Twilight, Chapter 1: First Sight
“Which one is the boy with the reddish brown hair?” I asked. I peeked at him from the corner of my eye, and he was still staring at me, but not gawking like the other students had today — he had a slightly frustrated expression. I looked down again.
“That’s Edward. He’s gorgeous, of course, but don’t waste your time. He doesn’t date. Apparently none of the girls here are good-looking enough for him.” She sniffed, a clear case of sour grapes. I wondered when he’d turned her down.
The first university I attended was a very small, conservative, private Christian college. I often find myself struggling to describe the culture of the school - if you've never been in that sort of environment, I would think it would be hard to imagine; if you have been in that sort of environment, you may find yourself imagining a different experience entirely - there are as many flavors of private Christian schools as there are Ben & Jerry's ice creams. To make a long story short, I'll just say that the girls were allowed to wear short and pants, and the student body could listen to Carmen without fear of expulsion, but you could be expelled for drinking, swearing, gambling, having premarital sex (as well as for being raped) and it wasn't unheard of at all for the dorm mothers and school counselors to literally stalk students around the city surreptitiously looking for wrong-doing so that they could be hauled in for triumphant expulsion.
We were, however, allowed to date. Encouraged to do so, in fact, which was odd because not a decade before, this same school would expel students for getting married - the idea being that you couldn't be a serious student and have a family life at the same time. Over time, however, the parents and school alumni had noticed that people who didn't marry at-or-before the end of their four-year term had a tendency to go out into the world, meet new people, question the rigid belief structure we'd been given in the mandatory three-times-a-week chapel sessions, and sometimes leave the church. A few of them even went on to vote Democrat. On the other hand, the students who did settle down and get married almost invariably got pregnant within months of the wedding (I had at least two girlfriends whose mothers vehemently encouraged them to not use the pill because it "made you moody") and had a general tendency to stay close to home, within the church support network, and as active members of the local Christian community. Idealism, therefore, had to give way to pragmatism, and with astonishing verve and determination: by my junior year, I didn't know a single girl (including myself!) who wasn't already married or engaged!
When I first enrolled in the school, I quickly became involved in a close network of girls and guys of various different ages and school years. The group was ostensibly for hanging out and having fun, but possibilities for dating and courtship were enormous. One of the guys in the group was particularly sweet and kind, and I finally worked up the courage to ask him - the first time I'd ever asked a guy out! - if he wanted to go see a movie with me. He very politely and extremely gently turned me down and I was only marginally scarred for life... until I confided a week later in one of my new girlfriends and she assured me that he had been asked out many, many times by the very creme de la crop of our group and he never, ever accepted an offer.
At the time, we all saw this as evidence that the gentleman in question was extraordinarily close to god - so close that he wouldn't and indeed couldn't be distracted by the opposite sex. Since he was such an extraordinarily nice guy, we all stayed extremely close friends with him and it was just understood that he didn't date anyone, ever. It wasn't personal - it was spiritual. And then, years later, when we both left that college and its atmosphere behind, and I realized that he was either gay or asexual (I was never sure which because it was not my place to ask and he never felt the need to tell me) and that his sexual preferences might have had just as much, if not more, bearing on his refusal to date me than any religious fervor, well, I definitely didn't take my rejection personally at that point, either.
I think of my friend occasionally, but especially with this passage: Edward Cullen has refused to date any of the girls in his high school, but instead of everyone assuming that he's very religious (and it seems like a Promise Ring would be an ideal disguise for the youngest Cullen) or quite possibly gay, the prevailing assumption here on Jessica's part is that he's an arrogant snot who thinks he's better than everyone else. It's possible, of course, that Jessica - and her friends - may be very mean-spirited people who jump to unfounded conclusions. But it seems to me that human nature isn't easily predisposed towards holding baseless grudges, and the animosity that Jessica apparently evinces here seems awfully strong for a simple "no, thank you" rejection.
Now, it's possible that I'm treading on the ground of victim blaming, and I certainly don't want to do that; any person should feel free to turn down any advance in whatever way they feel comfortable - and they are not responsible for the attitude that the rejected person decides to take. But having said that, this attitude of Jessica's - that Edward is arrogant and off-putting - does seem to bear out through the course of the novel. I don't think Jessica is being unfair to Edward; I think she's pegged his personality pretty accurately. And if that's the case, Bella's silent smirking over Jessica's "sour grapes" makes Bella seem arrogant and off-putting by association.
After a few more minutes, the four of them left the table together. They all were noticeably graceful — even the big, brawny one. It was unsettling to watch. The one named Edward didn’t look at me again.
I'm glad that Emmett is graceful - it's always an annoyance when big bruisers knock stuff over and cause property damage by accident - but I'm still confused as to how one can be "noticeably graceful" in a school cafeteria setting. Maybe this is a lack of imagination on my part, but the only way this sentence makes sense to me is if the Cullens are exiting the cafeteria via the method of leaping over school tables and cafeteria chairs as though they were lovely gazelles with dewy eyes. Now that would be graceful and unsettling - but you'd think the other kids would notice.
When we entered the classroom, Angela went to sit at a black-topped lab table exactly like the ones I was used to. She already had a neighbor. In fact, all the tables were filled but one. Next to the center aisle, I recognized Edward Cullen by his unusual hair, sitting next to that single open seat.
And now we see that not only does Edward not have a Cullen cutie to complete him, he also doesn't have a biology partner. What I want to know is: why?
I assume that we're supposed to believe that the partners were "picked" among the students and not assigned by the teacher. If that's the case, has Edward vehemently turned down all takers? This seems in fitting with his sourpuss personality, but not with the conceit of the story - the Cullens are supposedly trying not to stand out and attempting to blend in with the humans; that is, after all the whole point of this high school masquerade. And while it makes sense for Edward to turn down potential suitors (he's not interested, she'd only get her feelings hurt, intimacy could blow his cover, etc.), being a lab partner isn't the same as being a girlfriend. I can't think of any real motivation for him to blatantly single himself out by refusing to be lab partners with anyone else - a single period class every day isn't going to out him as a vampire. Of course, we could assume that no one screwed up the courage to ask him, but if he's as desirable as Bella and Jessica claim, it seems unlikely that there wouldn't be at least one brave soul to ask to sit next to him.
I also find it odd that the teacher hasn't solved the problem of an odd-number of students in the time honored fashion of having one group have three partners instead of two. The only explanation I can think of for this is that Edward's advanced grasp of the class concepts coupled with his frequent class absences convinced the teacher that he'd be best sitting on his own - or perhaps that Edward arrogantly demanded to sit on his own, which would - again - seem to fit the judgment that Jessica seems to have of him.
As I walked down the aisle to introduce myself to the teacher and get my slip signed, I was watching him surreptitiously. Just as I passed, he suddenly went rigid in his seat. He stared at me again, meeting my eyes with the strangest expression on his face — it was hostile, furious.
I didn’t look up as I set my book on the table and took my seat, but I saw his posture change from the corner of my eye. He was leaning away from me, sitting on the extreme edge of his chair and averting his face like he smelled something bad. Inconspicuously, I sniffed my hair. It smelled like strawberries, the scent of my favorite shampoo.
Edward is, of course, quivering with
I should reiterate here that I don't necessarily think the writing in Twilight is bad. There's a lot of evocative images, and I do think that it is relatively easy to adjust to the "reader-insert fantasy" concept and drift into a world where everyone loves you and takes care of you and fights for you and you sparkle all day in the sun - it may be a shallow fantasy, but it's a well-executed shallow fantasy in terms of providing a light frame for the reader to hook into and build their own story over the bare bones of the narrative. If anything, it reminds of a slightly stale fanfic - some bare bones world-building, meager characterization, occasional plot holes, and a lot of fantasy and self-insertion.
What little is good in Twilight, however, seems to me to be offset by its incredibly sloppy execution. We've already noted that Bella's assumption that Jessica asked out Edward and was turned down is probably meant to be read by the reader as fact - not because Bella has Sookie Stackhouse levels of mind-reading and clairvoyance, but because S. Meyer created a world where it is fact, and Bella is the voice she uses to convey facts to the reader. Now we see it again in this tableau with Edward: Bella doesn't correctly deduce that her scent is offensive to Edward because it makes any sense in the context; instead, she tells us that her scent is offensive to Edward because it is offensive to Edward, and if S. Meyer knows it to be true, then so does Bella.
What's frustrating here to me is that if Bella had assumed something a little more plausible - like, say, that Edward was an arrogant snot who completely over-reacted to her being his lab partner because he assumes she'll ruin his GPA what with being a woman and an inferior being and all - then her (wrong) assumption would give flow to her later overt antagonism to Edward. What's more, we readers might experience vicariously the thrill of jumping to a wrong conclusion and of learning the truth later.
Instead, though, it seems that S. Meyer either can't write misdirection or she won't write misdirection. Either possibility is intriguing: there are many reasons why new authors can't write misdirection, not the least of which is the fact that sometimes authors forget to separate themselves from their writing long enough to perform the crucial "what do I know and what do the characters know?" exercise. Or, alternately, many authors struggle with devising ways to convey facts to the reader without their first-person narrator having third-person omniscience; in first-person, a lot of information has to be conveyed through conversations, which are frequently very difficult to write due to the difficulties involved in finding a natural-sounding, information-packed, speedy flow - none of which are particularly endemic to everyday conversations.
If, on the other hand, misdirection was deliberately avoided in the pages of Twilight, we have to wonder why. Is the author concerned that unless everything is spelled out for the targeted YA audience, they just won't get it? Or is she concerned that if Bella were realistically flawed and capable of being genuinely incorrect, then her value as a self-insert character would dry up considerably?
In either case, I would like to say that she's under-estimating her audience...and yet, I'm not sure if I can adequately argue with the obvious fact of her success. Can I get a third-party opinion here?