Twilight Recap: After lunch, Bella heads to her next class - Biology II - which she finds she shares with Edward Cullen. As soon as she walks into the room, however, Edward's facial expression and body language become extremely hostile and seem to be directed at the confused and startled Bella.
Twilight, Chapter 1: First Sight
I think I've mentioned before that I am currently employed as a software engineer at a large company. Every year, the employees are required to retake various types of training, including training to recognize and prevent workplace violence. The training isn't difficult - the 'classes' are web videos that the employees can watch from the comfort of their desk. Sometimes there's a quiz at the end, but there's no penalty for getting the answers wrong, and I have to give the company credit for treating us all like adults and not falling prey to the temptation to make the whole thing dreadful and awful.
Having said that, I have to now point out the elephant-in-the-room which is that the training isn't particularly useful. Don't get me wrong, I think the goals behind the training are worthy and I think with some serious rework the training could be useful, but the training is currently implemented so poorly that the whole thing feels more like a yearly exercise in legal indemnification than an actual attempt to actually educate employees. The biggest problem is that the training materials are vague, confusing, incomplete, and contradictory. Several of the courses haven't been updated in years and almost all of them were clearly outsourced to some training video corporation who was deliberately as generic as possible in order to resell the videos to as many companies as they could get away with. Whenever an example scenario is shown, it's almost always an obvious black-and-white issue as opposed to a shade-of-gray ambiguous situation where training could actually clear up some questions and misconceptions.
For instance, the company has a rule that "no weapons" are allowed on the business campus, so to illustrate this the training videos are quick to point out that if Someone Brings A Gun To Work, the incident is to be reported immediately to a phone number that isn't included in the training materials but which you could probably find on the company website if you searched hard enough. The problem, of course, is that when you see one of the many "no weapons" signs hung around the campus, most of the employees already assumed that the prohibition included guns. What no one is quite clear on is the issue of the very-large, very-sharp "pocket knives" that a lot of employees bring to work as "tools" for opening boxes, unscrewing computer cases, and repeatedly flipping open and closed during tense meetings. (I'm serious.) Are those knives also included under the "no weapons" rule? It's possible that they aren't and that the knives fall under a "use your best judgment" clause, but it's important to note that the training materials don't address the issue whatsoever. It's all very frustrating.
I bring all this up not because I want to complain about my workplace (although that is a nice side benefit), but because this chapter makes me wonder what sort of violence prevention classes the good teachers of Forks sit through every summer.
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 looked away quickly, shocked, going red again. I stumbled over a book in the walkway and had to catch myself on the edge of a table. The girl sitting there giggled.
The "he" in the passage above is Edward, although you'd be forgiven if you first thought that Bella was talking about her biology teacher, Mr. Banner.
We know from the text that Bella has entered the classroom relatively late in comparison with the other students: she had stayed late in the lunchroom with Jessica and Angela, and immediately upon entering the classroom she was able to note that the only unoccupied chair in the room was next to Edward Cullen - which must mean that all the other students have settled down and taken their seats. It therefore seems very likely to me that Mr. Banner (as well as a good chunk of the student body) should have witnessed at least some of the walk-glare-stumble shenanigans above - if only because people tend to reflexively look up when they hear someone trip, and Edward has nowhere near the necessary self-control at the moment to regain his composure just as everyone looks up to see what all the commotion is about. Mr. Banner just seems nonplussed by all the excitement, though.
Mr. Banner signed my slip and handed me a book with no nonsense about introductions. I could tell we were going to get along. Of course, he had no choice but to send me to the one open seat in the middle of the room.
Now, I went to a lot of different schools when I was growing up. Public school, private schools, and homeschooling - we tried them all, at many different times and for many different reasons. I've had my fair share of teachers, and I have to say that very few of them had "no choice" in classroom seating arrangements. Oh sure, quite a few of them let us sit where we wanted, but almost as many of them had very strong ideas about where and how students should be arranged, and I can't think of a single incident where the teachers didn't get their way. Anything that involved "dual pairs" of students for shared work was especially subject to regular changes - the teachers didn't want students becoming too reliant on a specific partner, or getting too accustomed to working a certain way, or growing too emotionally attached to their partner (the inevitable relationship drama was not considered to be conducive to learning). So I'm very interested to learn that Mr. Banner has "no choice" but to send Bella to sit beside and partner with someone who is very openly glaring at her furiously.
For the next page or so, we get a running description of Edward's openly hostile body language:
...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...
...During the whole class, he never relaxed his stiff position on the edge of his chair, sitting as far from me as possible. I could see his hand on his left leg was clenched into a fist, tendons standing out under his pale skin. This, too, he never relaxed...
...The class seemed to drag on longer than the others. Was it because the day was finally coming to a close, or because I was waiting for his tight fist to loosen? It never did; he continued to sit so still it looked like he wasn’t breathing. What was wrong with him? Was this his normal behavior?...
...I peeked up at him one more time, and regretted it. He was glaring down at me again, his black eyes full of revulsion. As I flinched away from him, shrinking against my chair, the phrase if looks could kill suddenly ran through my mind...
As much as a lot of this feels uncomfortably like purple prose - and as much as I'm made uncomfortable by the careless intertwining of violence and sexuality in these passages as Bella ruminates on Edward's "hard and muscular" forearm that just won't stop clenching into a violent fist - I will give credit where credit is due and agree that this sounds like a particularly uncomfortable class to sit through.
It's interesting to note that this entire scene was heavily edited for the Twilight film. Edward smells Bella from across the room (thanks to some well placed stationary fans), and immediately reacts, but his reaction is one of illness, not hostility. Actor Robert Pattinson clenches his eyes closed, covers his nose and mouth in the universal symbol for extreme nausea, and when he does open his eyes to look at Bella his expression is more "vaguely perturbed" than "homicidally hostile".
There's the difference. Edward looks like he's struggling to remember the lyrics to a Linkin Park song, whereas Fluffy has appropriately been subtitled as "Destroyer of Worlds" on various lolcatz captioning sites.
Part of me wonders if the hostility in this scene was deliberately toned down because the audience had already been clued in that Edward was Bella's destined love interest and the producers didn't want to muddy the waters by making Edward realistically threatening. A brawny man (Bella notes in-text that Edward doesn't seem nearly so slight now that the hulking Emmett isn't sitting next to him) glaring down at a defenseless girl in homicidal rage can be pretty scary and might be difficult for audiences to reconcile with their own established Edward fantasies; better to cast slender, non-threatening Cedric Diggory in the part and just make him look like he's throwing up a little in his mouth.
In-text, however, this moment is particularly distressing when you consider Bella's point of view: not only was she already nervous about school, but now she has to sit next to this hostile and dangerous person and work on lab assignments with him for the rest of the school year. We can legitimately mock Bella for being overly-sensitive on various other issues, but I can definitely imagine being severely freaked out over a 60-minute long encounter of scary-brawny-stranger-glaring-at-me-and-repeatedly-clenching-his-fists, during a droning class on cellular anatomy no less.
At that moment, the bell rang loudly, making me jump, and Edward Cullen was out of his seat. Fluidly he rose — he was much taller than I’d thought — his back to me, and he was out the door before anyone else was out of their seat.
I sat frozen in my seat, staring blankly after him. He was so mean. It wasn’t fair. I began gathering up my things slowly, trying to block the anger that filled me, for fear my eyes would tear up. For some reason, my temper was hardwired to my tear ducts. I usually cried when I was angry, a humiliating tendency.
And, once again, I get this. Bella's strong reaction to Edward's behavior doesn't work in the movie, because it looks like she's moping over not being instantly adored by the hottest guy in school. But in the book, without ever once saying a word to her, Edward has crossed several major social boundaries and has acted in an extremely threatening and frightening manner. If I walked late into a meeting on software standards, took the one empty seat in the room next to a stranger I didn't know, and he spent the entire meeting alternately clenching his fists and glaring at me with open hatred and hostility, I wouldn't merely be uncomfortable, I would be actively frightened and would be sprinting towards the nearest phone to call the campus security.
It's not normal or natural for people to immediately conceive an instant and obvious hatred for a stranger the moment they enter the room. Edward's behavior here - outside of some extremely rare extenuating circumstance, like him actually being a vampire and Bella's scent being his own personal acute temptation, and really, how often does that happen - is unacceptably violent and should be immediately reported by to the school authorities for further investigation (along with his apparent eating disorder, his frequent school absences, and the deep bruises under his eyes).
So I have to wonder: why isn't Mr. Banner doing this necessary and appropriate act of reporting?
We've theorized in the past that perhaps only Bella notices Edward's odd behavior - that to everyone else wrapped up in their busy and complicated lives, the odd behavior of the Cullens is just so much white noise. This isn't a great explanation - a lifetime spent listening to my mother cheerfully "people watch" at the mall the way so many people watch birds in the woods has taught me that no matter where you are, someone is watching you with detached interest - but it's at least a standard literary hand-wave that I'd be willing to accept for the sake of disbelief suspension.
However, this theory trips right out of the gate, since S. Meyer keeps clobbering the reader over the head with new characters who exist to show that Edward really is as affected by Bella as Bella suspects.
“Aren’t you Isabella Swan?” a male voice asked.
I looked up to see a cute, baby-faced boy, his pale blond hair carefully gelled into orderly spikes, smiling at me in a friendly way. He obviously didn’t think I smelled bad.
“Bella,” I corrected him, with a smile.
But as we were entering the gym, he asked, “So, did you stab Edward Cullen with a pencil or what? I’ve never seen him act like that.”
I cringed. So I wasn’t the only one who had noticed. And, apparently, that wasn’t Edward Cullen’s usual behavior. I decided to play dumb.
“Was that the boy I sat next to in Biology?” I asked artlessly.
“Yes,” he said. “He looked like he was in pain or something.”
“I don’t know,” I responded. “I never spoke to him.”
“He’s a weird guy.” Mike lingered by me instead of heading to the dressing room. “If I were lucky enough to sit by you, I would have talked to you.”
Readers, meet Mike. Mike is here for two purposes, both of which involve characterizing our two main characters. Firstly, he is here to assure the reader that Bella is desirable - and not just to greasy 'chess-club types' like Eric. No, Bella is desirable to attractive, socially-competent boys, because she is attractive to Mike and Mike is nothing if not popular with the other students. Secondly, Mike is here to assure us that Bella's assessment of the Biology Incident was correct: Edward's behavior was both unusual and inappropriate.
What isn't said here, but nevertheless must be implied, is that Edward's behavior was also noticeable. If Mike was able to tear his gaze away from the newest pretty girl in class to assess and note the odd behavior of her clearly-uninterested-and-therefore-not-a-romantic-rival lab partner, then we must assume that other people in the classroom also noticed Edward's hostile behavior. We therefore cannot assume that only Bella - either by virtue of her special specialness or by the single-minded obsession that must accompany True Love - observes the strange behavior of Edward in particular and the Cullens in general.
So again I have to wonder why Mr. Banner and none of the other teachers and none of the other students are reacting in a constructive way in response to the obviously destructive (towards Bella) and self-destructive behavior of the Cullens, and the only real answer that I can come up with is that they just don't care. I don't mean that they don't care in a hostile who-cares-if-something-bad-happens-to-the-outsiders kind of way, but rather in a more general apathetic if-it-becomes-a-problem-we'll-deal-with-it-then.
The problem is, you don't deal with workplace violence or school violence or domestic violence by solving it when it becomes a problem. Once violence has occurred, you have failed to prevent it - and the results of that violence are permanent. Even if no one dies or is seriously injured, you still have emotional trauma that will never go away. You can't wait to clarify your knives-on-campus policy until someone has already been stabbed. You can't not speak to your students about their home life until after one of them has dropped dead from malnutrition or come to school with something worse than their usual bruised eyes. You can't fail to address a student's obvious and unwarranted hostility towards their new lab partner until after they've been the victim of an unfortunate lab accident or fallen victim to a completely random and totally unforeseeable
Of course, you can do all those things. You can look the other way, because you're very busy, or because you're not sure if you have all the facts straight and if you should get involved, or even just because you're a single employee in a vast corporate machine and you know for a fact that nothing you ever do or say will make things any better and it will in fact make your life measurably worse. You can do all those things - and I certainly won't blame you because those are all very good arguments and life is complicated like that.
But that's not preventing violence. It's living with it and reacting to it. And, frankly, I'm not sure how to fix that.