Twilight Recap: Bella has learned from her new friend Jessica the names and relationships of the Cullen 'children'. Although Bella takes in stride the information that many of the adopted "siblings" are dating each other, she is somewhat startled by the Cullens' old-fashioned names.
Twilight, Chapter 1: First Sight
Earlier when the ever-helpful (but not over-helpful!) Jessica rattled off the Cullen's names, we got this earful:
“That’s Edward and Emmett Cullen, and Rosalie and Jasper Hale. The one who left was Alice Cullen; they all live together with Dr. Cullen and his wife.”
It's interesting that Bella - so bad with names herself - absorbs this as quickly as she does; to the best of my recollection, we'll never hear her ask after the Cullens' names or relationships again. Unlike poor Jessica's name, the Cullens' names and details have been quickly committed to memory, and despite caring not one whit about her surroundings or peers until now, Bella is suddenly desperate to learn more - after a quick conversation establishing the dating dynamics of the Cullen family, Bella asks:
“Which ones are the Cullens?” I asked. “They don’t look related. . . .”
I find this question interesting for three reasons. Firstly, we have a group of four people at a table - three boys and a girl. (Alice has left the room apparently for the express purpose of letting us see how graceful she is and how wasteful with food she is. The bell for the next class hasn't rung and presumably the vampires don't have to visit the bathroom.) It's reasonable that Bella feels safe assuming that "Rosalie" is the girl at the table, which leaves three boys to suss out. We've already been told that all the boys are extraordinarily beautiful, uniformly pale, slightly varying degrees of muscular (brutish, lean, wiry), with identically dark eyes and dark bruises under their eyes. The only difference between the boys so far is that they are Color Coded For Your Convenience - more specifically, the boys are Blonde, Brunette, Redhead with Emmett having "dark" hair, Jasper "honey blond", and Edward "bronze-colored".
With all these details, I'm having a hard time understanding in what universe these boys don't look at least a little related. For myself, I have a half-sister, an aunt, and a mother. None of us look like a carbon copy of the other. We have different hair-colors, different eye-colors, different hair textures, and even different skin pigmentations. If someone vaguely gestured to us in a group and said, "The Mardolls are over there..." and someone else felt the need to say, "Which ones are the Mardolls?", I cannot imagine that they would add a trailing, "They don't look related..." statement to the end. Not because we do "look related" in some kind of identical-twin sense of the word, but because the very concept of whether or not someone "looks related" to someone else encompasses quite a large degree of variation on a similar type!
I "look related" to my mom because we're both white (though I am pale and she is deeply tanned), we both have blue eyes (though hers are light and mine are dark), and we sort of vaguely have a similar facial structure despite the fact that I out-weight her by enough that the difference is reflected in my face (she's intensely small-boned and I favor my father's stocky side of the family). In the same vein, I "look related" to my sister because we're roughly the same body shape and appearance (though she is taller than me by a good head), and our hair is a mess of unruly curls and sometimes (depending on the color of the month) roughly the same color.
All of this is a long way of saying that the Cullens "look related" a heck of a lot more than me and my own family, and we've never, ever been told that we don't "look related". I would argue that this is at least as much because of human nature than because of any superficial similarities between us - I've often seen situations where strangers gush over children or siblings having similar features and being obviously related, only to be politely told that there is no blood relation in the given case. It's human nature to find patterns and similarities, even when they aren't there (or are only there by chance).
So it's interesting to me that, when faced with almost identical facial and body features - with the only differences noted being hair color and musculature, the two things that are probably easiest to change in terms of body features - Bella immediately leaps to the correct assumption that the two Cullen boys are not blood relatives. The other thing that interests me about this question is that Bella asks which ones are the Cullens when it would be just as efficient to ask which one is Jasper Hale. Indeed, it seems like this question would be easier, since the answer could then be something simple like "He's the blond one," rather than something more complicated like "The Cullens are the one on the far left, closest to the lunch line, and the one sitting next to Rosalie on her right."
You'd almost think that Bella already knows that Edward Cullen is the most important, special, unique, not-genetically-related-to-anyone-else, totally irreplaceable person in this story.
The third thing that interests me about this question is that despite the fact that Rosalie and Emmett have been established as being "together", they're obviously being pretty discreet about their affection if Bella can't take a rough stab at which boy might be Emmett. This in turn makes me wonder why the Cullens are open about their unorthodox and attention-grabbing relationships in the first place - not unlike their open refusal to eat food, their behavior almost seems designed to be suspicious.
“Oh, they’re not. Dr. Cullen is really young, in his twenties or early thirties. They’re all adopted. The Hales are brother and sister, twins - the blondes - and they’re foster children.”
“They look a little old for foster children.”
“They are now, Jasper and Rosalie are both eighteen, but they’ve been with Mrs. Cullen since they were eight. She’s their aunt or something like that.”
Dr. Cullen is in his "early thirties" because S.Meyer's vampires are all intensely young and beautiful, and if anyone seems young and beautiful after their fortieth or - god forbid - fiftieth birthday, it's incredibly suspicious and people will quickly figure out that you're an immortal god-being.
In a completely unrelated note, before I forget, can everyone please join me in wishing Michelle Pfeiffer a happy 53rd birthday this week? I don't know why I suddenly remembered that - brains are funny.
We're not told the age of Mrs. Cullen, but it's probably safe to assume that since she is the Twilight-verse embodiment of proper wifery, then she must be her husband's age or younger. We'll set a guesstimate of 30 for Mrs. Cullen, which means that she's been fostering the darling blond Hale twins since she was twenty years old.
I would guess that the cover story here is supposed to be that Ms. Not-Yet-Cullen (Hale? We don't know if she's supposed to be a maternal aunt or a paternal one...) inherited her dear niece and nephew when their parents were untimely plucked away in their tender youth, but I'm actually fairly surprised that no one in Forks finds it odd that such a young woman would be the first-and-most-appropriate relative to absorb the two kids. I myself have a niece ten years my junior, and I can pretty much guarantee that I would have been a bad placement for her when I was in my early twenties - I would have done the best I could, of course, but "the best I could" probably would have fallen well short of the mark.
What's most interesting to me here, though, is the use of the term "foster children". I've never heard that term applied to children living with a non-parental-but-still-closely-related relative. In my experience, in those cases, the caretaker relative is usually referred to as a guardian, and the children are just called, well, children. The very term "foster" is meant to indicate a temporary situation until legal adoption can be arranged - ideally by a close relative or someone otherwise known to the foster child. The idea that the Hales have been "foster" children for ten years, despite living permanently with (a) a close relative, (b) who is in a stable long-term relationship, (c) with someone who is eligible to adopt children having already done so three times over, either with the aforementioned relative or by himself, is just...weird.
This odd refusal to properly adopt the Hale children becomes even more odd when you consider that Mr. Cullen and Ms Hale probably met and married prior to the adoption of the three Cullen children (Alice, Emmett, and Edward). At least, it seems very odd to me that a young, single doctor would be approved for adopting not one but three children in apparently quick succession - it seems far more likely that Mr. Cullen and Ms. Hale met after she gathered the Hale twins under her wings, and then married and adopted three children, despite having two perfectly nice twins under their roof that they apparently couldn't be bothered to become the legal parents of.
I think this is another example of Bad Writing and not thinking through the aspects of all your character development. Jasper and Rosalie are almost afterthoughts in the first Twilight novel - Rosalie exists as an extremely flimsy foil to Bella (she's an ineffective opposition force and an ineffective romantic rival), and Jasper largely serves as Alice's designated boyfriend-and-protector. The two characters will be fleshed out more in later books, but for the moment they seem like extras tossed into the family to round out the couplings. Edward is the hero, Emmett is the lovable brute who protects Bella and makes her feel safe, and Alice is the manic pixie girl who adores Bella and provides plot exposition. Rosalie and Jasper are there to support Emmett and Alice, so, ah, their cover story is that they are twins attached to the other "only-there-to-round-out-the-pair" character, Esme Cullen. Plus, with the Hale children keeping different last names, the distressing sexual pairings aren't incest anymore - right? The fact that their hastily stitched together backstory makes no sense whatsoever is merely a detail.
The problem with this, though, is that the backstory is there and we do have to deal with it and with the incidental characterization that it causes. Esme Hale Cullen's cover story is now that she is a young woman in her thirties who, in her twenties, quickly absorbed two small children and a new husband in a matter of probably a few months. Carlisle Cullen's cover story is that as a young, ambitious doctor with a busy schedule and mounting medical school bills, he thought it would be a world-beating idea to marry a pretty young home-maker and adopt three incredibly beautiful children with her while very pointedly not legally adopting the two children that were in her care at the time of their wedding. Then he decided to move the entire family out to a lovely house in the middle of the woods well outside town limits, and then capriciously monitor the childrens' eating habits and randomly interfere with their school schedules while encouraging (or at least not discouraging) them to form semi-incestuous highly sexualized relationships with one another at a very early age. The family doesn't socialize with the local community except in the loosest of terms and no one in the family has a job or access to monetary resources except Mr. Cullen.
In what way does that not sound like a cult, and why does Bella not think of these things? I admit I wasn't the sharpest kid in school when it came to healthy interpersonal relationships and family dynamics, but I still have to think this situation would have raised serious red flags for me.
“That’s really kind of nice - for them to take care of all those kids like that, when they’re so young and everything.”
The fact is, if the Cullens are all that Bella imagines them to be, it is really kind of nice for them to adopt so many children in need of good homes. Ms. Hale is awesome for stepping up to the plate and taking care of her young niece and nephew even if she wasn't well equipped to do so at the time; Mr. Cullen should be appreciated for welcoming both the Hale children and Alice, Emmett, and Edward into his home. They should be particularly admired if the latter three children were adopted in their later teenage years since it's very hard for children past a certain age in foster care to find permanent homes and the people who will take in teenagers into their families and provide them with unconditional love and genuine security and a loving family life are good, wonderful, awesome people.
However, having said all that, adoption isn't an unmitigated automatic good, and both Bella and S.Meyer don't seem to realize that. Good people who adopt for the right reasons are good, yes, but bad people who adopt for the wrong reasons aren't made good by the act of adopting. In just a few short sentences introducing the Cullens, we've seen a lot of red flags and a lot of potential warning signs of abuse and trauma - particularly with regards to the young Hale twins. Furthermore, as Kit Whitfield has pointed out, it seems more than a little odd that the Cullen parents would be quite so particular in choosing their adopted children - Mr. and Mrs. Cullen may be as beautiful as the sun and moon, but adoption agencies don't therefore automatically assign you first pick of the prettiest children. The overall impression we get is that the Cullens are deliberately choosing their children, not based on the relative needs of the child in question or based on how well they will assimilate into the existing family (assuming Alice, Emmett, and Edward were acquired sequentially instead of as a lot), but rather based on how pretty the child is. And choosing children based on whether or not they are stunningly beautiful doesn't bode well for the intentions of the adoptive parents.
“I guess so,” Jessica admitted reluctantly, and I got the impression that she didn’t like the doctor and his wife for some reason. With the glances she was throwing at their adopted children, I would presume the reason was jealousy.
Well, what other reason could there be to dislike the Cullens or question their motives?