Twilight Recap: Bella has finished her second day of school without incident and the absence of Edward Cullen in Biology class has left her relieved and confused. She's pleased that she doesn't have to deal with his strange hostile glares, but can't shake the feeling that his absence has something to do with her.
Twilight, Chapter 2: Open Book
I walked swiftly out to the parking lot. It was crowded now with fleeing students. I got in my truck and dug through my bag to make sure I had what I needed.
I feel like I've been doing pretty well lately with my resolution to be fair, balanced, and relatively free of vitriol in my deconstructions, but I'm afraid I'm going to have to slip a little to poke fun at this passage. Mark Twain's thirteenth rule of writing is that the author should "Use the right word, not its second cousin," and I have to say that the mental image of students "fleeing" Forks high school does fit in a vampire novel, but it's a very different sort of vampire novel than the one S. Meyer has written.
In all fairness, S. Meyer is presumably meaning to evoke an image of high school students leaving the school premises extremely quickly -- an image that is surely burned into our social consciousness from our own experiences. However, usually those images are accompanied by a very different setting than what we have here, and I think it's worth examining that for a moment.
A major problem I have with a lot of authors of YA books is that the authors are frequently adults. It's possible, of course, for a male author to write a solid female character or for an adult author to write a decent young adult character, but all too often the adult author seems to completely forget what it's like to be a young adult, and instead "remembers" their youth through a nostalgia-soaked rosy filter of poignant memories.
On Bella's second day of school, the students are fleeing the school grounds. That word evokes a connotation of rush and running, of an almost a panicked need to leave the area. Why would the Forks students behave that way? This isn't the last day of school, this isn't -- based on the fact that Bella will go to school tomorrow -- even the weekend. The weather is cloudy and oppressive with thick, dense clouds hanging everywhere, and it is apparently January and therefore presumably pretty darn cold. There's no snow on the ground for sledding, there's no sun out for playing, and the entire town of Forks is wet and glistening from yesterday's rain (and presumably the icicles that formed over night).
I can see why the students might not linger in the parking lot to chat with their friends under these conditions of cold, wet, darkness -- I'd want to get home to the warm house and a good dinner myself -- but I can't picture the students running around in a frenzy to get to their cars. They have absolutely no reason to rush, and in my personal experience most 16-year-olds to 19-year-olds would generally prefer to stride quickly and casually to their rides rather than making a wild dash across a slippery parking lot and potentially make a fool of oneself in public by slipping on an icy patch or dropping your books in the mud in your haste.
I honestly feel like S. Meyer has thought to herself here, "Kids don't like being in school, right?" and then just written a scene where a bunch of young adults act like hyper children scattering at high velocity from their elementary school with nothing to motivate their wild rushing other than a child-like need to put as much distance between them and the school grounds as possible. I really, honestly wish YA authors would stop for a moment before writing something like this, drive down to a nearby high school, and really observe how the teenagers are leaving the school at the end of a cold, wet, January day -- I'm guessing the verb they'd use at the end of this exercise wouldn't be fleeing.
Acerbity aside, we follow Bella to her car.
I gunned my deafening engine to life, ignoring the heads that turned in my direction, and backed carefully into a place in the line of cars that were waiting to exit the parking lot.
On the one hand, I can kind of empathize with Bella here; for years, I owned a Toyota RAV4 that was a real trooper of a car, but in wet weather the brakes squeaked and squealed and shrieked louder than the car horn could honk. We had that car checked out dozens of times, but nobody ever found anything wrong with the brakes -- apparently, they were just... naturally noisy. I would often drive through parking lots with people looking curiously in my direction and though I'm not the best at reading facial expressions, I'm pretty sure that at least a few people were concerned that I was going to run over them. I can understand that.
On the other hand, Bella is in high school. Crappy, noisy cars may gather glances in parking lots for grown-ups, but they aren't exactly a stare-worthy site in a parking lot that serves a clientele composed of teenagers who have just gotten their drivers' license and who are on either their "first car" or a loaned car from their parents, assuming they have a car at all. Forks has a population of less than 4,000 people and is a timber industry town; it really does not seem possible to me that a noisy fixer-upper clunker is a rarity in the Forks high school parking lot. I can see Bella getting stares from people as she's driving -- again, people generally dislike being run over -- but just for turning over the engine? I'm doubtful.
As I waited, trying to pretend that the earsplitting rumble was coming from someone else’s car, I saw the two Cullens and the Hale twins getting into their car. It was the shiny new Volvo. Of course. I hadn’t noticed their clothes before — I’d been too mesmerized by their faces. Now that I looked, it was obvious that they were all dressed exceptionally well; simply, but in clothes that subtly hinted at designer origins. With their remarkable good looks, the style with which they carried themselves, they could have worn dishrags and pulled it off. It seemed excessive for them to have both looks and money. But as far as I could tell, life worked that way most of the time.
The Cullens are "of course" (and isn't it just lovely that Bella's judgmental attitude has now been directed onto the actual story she's in?) both rich and beautiful. They're rich not because Dr. Cullen makes so much money as a small town doctor, but because Alice can see the future and uses her incredible foreknowledge to play the stock market. (One hopes that Alice is smart enough to make the occasional bad investment to keep from being red-flagged by the appropriate parties, but then again I already don't understand how the Cullens manage to file their income taxes from year to year. Maybe the forging of important government documents is how Esme spends all her excessive free time.)
Alice doesn't just play the stock market to keep the Cullens in laundry bleach and a survival nest egg, though. She plays to win, and her parents and siblings flaunt it. The Cullens have designer clothes, designer cars, and designer furniture, and they demand nothing but the best out of their immortal life. And yet, I have to wonder: Why?
I like to play computer games, and contrary to my mother's long-held beliefs from when I was a child, I don't seem to be on the verge of growing out of them any time soon. One game that I occasionally return to for an intense fling is The Sims 2 -- a life simulator game where the player is given control of one or more little people and the (ostensible) goal is to guide them through life and make them successful, healthy, and happy. The game can be fun and addicting, but one thing that it really teaches the dedicated player is how to 'correctly' use cheat codes.
Cheat codes are wonderful things, and I won't hear a word against them, but they have to be used responsibly or they can seriously suck all the fun out of a game. The best time to use a cheat code is when you're so frustrated or annoyed with some segment of a game that the alternative to using a cheat code would be to just quit the game entirely. Cheat codes will get you past the Nintendo Hard level that you've tried and failed a hundred times already, they will help you when a computer bug decides to screw you out of a hard-earned victory, and they can be well wroth considering when an NPC drops yet another grind quest on you and you just want to get back to the darn story.
The thing about The Sims 2, though, is that there is no "story" to get back to -- the whole game is about building a family from the ground up and exploring the little sandbox world around them. So while it can be fun and tempting to cheat code your family into infinite wealth, maxed skills, perfect jobs, and a house the size of Hawaii, the novelty will wear off pretty fast and you'll probably end up quitting the game out of boredom.
Most of us would love to be filthy rich, or at least rich enough that we never have to worry about money again, but we'd love that because we have other things we'd like to do with our finite lifespans. If I didn't have to work, I'd have all the time in the world to play video games, write deconstruction posts, and read web comics -- and if I did somehow get bored with all that after the first 20 or 30 years, infinite wealth would allow me to get a job based on my interests rather than based on what will pay me adequately.
The Cullens, I feel, are living with the cheat codes on. They've got wealth and beauty and immortality; Alice is raking in the cash hand over fist, and they all have enough money that they can indulge their every whim and taste with fine clothes, gorgeous cars, and their own private island resorts. They have all the time in the world to indulge their hobbies, and in fact they've done so: Edward has multiple college degrees, and has attained a high level of skill at the piano as both a player and a composer. And just like playing The Sims 2 with the cheat codes on, I imagine this would be fun for awhile... but then I also expect that the novelty would wear off eventually.
Do the Cullens ever go slumming for a few decades, I wonder? As undead vampires, they lack the same necessities that humans have -- they don't require sleep, they're never really vulnerable, and they can defend themselves easily against just about anything -- so I'm surprised that we don't see or hear a mention of them ever giving up the pretty clothes and fast cars and soft furnishings, at least temporarily. Do they ever set goals for themselves, a la Barbara Ehrenreich from Nickel and Dimed -- does Emmett ever say to himself, "I'm going to go work as a day-laborer for a year and hold down a one-bedroom flat, just to see if I can," or does Esme ever decide to put in some volunteer work down at the homeless shelter?
I don't wonder this from an "understand my fellow man" perspective or even from a "charity" perspective (although surely such charity would help the vampires keep a little bit of perspective about how woobie-sad their lives actually aren't), I just wonder from a boredom perspective. When you're infinitely beautiful and don't have to struggle for anything in life, doesn't that get old after a century? Maybe this is why the Cullen kids go to high school, maybe the torture of endlessly repeating the same grades over and over again offsets their pleasure at having everything else in life handed to them on an Alice-shaped platter, but it still doesn't address the issue that the Cullens by all rights should be starved for stimulation more than they ever have or will be for blood.
No, I didn’t fully believe that. The isolation must be their desire; I couldn’t imagine any door that wouldn’t be opened by that degree of beauty.
It must be said: Bella is either very cynical or very shallow. She's either very shallow for believing that people with good looks can get whatever they want in life, or very cynical for believing that everyone else is shallow enough to give people with good looks whatever they want in life.
Although either personality trait is consistent with the surrounding in-text characterization, and although neither trait is particularly endearing for a protagonist to exhibit, it's important to note that Bella is right: In the Twilight universe, the absolute perfection of the Cullens -- their beauty, their wealth, their immortality, and their super-powers -- opens every possible door for them. And, based on the text in these novels, I think that's how S. Meyer believes life should be.