Twilight, Chapter 1: First Sight
I've banged on a bit about the setting, or lack thereof, in Twilight so far, and I promised myself I wouldn't keep griping about it, but you know what they say about best laid plans. I started this post this morning all set to talk about cheating in Twilight and how utterly fascinating and brilliant my thoughts on the subject matter are. But when I sat down to start the post, I had this momentary stab of utter panic when I realized that I don't remember what month it is right now in Twilight - I don't even know in a general sense like winter or spring. I've got no frame of reference at the moment and it's incredibly disorienting - how can I claim to deconstruct a text when I'm not even paying enough attention to know what month it is?
My first thought was that it must be spring - maybe March or April - because Bella talked about how green everything was on the way home from the airport, and of course it was raining at the time. But then I remembered that just a little later on in the novel, there's a bit of snowfall at school, which would point to it still being winter - January or February, maybe. I definitely remember having the recollection that the school year has already started at Forks High School, and that this "first day" for Bella isn't a first day of school for anyone else. But I couldn't remember how far along in the school year we are, and since we're only 14 pages in, I figured it wouldn't be too hard for me to backtrack and find out. You can therefore imagine how utterly flummoxed and defeated I felt when I re-read the first 14 pages only to still have no idea when it is right now in Twilight-time.
At this point, I turned to the internet for help. I managed to get a Google hit from "twilight bella starts in what month?" and got this from Twilight Saga Answers:
In what month does Bella start Forks School?
In the movie version - it's March.
In the novel version - it's January.
Well, that's settled, January it is then. Only I generally always check at least one more Google result, just in case, which led me to find this page, also from Twilight Saga Answers:
What month did Bella start school in Forks?
She started in May.
January doesn't pop up until the second book in the series, "New Moon", May seems to only be used in the non-month sense ("May I?"), and April doesn't appear until the third book, "Eclipse". February also doesn't show until "New Moon", but I finally got lucky with March - around 100 pages into "Twilight", one of the students mentions the March Spring Dance to Bella in conversation. At this point, she's well established at the school, though, so I think we can be pretty clear that she's been there for at least a month or two... maybe.
Whatever, we're going with January until anyone can point me to a better theory. That would put the Phil/Renee wedding in December, which is dreadfully inconvenient for guests, what with all the other holiday and travel plans that have to be made in December, but with Phil being a Minor League Baseball Player, maybe that was the only time they could work it in.
So here we are, one hour later, and I can finally talk about what I wanted to talk about: cheating. Bella has arrived in her new class and has been handed a syllabus and is absorbed in thought.
I kept my eyes down on the reading list the teacher had given me. It was fairly basic: Bronte, Shakespeare, Chaucer, Faulkner. I’d already read everything. That was comforting . . . and boring. I wondered if my mom would send me my folder of old essays, or if she would think that was cheating. I went through different arguments with her in my head while the teacher droned on.
My first thought was, "Yes, she probably would think was cheating, because it is," but then I hesitated. I should first point out that inasmuch as I don't think lying is a categorically bad thing, neither do I think cheating (in the classroom sense, not in the marital sense) is categorically bad.
When I was in late-junior-high/early-high-school, a couple of job relocations (for my dad) and a major surgery (for me) contrived to send me to three different schools in three different years. I'm not quite sure how it happened, but I ended up with the exact same history textbook for three years in a row. (The teaching styles were identical, too: six weeks on Ancient Sumeria and six days on everything that happened after World War II. I think we spent one afternoon, tops, on the entire Vietnam war.) I honestly don't remember if I reused my homework from year to year, but I do know that I had all the important bits highlighted long before I finished the book for the third time.
Later, once I got to college, I got to experience some really truly horrible professors who considered it an absolute insult that they were expected to leave their labs from time to time in order to teach a bunch of college kids. As some form of public protest, or perhaps just drunk on the sort of power that small fishes can accrue in a largish ivory tower, they would spend their entire lecture periods talking about anything but the class material, laughing all the way to the bank. I remember one hour-long filibuster in particular being over The Wizard of Oz in an electrical engineering Introduction to Circuits course. The absolute only way to know what was going to be on the tests was to get a copy of last year's tests - which was, of course, the same test the teacher had been recycling for that course for the last ten years. The administration didn't want to address the issue; the students couldn't afford to drop out and take the class again with a "good" professor. If you didn't cheat, you failed. It was as simple as that.
After all these life experiences, I'm the last one to say that cheating is some kind of categorical wrong, and I certainly maintain a healthy skepticism when the hand-wringing starts up periodically from school officials or the media. At the same time, I don't think cheating is a categorical good either - it really boils down to why you feel the need to cheat.
Bella seems to be considering reusing (or at least heavily borrowing from) her old English essays because she doesn't want to go through the same subject matter all over again. She's wondering if her mother would consider that cheating, and whether or not she can convince Renee that it's not. Bella might have a good case, actually: Wikipedia defines cheating as "the overt or covert breaking of rules to gain advantage in a competitive situation," and it's fairly clear that Bella isn't trying to one-up her classmates or be declared valedictorian - she just doesn't want to read "Jane Eyre" again.
Bella might have a stronger case with her mother if she had some alternative planned to reading "Jane Eyre" again - if she was planning to use all the time saved by her cheating to do something constructive: to make new friends in her new home, or to get a job and start earning money for college, or to start studying in her free time for the college entrance exams. These would be cases, I think, where a reasonable parent might say, "Alright, while I do believe that reading 'Jane Eyre' a second time could be very useful to you, I can also see that the return on investment is higher if you were to invest that time in something else."
The problem, of course, is that Bella doesn't want to do those things - she dislikes going out with friends more than absolutely necessary and she seems to have no interest whatsoever in earning money, starting a career, or furthering her education. She doesn't want to do something better with her time than reading "Jane Eyre" again - she just doesn't want to be bored. And even this is interesting in itself since most of her "free time" is spent grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning house, and doing the laundry - one would think that at the very least "Jane Eyre" would hold the charm of "can't cook tonight, dad, must read homework instead!"
All this would be interesting within any YA novel, I think, but this is a YA novel that offers the very real specter of immortality. In a few pages, Bella will meet Edward Cullen and his family of vampires. As a family of ageless, immortal young people, they face an interesting dilemma: if they want to have any social interaction with humans at all, they have to live in areas that are perpetually overcast, and they have to move regularly to alleviate suspicion as to their agelessness. Edward will later tell Bella, "[T]he younger we pretend to be, the longer we can stay in any given place. Forks seemed perfect, so we all enrolled in high school."
Edward has been a vampire for 86 years. Assuming the family can stay in the same place for about 8 years without arousing suspicion (4 years in high school + 4 years after), he's been through high school ten times. That's forty years spent in high school. Of course, Edward hasn't actually been in school that long - they've lived with other vampires and out in the wilderness at various times over the years. But he could have been in high school that long if they'd craved human companionship more often - and presumably there's no reason why this pattern will change in the future.
What's absolutely astonishing to me is that this absolutely astonishing fact never seems to hit Bella square between the eyes in this novel. Twilight will end with Bella bound and determined to be adopted into Edward's vampire family as the newest newborn, and it will apparently never once occur to her that as bored as she is now hearing the teacher "drone on" after having already learned everything there is to know about "Jane Eyre" last year, she won't somehow be that much more bored twenty-four years from now, having heard the same "Jane Eyre" lecture for the fifth time.