Date of Award

Winter 11-20-2020


Sigmund Freud established psychoanalysis as an attempt to uncover the inner mechanics of the human mind and treat mental neuroses. With this theory, Freud asserts that intrapsychic tensions between the conscious and unconscious can produce psychological issues. For instance, Freud addresses two types of emotional responses to loss in “Mourning and Melancholia.” In this essay, Freud states that mourning is a normal, conscious reaction to the libido’s forced detachment from a loved object. Conversely, Freud classifies melancholia as the extreme anguish over a lost ideal deeply buried in the unconscious; without an object-cathexis, the newly freed libido forms an identification between the ego and the lost object, irrevocably altering the ego. As a result, melancholy’s features include violent reactions like “profoundly painful dejection, abrogation of interest in the outside world, loss of the capacity to love, inhibition of all activity, and a lowering of the self-regarding feelings to a degree that finds utterance in self-reproaches and self-revilings, and culminates in a delusional expectation of punishment” (153). Most importantly, Freud notes that if a melancholic chooses to abandon the object in favor of ambivalence, the “new substitute-object” transforms into an outlet for retaliation (162). Therefore, the griever obtains pleasurable fulfilment from compulsive, sadistic torment on the self (162). These responses reveal an important theme for grieving individuals: intense mental trauma sparks internal fragmentation and undermines the sufferer’s original identity. When applied to literature, psychoanalysis allows writers and critics alike to navigate the chasms of the mind, finding new and meaningful ways to examine life and understand artistic expression. Many feminist writers, however, allege that psychoanalysis affixes women into a definitive identity and, as a result, fails to account for women’s mental freedom from male subjectivity. Specifically, psychoanalytic feminism postulates that men intrinsically subjugate women based on their perceived inferiority and on compulsive urges located deep within the male unconscious. Helene Cixous’s play, Portrait of Dora, fashions a feminist outlook on Freudian theory to “a hysteric performative space which is subversive of inner/outer distinctions, and [..] no longer guarantees stability nor production of gender and identity” (Brown 627). Psychoanalytic feminists such as Cixous question psychoanalysis and its lack of female autonomy, instead calling for a stage in which “gender and identity” are not intertwined by the mind (Brown 627). In my thesis, I will explore Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita through a with a psychoanalytic feminist lens because, like many of Nabokov’s novels, incorporates mental anguish and its impact on the characters’ psyches in relation to the fetishization of past injuries, which have left deep scars on their identities. The persistence of trauma undulates onto the Lolita to the point where it absorbs her self-hood, alienating her from her own original self. However, with a feminist analysis, the reader can recover Lolita’s silent, subjugated voice and subvert the dominant discourse of the text by framing this novel alongside Cixous’s works and unearthing Lolita within her predator’s narrative.


Charmion Gustke

Committee Member 1

Sarah Blomeley

Committee Member 2

Amy Hodges Hamilton


English, Department of


Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, College of

Document Type



Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Level


Degree Grantor

Belmont University