Twilight Recap: Bella has survived her first day of school, but is deeply upset by Edward Cullen's odd behavior -- both in their shared Biology class and afterwards in the school office as he tried to be removed from future Biology classes entirely.
Twilight, Chapter 2: Open Book
Several readers have pointed out that Twilight as a series is sometimes so vague that it is possible for a reader to impose almost any interpretation on the events in the book, and the multiple interpretations -- even if they are mutually exclusive -- are still supported enough in-text to be considered valid. Thus we have the problem of Bella's shifting personality: some readers hate her as a horrible, judgmental person, where other readers see her as deeply sympathetic.
For myself, I tend to see Bella as sympathetic, or at least I try to. I think I tend to see her that way not for the things she does in-text, but for the things she must have done before the series began. I feel sorry for her, I suppose, for having to raise both herself and her mother; I sympathize with the pain she must be going through for having put so much effort into keeping Renee clothed, fed, and financially solvent only to be replaced by Baseball Phil. That can't be easy.
So I imagine, therefore, that there will be wildly different interpretations ahead as we explore the aftermath of The Biology Class Incident.
THE NEXT DAY WAS BETTER . . . AND WORSE. It was better because it wasn’t raining yet, though the clouds were dense and opaque. [...] And it was worse because Edward Cullen wasn’t in school at all.
Again, giving credit where credit is due, I like this line. It's an informative segue from one chapter to the next, and clearly conveys to the reader that that day is done now, and now we're on this day. I'm a rather impatient reader, and I wouldn't have liked it nearly as much if S. Meyer had decided to follow Bella home, have an awkward and uninformative "how was your first day of school, sweetie?" conversation with Charlie over dinner, and then have Bella dutifully brush her teeth and go to bed. No, there's a story to move along, and we're moving. I like it.
And, yet... at the same time, I don't like it. I don't like it because, from a narrative perspective, it feels unfinished. By that I don't mean that I feel I must follow Bella home or I'm forced to assume that she fell asleep in her car because I wasn't informed differently, but rather that from a narrative perspective, Bella has experienced something that has shaken her to her core -- namely, The Biology Class Incident -- and I think an important characterization detail would include how she deals with this issue around her father.
We know from the text that has come before this that Charlie is the Forks chief of police; we know from the text that will come after this that Bella does not relate The Biology Class Incident to her father. The question that I as a reader am now asking, and the question that S. Meyer as an author should anticipate and answer is: Why not?
The first and most obvious possibility is that possibly Charlie was not there when Bella came home that first night. I still don't know what day of the week it is that Bella first went to school -- we know from "New Moon" that the date was January 18th, but the day is still a mystery between Dana's research and the fact that a clever leap-year fix doesn't work because a Friday start date wouldn't account for Bella having school the next day (unless Forks has school on Saturdays) -- but it's entirely possible that Charlie had to take off work in order to pick Bella up at the airport on the 17th. If that's the case, then it seems reasonable that Charlie might have had to work very late on the 18th to make up for lost time. And if he had to work late on the 18th, then there would be no chance of Bella talking to him about The Biology Class Incident, so that would solve that little narrative problem. However, that theory falls out of the gate on page 24:
Last night I’d discovered that Charlie couldn’t cook much besides fried eggs and bacon.
Putting aside the many fun and interesting implications of that sentence until next week, we have to concede that Charlie was home long enough last night for him to at least tell Bella that he can only cook eggs and bacon, if not cook them for her outright. (Did they also have eggs and bacon on the 17th as well? Next week is going to be such fun.) So it would seem that Bella and Charlie did spend the evening together and they did have the opportunity to talk about The Biology Class Incident, but Bella chose not to bring up the issue. Again, why not?
The next theory is that Bella doesn't have the right relationship with Charlie to broach the subject. Maybe she doesn't feel close enough to confide in him since they really do seem to be functional strangers, despite their summer visits together. Or it's possible that she feels he won't listen to her since Charlie has shown himself to be utterly incurious about Bella's thoughts and feelings by virtue of the fact that he buys her cars without getting her opinions first and he didn't even once ask what prompted her to move in with him and whether or not Baseball Phil had hurt her. It's entirely possible, therefore, that Bella doesn't feel comfortable bringing up The Biology Class Incident with her father, but if that's the case then I want as a reader to see that. I'm not insisting that I should get to view the whole dinner conversation from start to finish, but I do think that a quick acknowledgement that the conversation happened would be good narration and good characterization. It doesn't have to be a lot, just a quick, "I hadn't told Charlie about Edward Cullen's strange behavior because I wasn't sure he would believe me," would do the trick.
There is, however, another interpretation to all this, and it is that having (possibly accidentally) established Edward "The Dreamboat" Cullen as a frightening murderously-glaring tendons-flexing mass murderer, S. Meyer may be trying to edit the situation a little in retrospect to being a little less Threatening Serial Killer Has Marked Me For Death and a little more Meet Cute Misunderstanding Between Lovers.
And you know what? As much as I can hate that from a personal perspective, I can respect it if it is a deliberate characterization choice. If Bella hasn't told Charlie about The Biology Class Incident because she thinks she may have misinterpreted it, or because she doesn't want to make waves or get a stranger in trouble over a murderous-glance-that-turned-out-to-be-severe-indigestion, then I can accept that. I've had moments where I've doubted my own senses, or where someone's utterly unbelievably bad behavior was so very wrong and bad that I was too shocked to take it seriously. Or, as Lemony Snicket would put it:
When somebody is a little bit wrong — say, when a waiter puts nonfat milk in your espresso macchiato, instead of lowfat milk — it is often quite easy to explain to them how and why they are wrong. But if somebody is surpassingly wrong — say, when a waiter bites your nose instead of taking your order — you can often be so surprised that you are unable to say anything at all. Paralyzed by how wrong the waiter is, your mouth would hang slightly open and your eyes would blink over and over, but you would be unable to say a word. -- The Reptile Room (A Series of Unfortunate Events)
So I do understand why Bella might convince herself that maybe Edward's strange and threatening behavior has some kind of reasonable explanation beyond his apparently sudden hatred of her. The problem is that I'm not sure this is what the text is trying to convey. To be fair, there are many examples of Bella doubting her judgment of the situation:
[...] I was terribly uncomfortable, waiting nervously for the moment he would arrive. I hoped that he would simply ignore me when he came, and prove my suspicions false.
He didn’t come, and as time passed I grew more and more tense.
I walked to Biology with more confidence when, by the end of lunch, he still hadn’t showed. [...] I was relieved that I had the desk to myself, that Edward was absent. I told myself that repeatedly. But I couldn’t get rid of the nagging suspicion that I was the reason he wasn’t there. It was ridiculous, and egotistical, to think that I could affect anyone that strongly. It was impossible. And yet I couldn’t stop worrying that it was true.
And, yet, if Bella truly doubts her judgment of the situation, it seems strange to have these statements juxtaposed in the text:
Part of me wanted to confront him and demand to know what his problem was. While I was lying sleepless in my bed, I even imagined what I would say. But I knew myself too well to think I would really have the guts to do it.
It's possible that a lot of this has to do with the human tendency to vacillate between explanations for odd or distressing phenomena. If this is the case, then Bella is understandably caught between the utter certainty that Edward's behavior was the murderous hatred that it appeared to be versus the reassuring rationalization that there must be some reasonable explanation that she is missing and that she can't possibly be related to Edward's strange behavior.
However, I can't help but feel that there is more going on here. It has already been pointed out that Bella's childlike pleas of 'unfairness' in the wake of Edward's threatening behavior smacks of infantilizing Bella in the eyes of the reader. I think, too, that Bella's fantasies of confronting the obviously dangerous Edward, rather than informing a parent, a teacher, or the Chief of Police that happens to live in her house is very telling.
Story-Bella doubts her senses, vacillates between possible explanations for Edward's behavior, and creates elaborate fantasies (that she knows she will never act upon) about confronting him and telling him off. Story-Bella, in other words, does not seem to really accept that Edward is a threat to her. A jerk, yes; annoying, yes; but not a threat. Story-Bella is therefore perfectly placed for a "Meet Cute" twist: when it comes out that this was All A Misunderstanding, then Edward's annoying behavior will now be endearing in retrospect.
The problem with this is that it just doesn't fit what we know about Bella's characterization. Meta-Bella, that is the Bella-that-Bella-must-be-in-order-for-her-backstory-to-make-any-sense must recognize the threat that Edward represents. Bella may be a shy, pretty, clumsy young woman without a lick of common sense, but she's a young woman that has lived her life in The Big City and has spent the entire bulk of that life as the sole caretaker for herself and her pretty single mother, Renee. I cannot believe that Bella would not recognize the potential threat embodied in a big, burly, angry man any more than I can believe that Bella would not have the ability and comfort-level necessary to inform the school officials and/or her Chief of Police father after a lifetime of navigating the adult world as her mother's caretaker. At the very least, I cannot imagine that she wouldn't even consider the possibility of doing so, rather than retreating into comforting fantasies of verbally confronting this dangerous man.
For these reasons, I believe that this chapter is a solid case of plot-driving-the-characters rather than characterization-driving-the-plot. If Meta-Bella were allowed to unfold naturally then quite a few people would end up looking very bad -- ultimately, the school officials and Charlie would have to dismiss her concerns as irrelevant in order for Edward to plausibly escape detection. Even then, the damage would be done to the story, since even the slightest hint of investigation or suspicion should send the Cullens immediately packing. But even if the narrative were somehow to skate around all that, you still couldn't have a romance story at the end of it because Bella wouldn't be wrong about Edward. A "Meet Cute" requires the misunderstanding person to be corrected, and there would be no possible correction here because the very thing that Bella was objecting to -- I don't want Edward around me because he is a murderer -- would be true.
Therefore, we're given this clumsy overlay of Story-Bella, despite the fact that her childish demeanor and unwillingness to recognize and report danger flies in the face of all Bella's characterization thus far. From an authorial perspective, by having Bella keep The Biology Class Incident to herself, Charlie is allowed to continue being a doting-if-distant father, the Cullens are allowed to stay above suspicion within the cloudy town of Forks, and most importantly of all the "Meet Cute" misunderstanding is salvaged because now Bella can object to something -- I don't want Edward around me because he is an unfair jerk -- that is completely wrong.
That is how you sacrifice a character in order to save a story. And all you had to do as an author was create a character so loosely characterized and thoroughly fractured that every possible interpretation of her motives inadvertantly becomes simultaneously true.