Twilight, Chapter 2: Open Book
I sipped my soda slowly, my stomach churning. Twice Mike asked, with unnecessary concern, how I was feeling. I told him it was nothing, but I was wondering if I should play it up and escape to the nurse’s office for the next hour.
Sometimes it strikes me that Bella rarely takes the long view of things. As a character, she's not exactly impulsive, but at the same time she seldom seems to think past her current decisions. I almost wonder if we couldn't apply this trait to every major character decision she's made thus far.
Bella decides to move to Forks to solve an immediate problem: she's a third wheel in Renee's new marriage. All well and good, but she hasn't seemed to think through what this move might entail or how she plans to occupy herself after the move -- among other things, she's disappointed to find that the school curricula will be a repeat of what she's already learned and she's surprised when the Forks library turns out to not be well-stocked, all of which would seem to indicate that she didn't do a lot of research (either online, or with her father) before the move.
Once she arrives in Forks, her father presents her with a car that almost certainly will be a huge gas guzzling expense, and though she is ostensibly quite poor (although not so poor that she'll ever seems to feel the need to get a job) she doesn't think twice about gas mileage until after she contemplates her first road trip. On the one hand, this might be a normal omission for an inexperienced teenager, but on the other hand, you'd think her somewhat unique relationship with her mother might have tuned her to consider these hidden costs more.
Now Bella is considering "escaping" Edward by pretending to be sick and hanging out in the nurse's office for all of Biology. This idea is so preposterous I'm left wondering if we're supposed to add "a little dim" to our mental characterization of Bella or if that conclusion is merely an unintended consequence. For the first thing, you don't get to go to the nurse's office with no symptoms whatsoever and hang out for a full hour until your biology class is done. You think no student has ever thought of this plan before to skip class, Bella? You think school nurses aren't specifically trained to be more suspicious than an airport security guard? Ha. For another thing, this plan is going to help in the long run how, exactly? You'll miss important information in your biology class that will no doubt be on some test or quiz later and you'll just have to go back again the next day and face Edward Cullen then, because you can't continue to be ambiguously sick every day from exactly 1 pm to 2 pm. Sorry, Bella.
I do think that Bella has the right to be frightened by Edward, although I admit to being somewhat surprised that she's kept her fear up this long despite the glowing Cullen recommendations she received earlier in the week from her father. Still, it's worth noting that her interpretation of the Biology Incident is entirely correct -- Edward Cullen was in fact struggling with a compulsion to kill her. +1 to Gryffindor for correctly reading body language, and all that. (Question: Where would the Sorting Hat place Bella? Discuss. Answers of "Sparklypoo" will not be counted.)
However, if Bella really and truly is frightened of Edward, she needs to do something more constructive than come up with laughably inept ways to avoid him from here on out. She needs to talk to a teacher, confide in an adult, and tell her father precisely what happened. These "I'll go hide in the nurse's office!" plans only serve to make her seem childish and to downplay the real and present danger she is facing. It's an attempt to crowbar the Edward/Bella meeting into a Meet Cute framing that simply doesn't work when one half of the Meet Cute pair is a decades-old serial killer.
I decided to permit myself one glance at the Cullen family’s table. If he was glaring at me, I would skip Biology, like the coward I was.
And this little "bargain" conclusively proves that Bella doesn't realize her "nurse's office" plan simply is not going to work. Can she really be so naive as to assume she can pitch up on the nurse's doorstop without a single symptom of chills, sweats, fever, vomiting, or anything more than "not feeling well" and a cot will be trotted out obligingly for her until Biology class is over? Or does she think that despite supposedly being a "bad liar" she can somehow fake enough symptoms to get her through the rest of the day? Is she going to leap up and be cured when the 2 o'clock bell rings exactly or will she also miss pieces of her later afternoon classes?
I kept my head down and glanced up under my lashes. None of them were looking this way. I lifted my head a little.
Readers, help me out on this one. I submit that no one outside of novels, animated films, and mascara commercials can deliberately look through lashes. Maybe it's just me, but my lashes are close enough to my eyes that I don't see them as defined lashes so much as just light, blurry filters. If I squint my eyes almost shut, I suppose I am technically looking through my lashes, but to me it's just blur-o-vision and it certainly wouldn't be inconspicuous -- if anyone was to watch me doing so, I wouldn't look casual and relaxed, I'd look unaccountably squinty-eyed.
Of course, I do have peripheral vision, but my peripheral vision has nothing to do with my lashes. Am I the only one like this or is this whole construct of dewy eyes carefully observing the hero through the veil of her delicate lashes something entirely made up for fiction?
“Bella, what are you staring at?” Jessica intruded, her eyes following my stare.
At that precise moment, his eyes flashed over to meet mine.
I dropped my head, letting my hair fall to conceal my face. I was sure, though, in the instant our eyes met, that he didn’t look harsh or unfriendly as he had the last time I’d seen him. He looked merely curious again, unsatisfied in some way.
I can't understand the physics of this situation at all. Her head was already "down" so that she could "glance up" under her lashes -- a tricky thing indeed when your target is across the room from you and therefore in generally the same horizontal plane, I would think. Now she drops her head further -- how much space is left in which to drop? Is she banging her head on the lunch table? Her hair falls like a curtain to shield her from Edward; this device was also used in the Biology Incident, but it works less well here because the "hair as curtain" device works best when the two people are side-by-side, not when one was -- a moment before -- facing the other directly.
The only way this scene seems to work in my head is if Bella's nose is half an inch from the table and her hair has completely flipped over her face -- not a position I think of as inconspicuous. Surely she would have been wiser to just let her eyes move to something more plausible than Mr. Cullen -- say, the terribly interesting table next to the Cullen table?
“Edward Cullen is staring at you,” Jessica giggled in my ear.
“He doesn’t look angry, does he?” I couldn’t help asking.
“No,” she said, sounding confused by my question. “Should he be?”
“I don’t think he likes me,” I confided. I still felt queasy. I put my head down on my arm.
“The Cullens don’t like anybody . . . well, they don’t notice anybody enough to like them. But he’s still staring at you.”
“Stop looking at him,” I hissed.
She snickered, but she looked away. I raised my head enough to make sure that she did, contemplating violence if she resisted.
I'm not sure what to make of this last line at all, and it bothers me quite a bit; every time I read the line, I feel violently thrown from the narrative.
First of all, in many ways the statement seems utterly out of character for Bella. Bella isn't violent; she can barely stand up for herself verbally to her array of unwanted suitors. Nor is she confrontational; she's been put off both food and sleep by the mere thought of having to face Edward Cullen again, and now she's considering a completely hare-brained ploy to avoid him in their next shared class together.
Secondly, I can't think Bella is actually contemplating violence towards Jessica because it seems to me that if she was doing such a thing, we'd get more specifics from her internal monologue. One doesn't "contemplate violence"; one contemplates striking, pushing, shoving, pulling, and so forth. The vagueness of the statement almost completely disavows it, simply because it's not possible to "contemplate violence" without getting into the specifics of what, precisely, Bella wants to do to Jessica to force her to "stop looking" at Edward.
Thirdly, the very idea of using violence to stop Jessica from drawing the Cullens' attention by staring at them is counter-productive in the extreme. A WWE-style smackdown with Bella climbing on top of the cafeteria table and pile-driving Jessica into the linoleum with a well placed shout of "B----, stop looking at my man!" isn't exactly going to convince Edward Cullen that Bella isn't obsessed with him.
No, everything about this statement is so jarring to me, that I can only interpret it in the "story-telling" sense where people condense their experiences into a clever party story:
"What would you have done if she hadn't stopped staring, Bella?"
"Well, at that point I was contemplating violence..."
<droll chuckles as everyone breaks and returns to the hors d'oeuvre table>
But if this interpretation makes sense -- and I feel that it does -- what does this mean for the rest of the narrative? Twilight is no longer a series of events narrated from a single point of view as they unfold; now it would seem that the novel is a sanitized version, narrated from a distance, and no longer as trustworthy as before. The fan theory that the novel is a hastily stitched together story for the benefit of others -- Renesmee? -- gains traction here, I think.
Mike interrupted us then — he was planning an epic battle of the blizzard in the parking lot after school and wanted us to join. Jessica agreed enthusiastically. The way she looked at Mike left little doubt that she would be up for anything he suggested. I kept silent.
This is another of those technically neutral sentences that nonetheless looks terribly catty in a certain light. Sure, this could just be a simple observation of Jessica having a deep crush on Mike; it could also serve as further contrast to Jessica and Bella's feelings for (as well as their chemistry with) Mike: Bella isn't interested in Mike or his rough and tumble games, but Jessica is happy with both the boy and his boisterousness.
On the other hand, that "she would be up for anything" line smacks just on this side of either outright slut-shaming (ifyouknowwhatImean, wink-wink-nudge-nudge) or more subtle criticism of losing oneself in order to please a boy. The implication almost seems to be that obviously Jessica doesn't like snowball fights (no right thinking woman would, or so Bella seems to believe) but she suppresses her feelings in order to be near Mike.
This is definitely a valid concern. Too often in our society, women are encouraged to mold themselves to the likes and dislikes of their men, and to discard their own inconvenient selves and personalities. At the same time, we know so little of Jessica that neither we nor Bella can state with any certainty that she doesn't normally like snowball fights. Furthermore, there is something of an irony in Bella chastising someone for subverting their natural personality in order to be with a man, considering that at least a good deal of the next book will involve Bella subverting her entire personality in order to mourn the loss of a man.