lost. I say necessarily because the form of film can’t really allow for the self-distortion and delusion of a first person point of view without resorting to cinematic tricks. True, there is a first person voice-over that sets up both films in their beginnings, and yet we still don’t (can’t?) get or sustain the construct that what we are seeing has been misrepresented by the self-serving perceptions and posturing of the owner of that voice-over. Once he stops talking everything we see comes to us through the eye of the camera, which can’t help but be objective in showing us what’s what. What this means is that when, in Kubrick’s film, Lolita explains to Humbert about the sexy game she played with her friends at camp and tells him she is going to have to show him how to play it with her himself, we believe that this is how it was, that he learned from her and not the other way around. As when, in the Adrian Lynne film, Lolita jumps into Humbert’s arms, wraps her legs around his waist, and kisses him full on the mouth in her farewell before she goes away to camp, we take the camera’s word for it that that’s what really happened and not just what Humbert himself would like for us to think is how it was. In the novel, it seems, Humbert Humbert is still an enchanter, but here the enchanted is not Lolita, it’s the readers who fell under his spell, believed what he says is true about who did what to whom, and then went on to turn the girl into a nymphet who is by her very nature depraved. In this view, perpetuated by the films and by other pop culture versions of the same material—including the true story of Amy Fisher’s affair with Joey Buttofuoco—no matter how wrong it may have been for old Humbert to take advantage, still this Lolita did ask for what she got and gave as good right back.


[1] In Rabbinical literature, Rahab was one of the most beautiful women in the world, the mere mention of her name exciting inordinate desire. In the Talmudic literature, it is accepted that Rahab was a harlot. She was ten years old when the Israelites came out of Egypt, and she pursued her calling during the forty years that the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness. There was not a prince nor a ruler that had not had relations with her; and she was therefore well informed of what was going on outside Jericho. She gave shelter to a pair of spies sent by Joshua to scout out the land, with the result that she and her family were spared during the conquest of Jericho by the Israelites.

[2] Aboriginal inhabitants of the Kingdom of Sikkim, now a part of India wedged between Nepal and Bhutan.

[3] George Plimpton interviewed Nabokov in the “Paris Review” in 1967, after he’d written the film script for the movie that Stanley Kubrick made of the novel.

[4] Recently it’s been argued (by German scholar Michael Marr in the April 2, 2004 issue of London’s “Times Literary Supplement”) that the impulse for the story in fact came from an 18-page short story called “Lolita” that appeared in 1916 under a pseudonym in an obscure, almost forgotten, out-of-print German short-story collection, “Die Verfluchte Gioconda.” Others have suggested that the scandalous marriage of 35-year-old Charlie Chaplin to 16-year-old Lita Grey (nee Lillita McMurray and renamed by Chaplin when, at 12, she was cast in his classic “The Kid”) may have been the original reference point for Nabokov’s novel, with Humbert Humbert modeled on the actor who was the Little Tramp. Chaplin married Lita in Mexico when she was already pregnant with his child and facing him with a potential charge of statutory rape. He reportedly told friends at the time, “Well, it’s better than the penitentiary.”

[5] A big deal is also made of Iris’s sunglasses in “Taxi Driver.” When she first appears in the script she’s wearing large blue-tinted sunglasses, and she has them on again when Travis finds her on the street before their encounter in her room, where she “sits on the edge of the bed and removes her hat and coat… [then] takes off her blue-tinted sunglasses—her last defense.” Then at breakfast with him the next day she “removes her large blue-tinted sunglasses and fishes through her bag for another pair,” telling him, “I got so many sunglasses. I couldn’t live without my shades, man. I must have twelve pair of shades.” She finds a pink-tinted pair and puts those on. When Travis tells her that if she doesn’t want to go home, she should at least go somewhere, even a commune, anyplace would be better than here, she digs yet another pair out of her purse and puts them on. ” She likes these better, she decides.” We get the idea that for all her tough talk and bravado she really is just a girl, trying on her self for size.