Twilight: Cultural Osmosis, Mind Control, and Shameless Self-Promotion

Twilight Recap: Bella has bravely sat through the Most Creepy Biology Class Ever with her unaccountably hostile new lab partner Edward and has headed off to the safety of gym class.

Twilight, Chapter 1: First Sight

A couple of quick ones before we get into the meat of things today:

   The Gym teacher, Coach Clapp, found me a uniform but didn’t make me dress down for today’s class.

Bella's gym teacher - whose gender goes unrecorded here - is named Coach Clapp. I request that we all have a moment of silence for poor Coach Clapp's undoubtedly very unhappy childhood.

   At home, only two years of P.E. were required. Here, P.E. was mandatory all four years. Forks was literally my personal hell on Earth.
   I watched four volleyball games running simultaneously. Remembering how many injuries I had sustained — and inflicted — playing volleyball, I felt faintly nauseated.

For those of you who are looking for it, this is another rare opportunity to empathize with Bella - at least if you hated gym class in school. I did hate gym class in school, and I don't think that's a particularly unusual sentiment - most people I've spoken to on the subject, even very athletic people, hated gym for various reasons. Part of it is the "Lord of the Flies" anarchy where almost every game can be used to lash out at the unpopular students in the class. Part of it is the largely unregulated physical contact that can (accidentally or not) break bones, remove teeth, and shatter eyeglasses at a moment's notice. And part of it can quite simply be the drudgery of being forced to participate in physically exhausting activities that we may not be very good at and may not enjoy playing.

So I do sympathize with Bella when she laments how thoroughly she hates gym, but I am a little concerned about the numerous injuries she has caused to herself and others in the past. I rather wonder if Bella's constant and crippling clumsiness could be indicative of a serious medical condition - some kind of inner ear disorder, maybe? Perhaps someone else can weigh in on this, because I'm hardly an expert.

Bella survives gym class and heads to the school office to "return her paperwork" - I suppose she means the slips of paper that she's been having her teachers sign all day. (This seems kind of odd to me, but I guess it's as good a way as any of making sure the new student attends all their classes on the first day. Presumably, now that her teachers know to expect her in class, from here on out they can mark her absent if she fails to show up. I'm just sort of surprised by the implication that if the new student weren't thoroughly policed the first day, she might skip classes. You'd think Small-Town-America Forks would be more trusting than that.) When she shows up to the office, however, she finds that Edward Cullen has preceded her here and is in the middle of a vigorous debate:

   He was arguing with her in a low, attractive voice. I quickly picked up the gist of the argument. He was trying to trade from sixth-hour Biology to another time — any other time.

Now, one of the things that is always terribly tricky when writing about fantastical creatures is the establishment of rules. Not only do you have to describe your fantastical creatures to your readers in a way that makes sense to them, but you also have to fight against reams of established literature that also featured the same fantastical creatures as your own book but used very different rules of play.

Take, for example, elves. There are many different kinds of elves. There are small, helpful elves that work diligently to make toys for deserving young children and who don't necessarily even have pointed ears. There are tall, wise elves that are immortal and insist on having a dizzying number of esoteric languages when they aren't helping hobbits throw rings into lava flows. And then there are the short, wiry elves that play hard, hunt harder, and sport washboard abs to the last man and woman among them. You can see how a new author trying to establish a fantasy world populated with creatures called "elves" would have their work cut out for them in distinguishing their particular brand of elves. Indeed, this is why TV Tropes has a whole index for fantastical creatures and their differing characteristics in various fictional works.

The biggest pitfall with an existing mythology is that an author may fail to clarify certain points about their mystical creatures and readers may find themselves filling in gaps with existing mythologies that weren't intended to be incorporated in that way. And since the Twilight rules of play for vampires are not always well-established, I think there's a lot of room for cultural osmosis to creep in to fill the gaps.

Several people, for example, have suggested that the Cullens have some form of mind control powers. This would make sense from a deconstruction point of view: if the Cullens can control the minds of the humans in Forks, it would explain how they have managed to maintain their masquerade all this time without raising suspicions despite their half-hearted efforts at concealment and half-baked backstory. The fact that Bella alone is suspicious of the Cullens and manages to discover their true nature through investigative googling also supports this theory: whatever oddity that causes her mind to be shielded from Edward's mind reading also shields her from the vampires' mind control.

However, I think the theory that any of the Cullens have direct mind control - either limited or unlimited - is less a fact to be found in the text and more a product of cultural osmosis. Many vampire works feature mind control in order to secure docile victims; from Dracula to True Blood, it is easy to find a concept of glamour within the world-building. As evidence that Edward Cullen cannot directly exert control over human beings, I point to this argument in the first chapter: Edward would like to be removed from his Biology II class and the receptionist is refusing to allow him to change or drop the course. Edward, it would seem, can read the minds of the humans around him and he can use that knowledge against them to manipulate them to his will, but he can't quite outright control them - at least not when S. Meyer has them in the iron grip of her will.

   I just couldn’t believe that this was about me. It had to be something else, something that happened before I entered the Biology room. The look on his face must have been about another aggravation entirely. It was impossible that this stranger could take such a sudden, intense dislike to me.

Of course, Edward is trying to remove himself from his Biology II class because he's afraid that his self-control will be overwhelmed by his blood-lust for Bella, and he doesn't want to endanger his family's masquerade. That's reasonable, even if it doesn't really delve into the ethical issues of murder and utterly traumatizing a classroom full of teenagers.

What surprises me, though, is the way Edward is going about the matter. First and foremost, if he really thinks that merely removing himself from his shared class with Bella will fix the issue (and he isn't worried about the occasional run-in on the way to class), it seems more reasonable to me that he ask Carlisle to make the class-swapping arrangements. Carlisle has obviously already cultivated an extremely understanding relationship with the school personnel, seeing as how they aren't raising any eyebrows at the teenagers' many "hiking trips" and "nature days" that Carlisle pulls them out for every time the weatherman predicts sun, so he would seem to be the reasonable choice for maneuvering Edward out of his latest predicament.

Secondly, however, if Bella's scent is as maddening to Edward and he claims, it seems unlikely that merely removing himself from their shared class is going to make a difference. Sure, he didn't chance to run into her before class this day, but can that pattern really be expected to hold for the next however many years the Cullens stay in Forks? Can he really gamble that he'll never run into Bella on the way to class, or that she'll never cross his path in town when the Cullens go shopping? (Presumably, to keep up appearances they have to go shopping for food they won't eat - and also presumably they will probably throw the food away rather than donating it to a good cause, because doesn't that just mesh so nicely with their lunchroom behavior thus far??)

The only explanation I can see for why Edward is in this office heatedly arguing with this unnamed receptionist is that he's in full-blown panic mode at this point. He's not thinking about retreating as quickly as possible from this puzzling new temptation to the safety of his home. He's not thinking about enlisting Carlisle to help him institute a new homeschooling regimen to keep him out of school from here on out. He's not thinking about how to manipulate this harried receptionist with his vast experience and inside knowledge of her every thought and impulse. He's just reacting out of pure panic.

I find this interesting for two reasons. Firstly, because while the commonly held view of Edward is that he's so cool and controlled that butter wouldn't melt in his mouth, I don't see much evidence for that in-text yet. Last week, we saw him so overcome with blood-lust and hatred for Bella that he wasn't able to control his utterly inappropriate facial expressions throughout an entire 60 minute class; this week we see him rushing into the school office the moment the final class bell sounds so that he can have a panicked and futile argument with a tired receptionist about his school schedule. Neither of these episodes convey maturity or self-control to me, and while I understand that Edward is working under seriously extenuating circumstances, I want to highlight them now so that we can think about them later.

The second reason Edward's panic-stricken behavior interests me is because I'm very curious to know where the rest of his siblings are. One of his siblings - pixie-dancer Alice - has the supernatural power of premonition, so she has either utterly failed to predict this major life event for Edward or has chosen to keep it entirely to herself, which would seem very out of character for her. Furthermore, the Cullen siblings car-pool to school so it seems like Edward's siblings should be scouring the campus for him so that they can hurry up and get home - none of them give the impression of being likely to enjoy hanging around after school chatting with the other students.

   The door opened again, and the cold wind suddenly gusted through the room, rustling the papers on the desk, swirling my hair around my face. The girl who came in merely stepped to the desk, placed a note in the wire basket, and walked out again. But Edward Cullen’s back stiffened, and he turned slowly to glare at me — his face was absurdly handsome — with piercing, hate-filled eyes. 
   ...He turned back to the receptionist.
   “Never mind, then,” he said hastily in a voice like velvet. “I can see that it’s impossible. Thank you so much for your help.” And he turned on his heel without another look at me, and disappeared out the door.

I promised myself when I started this deconstruction that I would give credit where credit was due, so I will say here that to my mind this scene is fairly well done. As the wind carries Bella's scent to Edward, some hint of his advanced age and careful training manages to slam the lid on his panic. He gathers as much of his composure as he can, cuts off his futile argument with the receptionist, and retreats as quickly as possible. This actually seems like appropriate in-character behavior for a one-hundred year old vampire who has been extensively trained to deny his powerful physical urges in public.

   “How did your first day go, dear?” the receptionist asked maternally.
   “Fine,” I lied, my voice weak. She didn’t look convinced.
   When I got to the truck, it was almost the last car in the lot. It seemed like a haven, already the closest thing to home I had in this damp green hole. I sat inside for a while, just staring out the windshield blankly. But soon I was cold enough to need the heater, so I turned the key and the engine roared to life. I headed back to Charlie’s house, fighting tears the whole way there.

No matter how you feel about Bella and her intensely self-absorbed and often judgmental internal dialogue, it's impossible not to be a little sad at this exchange.

As we said last week, she's not shaken up because Edward Cullen has failed to propose his undying love to her at first sight; she's shaken up because an extremely powerful, burly man has been assigned to her as a lab partner and he has spent the better part of the afternoon clearly expressing his immediate and total hatred of her. Her fellow students have noticed this odd behavior but have failed to come to her aid; the teacher who should have been looking out for his students was too absorbed in his own concerns to even notice the violence taking place in his classroom. Now, directly asked by a school official how her day went, Bella buckles to socialization and reassures the stranger that everything is fine: Bella knows from experience that Good Girls Tell Lies.

At least, that's how I see it. 

Note: Do y'all realize we just finished Chapter 1? I am so very excited to say that! By my calculations, if we continue at a rate of 5-6 months per chapter, we should be done just before the heat death of the universe! Who wants to be in charge of bringing blankets and smores?


Pamela Merritt said...

It's a romance trope in itself to have a couple dislike each other instantly as a "meet cute," but I gotta hand it to Meyers; I never would have thought of passionate hatred.

Gym class was when shy, socially challenged, or introverted types were simply thrown into a pit of ridicule and torment right out of early Stephen King. Yes, it's boring, and yes, it's stupid; but to hate it you need a good reason. Bella has her clumsiness; since she's adored on sight, the best reason to hate gym class is not valid for her.

Ana Mardoll said...

@facebook-1440387872:disqus Haha, maybe this explains why she *wasn't* adored universally at her last school. Her gym-inflicted injuries made her a social outcast and pariah. Presumably, the longer she stays in Forks and the more injuries she inflicts with volley balls, whiffle bats, parachute nylons, and orange safety cones, the more she will become universally reviled by all. *grins*

SkyknightXi said...

(I'd rather THWART the heat death, thank you...)

I am curious as to how absolute Alice's foretelling is, though. Does she literally see the totality of the future to a given distance? Better still, does she see possible divergence points? Perhaps she didn't forewarn Edward (and becalm him by explaining that no, he was NOT going to ever drain Bella) because the future proceeding from that was guaranteed to be some form of ruinous?

Phil said...

Finishing this would be something to look forward to before we all have to become Toclafane.

SkyknightXi - From my understanding of it, Alice sees glimpses of important events but doesn't see how things lead there. 

For example (SPOILER), in New Moon, she saw an image of Bella as a vampire but didn't know how it would happen. (/SPOILER)

But even then, the future can be changed if someone makes a different decision than they did in the timeline in Alice's vision. Er, I hope that makes sense. 

Varina Jones - Sounds like a necessary bit of paperwork for Sunnydale High. 

I recall in the Blue Beetle comic book (which was really good, by the way), Jaime explains his year-long absence from  school by saying he got hit by a strange beam and woke up a year later. His school, being in the DC Universe and all, had a simple form for that. 

Kit Whitfield said...

 I rather wonder if Bella's constant and crippling clumsiness could be indicative of a serious medical condition - some kind of inner ear disorder, maybe? Perhaps someone else can weigh in on this, because I'm hardly an expert. 

There's a medical disorder known as dyspraxia which might account for it. Brain messages don't connect to the body very well, so you can have difficulties with speech, fine motor skills, or whole-body coordination. I doubt that's what's going on with Bella, though


The 'low, attractive' voice thing snags me. Is it low-pitched, or low volume? And what does she mean 'attractive'? She gets to velvet later, but by that time I'm just vagued out. 

More generally, you might make another case for Edward's behaviour, which might or might not co-exist with panic: he's an adult, and so tries to solve things in the way an adult would - independently. A teenage boy might call his dad and ask for help if they had a good relationship, but adults resolve things amongst themselves. Edward is, you might argue, doing exactly what a mature person would do, which is going to the nearest authority and trying to sort things out; possibly his life with Carlisle allows him so much independence that it just doesn't occur to him to employ him as an actual dad in that situation. 

Of course, you could well argue that if that was why, it might be that Edward was forgetting the masquerade because he was too busy panicking, and if he were calmer he might remember that a family-oriented teenager like he's supposed to be would probably want to talk to his parents if he had a problem. 


I see Bella's lies more as an attempt to preserve her privacy, a way of keeping herself above all the citizens of this town that she's decided to disdain before she ever gets there. But your case is at least as good as mine. :-)

Darice Moore said...

I had to laugh... because I did have a PE teacher named Coach Clapp. It was in elementary school, though, so we were not mocking him with STD puns!

The Dread Pirate Matt said...

@fa009241bbd15ee840d21056d1306fb2 "Literally" vs "figuratively" or "metaphorically" is one of my pet hates. Also, "10 items or less" at the supermarket irks me, since it should be "10 items or fewer" (likewise "amount" vs "number").
Interesting, too, that SMeyer chose  the correct (but less common) "nauseated" rather than "nauseous". What I can't figure out though, is this SMeyer or Bella using the correct form? Most teenagers would use "nauseous" (or more likely just "sick"); is this a subtle reference to Bella's prowess at English (she finds Chaucer and Brontë "simple" after all), or is it the omniscient narrator showing how smart *she* is?

Ana Mardoll said...

@openid-75620:disqus I'll admit to misusing "Literally" a lot in conversation. Actual transcript from last week:

Ana (to Husband): I have had such a week. I am literally coming apart at the seams.
Ana (to Husband): And when I say "literally", I mean "figuratively".


My own grammar pet peeve is when people say VERB + AND when they mean VERB + TO. Like "Remember AND shut the door" when they mean "Remember TO shut the door". I don't really mind it in conversation, but if I see it written somewhere, I just want to fix it so badly.

The Dread Pirate Matt said...

@anamardoll:disqus The VERB + AND seems to be peculiar to North America (not sure if Canadians have the same affliction?) Unfortunately, it's creeping into the Australian vernacular (largely via TV I assume), particularly in the form of "try and ..." instead of "try to ...". My High School English teacher had the pet peeve of "for free"; it is "for nothing" or simply "free".
I guess that's just the evolution of language (e.g. "terrific", "awful"); sometimes it's hard to know where to draw the line. I'm with you completely that it's harder to accept in written form. I also have a problem when it's people who *should* know better, i.e. where that person's job requires a background in English, such as marketing or advertising. My wife berates me for correcting the grammar in ads on TV.

keri said...

Sorry, guys, but "literally" to mean not actually word-for-word true, but as an intensifier or "metaphorically, but more true than that" has been around for centuries. One of the latest Language Log posts on the subject: Even Dickens used it!

Ana Mardoll said...


It's easy to see how this purely-emphatic sense of literally turns into the hyperbolic sense, as it did by 1839 when Dickens wrote in Nicholas Nickleby:

His looks were very haggard, and his limbs and body literally worn to the bone, but there was something of the old fire in teh large sunken eye notwithstanding, …

How delightful! If Dickens 'misused' Literally as well, then I feel much better about the whole thing. I'll just say my slip-ups are an homage. :D

Nenya said...

Perhaps Bella's personal conception of hell is so milquetoast that it actually *is* only as bad as a very bad gym class? If so, her "personal hell" could "literally" be gym. 

(As a nerdy non-athlete with childhood asthma, I bless the gods for giving me such a small school that we didn't *have* a gym class. We went biking, or took walks, or attempted very sad badminton games, and that was bad enough, though it was sometimes fun too. I would have been deeply traumatized by middle school gym, from all the tales I've heard.)

Pamela Merritt said...

For me, "hell" was "high school" though I can see how it would be mitigated if I also wasn't dealing with a dysfunctional family life at the same time. Still, it's hard to see how blocks of excruciating boredom (classes) punctuated by institutionalized torment (gym class) under a brooding atmosphere of ridicule and humiliation (my nerdly self vs the cultural expectations that I be attractive, submissive, and stupid) could be something I'd want to repeat, much less live in.

Just FYI: I got much better. I grew into attractiveness, I moved to a culture that valued assertiveness, and it's turned out that it's good to be smart!

My own feeling about the Edward incident in the office is that it's a writing device: this is the only way Bella is going to SEE Edward's over the top reaction to her presence yet again. If Edward talks to his father or the teacher or makes other moves that might be more sensible in his position, it's not something Bella can witness, and she's the "third person limited" narrator; the book's events must be filtered through her.

Which is exactly the way she likes it...

JarredH said...

A lot of things can make you terrible at sports.  I'm terrible at them because I grew up with a lazy eye and a brain that compensated it by alternated which eye was dominant at seemingly random intervals.  (It's hard to catch or hit a ball when it "jumps" six inches to one side or the other at the critical moment.  And actually hitting a ball in such a way that it goes where you want it to?  Forget it.)

Not sure what conditions might result in a high number of injuries, though.

Silver Adept said...

Isabella's form is probably a teacher acknowledgement of "Yep, got the new student, she's here, and please add her permanently to my roster, thanks."

As for Edward's blind panic, the fact that he's talking to the receptionist would seem to indicate this - a calmer and more rational Edward would seek the guidance counselor, the biology instructor, or someone who has direct control over the placement of Edward's schedule. Heading to the principal to demand you get classes changed will get you stymied by the gatekeeper.

Even then, though, since he can read minds, he can probably do all sorts of things to make that receptionist feel very uncomfortable and want to pass him on as soon as possible.

That seems somewhat incongruous, though, with the Edward we've met so far and the one that will reassert himself later - unless, that is, all his vaunted self-control is merely a mask, and then we're right back into the Darkest Sketch territory of Edward-as-abuser and / or the reason that the Cullens keep moving is because someone snaps and leaves a bloody swath through whatever town they were in before. Presumably, we're supposed to believe it's Jasper, but he has Alice as a regulator, and really, with the ability that Jasper has, it doesn't seem his style to personally cut down humans. That leaves Edward as the likely candidate, and well, Darkest Sketch, Darkest Sketch...

Ana Mardoll said...

or the reason that the Cullens keep moving is because someone snaps and
leaves a bloody swath through whatever town they were in before.

Normally this would be a very horrifying prospect indeed, but since - as other commenters have pointed out - we've not yet met any LIKABLE Forks natives, well... ;)

Silver Adept said...

Ana Mardoll I'm sure they exist, but we're unlikely to run into them, considering all our characters have to relate to Isabella, and her omnipotence allows us to see all their flaws and none of their virtues, so that Isabella can maintain her status as the perfect girl.

OrionJA said...

Maybe Edward doesn't go to his father because he doesn't trust Carlisle to back him up?  As usual, I haven't read the book, but judging by what we've seen so far

a: What if Carlisle tries to set him up with Bella?  What if he averts the murder by preemptively turning her?
b: What if Edward asks his dad for help, then snaps and kills Bella anyway?  If he doesn't tell anyone about it, his family might not know it was him.
C: What if Edward is already starting to dream that they could be together, and he's afraid Carlisle will separate them?  Right he's desperate for space to figure out what he wants to do, but doesn't want to give up any choices

Even if Edward *is* thinking fairly coolly, there's several reasons he could choose to work alone.  

Varina Jones said...

Given that Forks High School is apparently built on this vast labyrinthine complex, maybe they have new students sign in to every class to make sure they haven't been mauled by werewolves or eaten by vampires gotten lost and wandered off for a period or two during the day.

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