Twilight: Silence and Lies

Twilight Recap: Bella is moving from her home in Phoenix to her father's house in Forks, Washington in order to provide space for her newly remarried mother and step-father. This decisions is painful for her because she hates Forks intensely and she furthermore worries that her mother may have difficulty surviving without Bella taking care of the finances, food, and transportation for the family.

Twilight, Chapter 1: First Sight

   "Bella," my mom said to me - the last of a thousand times - before I got on the plane. "You don’t have to do this."

When we last left Bella in Chapter 1, she was moping considerably over the "horror" of spending the next few months with her surprisingly compliant father in order to give her mother the opportunity to travel with her new husband, Phil, around the country as part of his business trips. We'd also noted that, what with the Biblical quotes and women-as-children themes already laid out on the first few pages, that SMeyer isn't wasting any time setting out the ideology behind the series. It's not surprising, therefore, that Chapter 1 also introduces us to another major recurring theme in Twilight: lies.

   "I want to go," I lied. I’d always been a bad liar, but I’d been saying this lie so frequently lately that it sounded almost convincing now.

There are, of course, many kinds of lies. The standard repository of all knowledge and wisdom has no fewer than 21 types of lies, from big lies, to contextual lies, to lying through omission; almost all of these lies will be utilized by Bella before we reach the final pages of Twilight. Even her claim here - that she is a "bad liar" - is conceivably a lie to the reader (or perhaps to herself), since I cannot at the moment recall a single lie from Bella in Twilight where the victim catches on to her deceit; one simply cannot lie all day, every day, never getting caught, and still maintain a claim to amateur standing.

Bella has pretensions to morality, albeit a different interpretation of morality than what I personally subscribe to, so she prefers lying by omission and by being economical with the truth to barefaced lies; for instance, her statement here would be more correctly rendered as "I want to go, for your sake." Of course, it's normally not considered polite to be quite so direct in our culture, so I'm willing to give Bella a pass on the phrasing here while still excoriating her over her unwillingness to be direct and honest with her mother over her reasons for leaving.

You see, how the reader deals with all the lies Bella tells ultimately boils down to the reader's personal ethics. If you're the sort of person for whom all lies - even "polite" lies and exaggerated compliments - are immoral, then Bella will no doubt seem like an incredibly immoral character to you by the end of Twilight. However, even if you walk a gentler line - if, like me, you believe that lies are only as bad as the potential harm and damage to relationships that each one can cause - Bella still doesn't come off much better. Of course, many of her lies are designed to give her whatever she wants at the moment - a tendency that raises strong ethical questions - but interestingly enough, most of her lies are simply communication dodges that do nothing but increase misunderstandings, complicate relationships, and cause unnecessary personal hurt in exchange for no benefit more than not having to be direct and honest with people who are ostensibly friends and family.

Take this situation, for example. Bella is leaving for a relatively noble reason: her mother wants to be supportive of her new husband's career and deserves a honeymoon. Given the text so far and the apparently close relationship between Bella and Renee, I don't doubt that Renee fully understands why her daughter has suddenly decided to go to Forks, and she even seems to appreciate the gesture enough to provide a no-fault clause to the situation:

   "I’ll see you soon," she insisted. "You can come home whenever you want - I’ll come right back as soon as you need me."
   But I could see the sacrifice in her eyes behind the promise.

However, I find this setup frustrating because neither Bella nor Renee have actually broached the topic in plain English and discussed the situation like the adults they both supposedly represent (Renee in years and Bella in maturity). What's worse is that Charlie is apparently completely in the dark about Bella's motivations; rather than explain why she suddenly wants to come live with him ("Dad, I think I need to give Mom and Phil some space for my junior and senior years; do you mind if I come bunk with you?"), Bella has simply announced that she's coming and to air out her old room:

   I knew he was more than a little confused by my decision — like my mother before me, I hadn’t made a secret of my distaste for Forks.

Charlie doesn't need to be confused about this situation, and if he is to have any kind of meaningful relationship with his daughter, he shouldn't be effectively forced into continuing that state of confusion. Charlie's interpretation of Bella's decision will completely color all his interactions with her over the next several months, and thus it's important that he start with the correct interpretation of the situation.

In a healthy family, Bella's sudden and completely uncharacteristic decision to move to a place she openly hates would have triggered an avalanche of discussions within the family from either side: Is she unhappy with school? Does she dislike Phil, or has he hurt her in any way? Has her relationship with her mother become strained as a result of her new marriage? Of course, Bella reassures the reader that none of those things are true - she likes and misses her mother, her new step-dad, and her school - but it's telling that neither of her parents even bother to ask about these things - we're only a few pages in and yet Bella's family is already characterized almost entirely by silence and lies.

What's harmful about all this lack of communication is that the more it continues, the less functional the family appears to be. Renee and Charlie disappear almost immediately into the background, and only resurface when a stereotypical parent interaction is required (hysterical mother, overprotective father); Bella's absolute refusal to confide in either parent forces them into the background as thoroughly as if she were an orphan. Twilight wouldn't be the first YA novel to shove the parents into a literary black-hole, of course, but the bigger problem with the series is that the same tactics that Bella uses to marginalize her parents - strategic lies and total radio silence - are used by Bella on almost everyone in the novel, including her designated love interest, effectively isolating her into a little emotional island.

In Real Life, of course, this level of intense solitude isn't easy to accomplish; parents and peers tend to intrude on our thoughts and personal space, and our nature as social creatures usually leads us to confide in select people around us. Twilight, however, is not Real Life; no matter how close a relationship Bella and her mother share, Renee will never sit Bella down and say, "Honey, I know you're leaving at least in part because of Phil and me, and I walk to talk about how that makes you feel." Charlie, by the same token, will never start a conversation with, "Bells, you know I'm thrilled that you've decided to come stay with me, but is everything okay back in Phoenix? You know you can talk to me any time you need to." Instead, both parents will silently accept Bella's decision to move to Forks without ever probing what meaning lies behind her sudden fervent desire to live in a place that for the last three years she's blatantly refused to even visit.

   But it was sure to be awkward with Charlie. Neither of us was what anyone would call verbose, and I didn’t know what there was to say regardless.

When you've only seen your father two weeks out of the year for the last three years, your mother is newly married, and you're returning after an extended absence of pretty much your entire life to your hometown, what could you possibly have to talk about in the ride home from the airport?


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