Twilight: Unisex Raincoats and White Bread

Twilight Recap: Bella has arrived at her new high school in the small town of Forks, and is already overwhelmed by the differences between this school and her old Phoenix school. The Forks campus is a collection of small buildings, surrounded by dense foliage, and Bella's fears about being able to navigate her high school and fit in with her peers have increased.

Twilight, Chapter 1: First Sight

   I looked at the map in the truck, trying to memorize it now; hopefully I wouldn’t have to walk around with it stuck in front of my nose all day.

Bella has arrived at her new high school, which - if you'll recall - is best described as "a collection of matching houses", populated by "three hundred and fifty-seven" other students. A polite woman in the administration office has helpfully provided Bella with a map, "highlighting the best route to each [class] on the map" for Bella.

Once again, it's frustrating that we don't have a clear sense of the setting. The school is apparently big enough to warrant a rather complex map with the "best routes" between the buildings highlighted - which implies that there are other, non-optimized routes that could be taken. In my own past, I've attended small private schools that also looked very much like collections of matching houses - but the routes between the buildings were usually pretty obvious and straightforward in the same way that the "best route" between your house and your neighbor's house is usually pretty obvious and straightforward, so I'm really struggling to understand this "highlight the best routes" and "memorize the map" malarkey.

Later in this same chapter, we learn that the buildings are labeled with large numbers painted on the brick, and the numbers go up to at least '6' (a bigger number than I would have expected for such a small school), so maybe the campus grew haphazardly over time and a complex map really is warranted. However, given a labyrinthine campus and Bella's realistic concerns about how she can integrate herself in the middle of the school year into a group where everyone literally knows each other, I'm rather surprised that the school hasn't chosen to employ a "buddy system" instead of just shoving a map at the new girl.

If we assume an even distribution of 357 students across four high school grades, there should be roughly 90 students in Bella's grade level. If we further assume that Forks doesn't have the budget or personnel of offer extra AP classes and can only provide the basic mandatory classes, then it seems very likely that at least one student at her school will have a schedule identical to Bella's. What's odd about this situation, at least to me, is that in the small schools I attended in high school, the "buddy system" was de rigueur; the concept of individual student maps (to be gotten in stacks from the administration office!) was something to be associated with those impersonal, soulless, big city schools that had things like heavy-duty office printers and budgets lavish enough to buy reams of paper and ink cartridges.

What's strange is that it feels like Stephenie Meyer is assigning "big city" behaviors to her "small town" characters, and it seems out of place - why would a small town school even have stacks of maps printed off for the students? Wouldn't the layout of the local high school - the obvious nexus for sports events, bake sales, and general shenanigans - be ingrained on the town consciousness?

   I stuffed everything in my bag, slung the strap over my shoulder, and sucked in a huge breath. I can do this, I lied to myself feebly. No one was going to bite me. I finally exhaled and stepped out of the truck.
    I felt my breathing gradually creeping toward hyperventilation as I approached the door. I tried holding my breath as I followed two unisex raincoats through the door.

Several things stand out here: firstly, we have our first vampire pun nestled in all this angst - Bella, unaware that her school houses a relatively large community of vampires, is reassuring herself that she's not going to be bitten. Haha, Stephenie Meyer what a joker.

I'm also left wondering how a "unisex" raincoat would differ from a non-"unisex" one.

What's frustrating about this scene is that Bella - who has already been characterized in passing as crippling clumsy - has now also suddenly developed an apparent tendency towards panic attacks. I'm personally sympathetic to heroines plagued with anxiety disorders, having struggled with anxiety attacks myself, but it's nevertheless disappointing to see yet another traditionally "weak" flaw tossed onto our poor girl's character sheet like this. I'm trying to be fair here, but I can't help but feel that a young woman who pretty much raised her own mother in the big frightening city of Phoenix (Motto: Where the schools look like prisons and the prisons look like schools!) would probably be a little less frightened and overwhelmed in this relatively low-drama situation. Don't get me wrong, I don't demand that all my heroines be Sarah Connor, but I don't feel like I'm being given much to look up to here.

What's most interesting to me in this scene, however, is that Bella, the girl who wants you to believe she is a "bad liar", has taken a break from lying to her father and the administration lady about her feelings, and has graduated to lying to herself. Quite honestly, I'm a little perplexed at the choice of wording here: Bella doesn't "reassure" herself feebly or feebly "psych [herself] up" - she "lies" to herself. It's difficult for me to sometimes separate out S.Meyer-the-Narrator from Bella-the-narrator. If Bella believes that the sentiment I can do this is a lie, then it seems like she has a very low opinion of herself; if S.Meyer believe that the sentiment I can do this is a lie, then it seems that she has a very low opinion of her protagonist.

What's interesting to me is that the source of the opinion that I can do this = lie actually impacts the narrative in a rather complex way. If Bella believes her statement to be a lie, then she's either extremely cynical or extremely lacking in self-esteem, and yet she chooses to go through the motions of lying to herself anyway. The very act of telling herself this reassuring lie, even while she "knows" it to be a lie, points to the possibility that she doesn't fully believe it to be a lie after all. It puts me in mind of a pessimist insisting that it will rain while privately cherishing the believe that the act of saying so will make it untrue - that the universe will grant lovely weather instead in order to screw up the pessimist's "predictions". In essence, it's the equivalent of trying to use Reverse Psychology on the universe, as if it were a rather cranky and cantankerous toddler.

If this is the case, then we have a relatively complex character: A nervous Bella reassures herself that she can get through the day... then immediately worries that such reassurance might be "bad luck"... so she quickly labels the reassuring statement a "lie"... so that the malevolent universe around her will take note of her "lie" and will make her wrong by making the "lie" a reality... thereby allowing Bella to get through the day unscathed! It's two parts excessive worrying and two parts superstition, but it's a situation that I can at least visualize actually happening, especially if I replace Bella with Allie from Hyperbole-and-a-Half.

On the other hand, if S.Meyer is the source of the lying label, then she genuinely doesn't believe her character can make it through the day on her own. Of course, Bella does make it through the day with flying colors, but since this will be largely because all the boys and girls of her new school will take her in hand and fawn incessantly over her, I suspect that S.Meyer sees this as less of a point in favor of Bella's character and more of a point in favor of Bella's appearance. And speaking of appearance:

   The classroom was small. The people in front of me stopped just inside the door to hang up their coats on a long row of hooks. I copied them. They were two girls, one a porcelain-colored blonde, the other also pale, with light brown hair. At least my skin wouldn’t be a standout here.

Bella is relieved that she generally resembles the other students; at least if she looks similar to everyone else, she should be able to blend in more easily with her classmates. This is notable partly because it's a complete departure from her attitude two pages ago, where she lamented that if only her skin was darker and more exotic then she'd obviously be more acceptable to her peers. More worryingly, however, this is notable because it's yet another strange and bizarre exercise in intense scrutiny of skin color - I think I can honestly say that I have never entered a room and started comparing how my "translucent white" skin compares to the "porcelain white" skin of the other people in the room, but Bella seems to be making these assessments with alarming frequency.

Inexperienced authors often struggle with character details and how to convey them to the reader - it's easy to fall into the "info-dump" trap of providing the reader with a wall-of-text to wade through about hair color, eye color, height, weight, whether they prefer boxers or briefs, etc. Savvy authors will find ways to let these characteristics "bleed out" into the story so that the details emerge naturally, and at this point I'm still wondering if this was what S.Meyer was attempting to do with all this i am worried about fitting in because i am white oh noes business. Maybe in a few pages Bella will be able to calm her hyperventilation further by noting that everyone else in her class also has brown eyes, brown hair, and brought the exact same Hello Kitty! notebook as she, and then - DING! - she'll be fully characterized and ready to roar into the plot.

Except that even if this is merely a ham-fisted attempt to jam Bella's character sheet into a few short pages, I don't think we can overlook the problems involved with the accidental-or-not constant reassurances that this is a white book about white people for white readers.

Maybe I'm creating a tempest in a porcelain-colored teapot, though - let's move on to the first recorded conversation between Bella and her new classmates:

   “So, this is a lot different than Phoenix, huh?” he asked.
   “It doesn’t rain much there, does it?”
   “Three or four times a year.”
   “Wow, what must that be like?” he wondered.
   “Sunny,” I told him.
   “You don’t look very tan.”
   “My mother is part albino.”

Okay, now she's just doing it on purpose.


Thalia said...

Here, I bring another map. It is not nearly as tidy as the one you came up with, because I had to do a satellite shot of my old school ( located at ), which had only five buildings, but you could only see at most two of them at any one time. And the road, as you can see, is not direct, and there were more trees... and I was 8. But anyway, this is where I imagine Bella. Only with rain.

You have confirmed for me what I thought about the one or two paragraphs of Twilight I have read so far. Someone has stolen my diaries. Whatever you decide it means, I tell you, I will be sure to gain some self-awareness. I wrote narratives about whatever I was thinking at the moment and they could indeed roam from "I wish I were dark with big tits and lots of attitude" to "I'm so glad I'm pale and they don't notice me much. Besides, I can't tan, the sun is so uncomfortable!" within the space of days. It was pretty insipid.

The other alternative is that Stephanie Myers has not matured since she was an adolescent.

(Ok, I could say she has wicked insight into the actual workings of adolescent mind and perfectly gamed both that and the publishing system to put these things into "household word" status.... Nah.)

Redwood Rhiadra said...

I'm here from the Slacktiverse - I will definitely be following this!

What's struck me about the quotes in several of your entries is how she calls her parents, presumably even in her own mind, by their *names*. Not Mom and Dad, or Mama and Papa, or Mother and Father, each of which would say something about her relationship to them. But "Charlie" and "Renee". Which *also* says something about her relationship to them...

Now in this entry: *part* albino???? Albinism is an on-off genetic mutation. Me, I'm very pale despite spending my entire life in Florida and California. Sunlight doesn't tan me (just burns.) But I'm not "part albino"!

Ana Mardoll said...

Welcome, Rhiadra! I'm glad to have you here. :D

I agree that Bella's internal vocalization of her parents' names is very interesting. She does alternate a bit between "Mom" and "Renee", but her father is almost always "Charlie" and it's highlighted in text that she has to make a conscious effort to call him "Dad" out loud...

I'm glad I was not the only person confused by the "part albino" - I was under the impression that you either were or you weren't. Of course, Bella means it here as a joke, but it's not a particularly funny one, and actually seems somewhat ableist - I was under the impression that having to constantly wear sun-protection was not a fun thing to live with. o.O

Ana Mardoll said...

Thalia, I love your school map - it seems incredibly spread out! :D Were they trying to plan for growth or did it just happen that way by chance??

I'm delighted to hear that the "Twilight" series is cribbed from your diaries - hopefully we can all get together and figure out what was going on in your head. Think of the money you'll save in therapy bills! :P

But seriously, I do like your point that the ability to change one's mind quickly, and without acknowledgement that the change has happened, *is* something that young people can do. As you say, it is possible that this is a combination of knowing-your-audience, knowing-you-character, and perhaps *not* knowing-yourself (as an author). I'm looking forward to finding out. ;)

Ana Mardoll said...

Thalia, I love your school map - it seems incredibly spread out! :D Were they trying to plan for growth or did it just happen that way by chance??

I'm delighted to hear that the "Twilight" series is cribbed from your diaries - hopefully we can all get together and figure out what was going on in your head. Think of the money you'll save in therapy bills! :P

But seriously, I do like your point that the ability to change one's mind quickly, and without acknowledgement that the change has happened, *is* something that young people can do. As you say, it is possible that this is a combination of knowing-your-audience, knowing-you-character, and perhaps *not* knowing-yourself (as an author). I'm looking forward to finding out. ;)

Thalia said...

@Ana, thanks for the response! I think that at the time the school was built, the land was MUCH cheaper than the construction (Perhaps donated?). The subdivision you can see to the left/west was all ...what's the word for that now? ... untouched, natural, wild, and also part of the campus. The Admin/high school and Kindergarten were already there--originally Manor and Servant's Quarters--and the other buildings were built wherever it would take the least grading, perhaps. It's very hilly in NW Georgia.

Re: The albino line. I actually found myself thinking that a talented actress (I don't know this girl they have, but all her photos seem to have the same expression--like she's doing an Elvis impersonation, heavy lidded with a slight contemptuous sneer in her upper lip) could play that several ways. Haha, it's a joke, no one's "part albino." or Dumb-ass, that's none of your business. Here's some bullshit, shut up. or Um, ah, oh, god, why am I so stupid... part ALBINO???

I am really enjoying reading your comments. Which is embarrassing. I've never spent this much time with the books before.

The only thing that DOES make sense, actually, is the romantic what-the-girl-hates. I mean, I think this makes a lot of romance play on female self-hatred, but it's incredibly common in my recollection that if the girl thinks she is "pasty," "pale," "too skinny," etc. she's certain to be seen as "fair," "lithe," "alabaster" and other, prettier words by the author or the other characters.

Thalia said...

P.S. I read my comments, and they seem very ham-handed. Thank you again. Your writing is excellent.

Ana Mardoll said...


Oh, I agree absolutely on the what-the-girl-hates angle. I don'd know if you've read Gail Levine's "Fairest", but it's a sort of fairy-tale reboot where the main character keeps going on about how HIDEOUS she is constantly.

How ugly is she, you ask? Well, she's kind of tall, and broad shoudlered, and her hair is dark black, and her skin is pale (but sometimes a little blotchy), and her lips are "blood red". SHE IS PRACTICALLY QUASIMODO.

Of course, she turns out to be Beautiful All Along and wins a prince and everyone is happy ever after, to no one's surprise but herself. It was, as you say, somewhat.....not unexpected. :P

Technocracygirl said...

Here from The Slacktiverse, and very much enjoying this! I've never read these books, but I've heard that Meyer never bothered to come to the PacNorthwest before sending these things to the publisher, and it shows. Maybe it's really different on the Penninsula, but in the greater Seattle Metroplex (Bellingham to Olympia), people generally don't bother with raincoats. The weather changes *all the time*, so even if it rains all day, the rain will go from sprinkles to drizzles to rain to storm and back again, with sprinkles/drizzles being most prevalent. So most people will just wear a waterproof coat (Yay REI!) that will still keep them warm. (That's the other thing -- we don't have warm rain in the PacNW. Rain is cold, full stop.)

Two teenagers in raincoats? When many of the HS kids I see in the rain are wearing *maybe* a light coat or hoodie? (And looking miserable, too. Coats may be uncool, but they're warm.) That's also a sign of Ms. Meyer's insularity and unwillingness to get details correct. Those kids don't live in the same Washington the kids down the street do.

Anyway, I do like this blog, and I hope you'll keep this up!

Ana Mardoll said...

Technocracygirl, welcome! I love your post - I was definitely imagining parkas from what "Twilight" is describing and I'd never heard of REI before. I love how shiny their coats are!

I have to ask you: how do you dry your hair out with it raining all day? I have curly hair that holds moisture and when we lived in Louisville, Kentucky it was a huge effort to get my hair dry when a single walk between buildings meant another layer of rain soaking into my hair. Does REI sell headgear? Do Seattle-ians use them? Has S.Meyer missed a chance to talk about Edward's "perfect face" peeking out from under a rain hood? Inquiring minds want to know!

Silver Adept said...

Someone else living in the Pacific Northwest, in the corridor, but I've visited the Peninsula and the coastline, also here through Slacktiverse.

Because of the prevalence of the rain, a lot of rainy-side people wear hats, hoods, or other head coverings - sometimes attached, sometimes not, but one thing you will not catch a rainy-side Washingtonian with is an *umbrella*.

Why? Because it's *windy* here as well as rainy. Raincoats are heavy and loose things, and with the strong winds that come through here, that heavy and loose becomes a liability as soon as the wind grabs it (especially when climbing the hills of Seattle).

Nenya said...

Yay! I'm really enjoying these deconstructions/discussions. I really appreciate that you're posting snippets of the books, since I haven't read them myself but want to get a bit of the flavour of Meyer's writing.

The Pale Woman of White Alabaster Pallor thing going on here really bugs me. I can see a teenaged girl thinking her skin is ugly: you can take pretty much any body feature and fret over it, even if other people don't share the same opinion. And kids get focused on the oddest things sometimes. However, the only way her great relief that she is not the whitest person around would make sense would be if she'd been raised somewhere where white people were really rare--and considered Other in the way people with darker skin tones are in North America. Sure, there are a lot more Latin@ people in Arizona than in Forks (although the one time I drove through Forks, it wasn't a whites-only wasteland), but Bella's obsession with her pale skin being weird is coming across as pretty Persecuted Hegemon to me. What is *up* with that?

Ana Mardoll said...


I felt the same way - that it would make more sense for Bella to be thinking so much about her skin color if she was coming from an "Other" perspective. I used to know some expats and MKs (missionary kids) from areas where they were frequently the only white people in the room, and it was something they were more aware of as a result.

I love your "Pale Woman of White Alabaster Pallor" title and I am *so* going to steal it for future posts. :D

Nenya said...

Yes, that's what I was thinking of--my uncle was raised a MK in Tanzania. And a couple of times I went with a friend to her church, where I was the only (or one of maybe 2-3) white person in the room, and it really made me think. Mostly about how if I was feeling awkward, as a member of the 'majority' being unexpectedly in the minority for once, that it must be much harder to feel that way all the time (especially if there was a whole history of it being more than just "awkward" to be darker around lighter people).

Steal away! LOL. I do not mind and would in fact be quite honoured! :D (I wanted to fit "translucent" in there somewhere--though "alabaster" has a better ring to it--so feel free to edit as you wish. Hee.)

Ms Greyduck said...

Ahem. also here from the Slacktiverse. I find this book much more my style than the prescriptive Left Behind.

That said, does S. Meyer have any idea what life in a small town is like either? In my high school (in semi-rural central US) of about the same size, not only did one student have the same schedule, but about 25 of us did. It would be nearly impossible to get lost because there were 24 other people going exactly the same place... and every other person would know she was the new girl and direct her if she seemed a bit lost, because small towns are just like that. My spouse once got pulled over for speeding in a small town (35 in a 25 school zone) and instead of a fine got directions to the highway!

I am most bothered by the lying to herself, perhaps even about how unusual being white was in Arizona. If Bella felt persecuted and picked on for being pale, she probably internalized the idea that she really was unusual for being so pale (accepting the lie, because I'm not convinced it could be true). While the convincing yourself the lie is true is a real teenager thing, I'm surprised that someone selfless enough (ugh but should she be?) to move for her mother's benefit alone wouldn't try to set up a new persona for herself in the new place. She is unknown and could be anyone, but she chooses to be Pale Woman of White Alabaster Pallor by drawing more attention to something she doesn't like. Odd choice, given that she could be anyone in the new school. It is even weirder given that she was thinking about how being darker skinned and exotic would help her fit in. Is she really so dense as to think she could only be exotic by looking like she's from Arizona?

Melidomi said...

Hi! Slactiverse lurker here. I read Twilight and listened to the other books as audiobooks during commutes a couple of years back. I kind of hated them, but made it through the series, so not sure what that says about me!

For what it's worth, I grew up in Southern California (moved away when I was 13) and do not tan, only burn. I both felt less attractive for being pale and made self-deprecating 'practically an albino'/'part ghost'/'moonbeam' jokes about myself. And I did feel like I was the palest person in school, though I probably wasn't. When I moved to cloudy, rainy Brussels, I did get a few 'why aren't you tan?' questions, too. So I can see both the wishing I were tan to fulfill expectations, and the relief that at least *here* my paleness won't make me stick out.

Wow, I am sort of astonished that I found something to defend in this book!

Nenya said...

Melidomi, that is fascinating! I, too, burn instead of tan, but I grew up pretty far north (practically in the Yukon Territory, literally) and was surrounded by plenty of other people of like hue. But it makes sense to me that if everybody else could tan, you'd feel weird for not being able to. (I know I did envy the one friend I had who was a brunette and tanned, unlike my ginger siblings and I, who *so didn't*.)

Doesn't excuse Twilight's uber-focus on the subject, in my opinion, but it does give some context. Where did S. Meyer grow up and is she particularly pale, herself?

Technocracygirl said...

Ana, SMeyer *totally* missed a chance to have Edward's amber-black-whatever eyes glittering like gems from the depths of a parka hood.

As for drying husband and I were talking about this last night (we were driving in town and it was raining) and he thinks that's one of the reasons a lot of people here have short hair. But as Silver Adept pointed out, there's a lot of hood/hat wearing going on as well. (And umbrellas, if the wind's not too strong. But not nearly so prevalent as in other areas.) Me, I like the hood or scarf thing, but sometimes it's just too much hassle to deal with, especially if it's just drizzling.

Reader of Books said...

The Forks High campus sounds a lot like my college campus, which would make it dramatically hugemongous, and I even got turned around in some buildings trying to figure out why the lecture halls were half-floors at that one elevator but not shown on maps...

Also, with regards to the buddy system: that gives Bella someone to talk to, which isn't as interesting as her being lost and alone and so tragic. /sarcasm Also, when attending my second middle school, I was not given a buddy or a map, just a schedule, and set loose to find my way or maybe come back for help if I needed it.

Excellent point that Mary Sue's been a supposed near-grownup until just this day when she starts having not-quite-panic attacks. Error, error, does not compute.

And yet, I can't really fault her for flip-flopping in attitude. I do it myself when I'm worried about what kind of impression I'll make, or whether speaking to someone about something of minor importance will have a positive outcome. Starting to suspect she just has low self-esteem. And she's almost a non-character so readers can empathize with her so much more.

From the comments: I am pale from not spending much time in the sun as an adult (I promise, however, that I'm not a vampire, sparkly or otherwise) and people tease me about it. But they don't tease me about my freckles, so go figure. Not quite alabaster pallor, but I've been known to joke that looking at my stomach can make you go blind. Perhaps the Forks kids should have teased her about bleaching her skin so pale--like normal teenagers would.

Fireshark said...

I'm pretty sure there's a simple solution to the whole "lying to self" part. Bella is telling this story from the future, relative the the narrative. So even if she didn't think she was lying at the time, she thinks it while writing.

Fireshark said...

*relative to the narrative.

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