Twilight Recap: Bella has returned home after her second day of school in time to start dinner and answer her email before Charlie gets home.
Twilight, Chapter 2: Open Book
"I had decided to read Wuthering Heights — the novel we were currently studying in English — yet again for the fun of it, and that’s what I was doing when Charlie came home."
I'm going to admit up front: I'm not a huge fan of English literature in general and the Austen/Bronte stuff in particular. This was rather awkward when I was an English major in college and the only girl in the department who wasn't an Austenite, but we all agreed to disagree on the relative awesomeness of Austen and the Bronte sisters and managed to get along fairly well.
So with that understanding of my own personal bias, I'm having a hard time with this characterization of Bella re-reading "Wuthering Heights" for fun. Realistic for a high school student, particularly one of her general character thus far, or pretentious literary name-dropping? Discuss.
"Bella?" my father called out when he heard me on the stairs.
Who else? I thought to myself.
Some of you have been floating the utterly delightful theory in the comments of these posts that Charlie is, in one way or another, associated with the Cullens since their initial move into Forks. I like the theory not just because it tickles my darker fanfic fancies, but because in some ways it makes sense that the Cullens would seek out and cultivate a relationship with the chief of police in whatever doomed town in which they settle.
No matter how careful the Cullens are with their hunting and no matter how well they hide the blood-drained bodies of the animals they hunt, it stands to reason that eventually someone is going to see something. The Cullens' cover just doesn't add up: they keep to themselves, they socialize very little, they disappear into the woods for long weekends and surprise out-of-school excursions. And that doesn't even get into their shopping habits, which are almost invariably going to feature some oddities: bushels of toilet paper for the liquid diet family, and three women who never seem to need feminine hygiene products? Even if people don't consciously put the pieces together, it seems to me that on some level, there's going to be some suspicions.
So knowing that someone, somewhere, sometime is going to see or hear or find something to make them suspicious enough to go to the local police, it stands to reason that the Cullens would do everything in their power to get to know Charlie Swan. It would make sense, after all, to make certain that the local police chief isn't going to give a lot of credence to whatever outlandish story someone brings to him the first time they see Edward streaking stark naked through the woods after a frightened bobcat.
The real question ultimately becomes whether or not Charlie knows he's being influenced and manipulated by the Cullens -- tips in the FOOD MONEY jar? emotional spikes from Jasper? -- and whether or not he knows they're actually dangerous. His question here upon hearing a creak on the stairs -- "Bella?" -- is particularly poignant. "Who else?", Bella thinks, but those of us who have read ahead know that several inhabitants of Forks can enter and leave Charlie's house on a whim.
“Thanks.” He hung up his gun belt and stepped out of his boots as I bustled about the kitchen. As far as I was aware, he’d never shot the gun on the job. But he kept it ready. When I came here as a child, he would always remove the bullets as soon as he walked in the door. I guess he considered me old enough now not to shoot myself by accident, and not depressed enough to shoot myself on purpose.
And now let's talk about gun safety. Charlie keeps a loaded gun in the house and doesn't even bother to mention to his newest housemate that, hey, gun over here, loaded, don't touch. Apparently Charlie seems to think that these finer points -- gun, here, loaded, no touching -- can be assumed to be understood by everyone in the household, in which case he is ignoring every basic gun safety rule I know which is to not assume stuff like that.
What's worse is that Bella is famous to everyone she meets for being the clumsiest, most accident-prone person in the whole world. Edward will even comment later that Bella can't walk across a perfectly even surface without finding a way to trip and fall. Charlie must know this about his daughter; it's impossible to be around her for more than a few minutes before she somehow manages to fling herself into harm's way, so why is he okay with hanging a loaded gun from the coat rack or wherever? It's really just a matter of time before Bella trips, flings out an arm, and discharges the gun by accident. Gah.
“What’s for dinner?” he asked warily. My mother was an imaginative cook, and her experiments weren’t always edible. I was surprised, and sad, that he seemed to remember that far back.
My only real experience with divorce is second-hand: my husband has two teenage children from a previous marriage, and his relationship with the children is significantly closer than that between Charlie and Bella. Even so, I continue to be astonished by the implications in text that Charlie hasn't seen or spoken to or of Renee in the last 16+ years.
Every time Charlie mentions some fleeting personality detail of Renee -- in this case that she likes to cook experimentally -- Bella is bowled over in utter shock that her father's memory has preserved this detail for so long. The only way this makes any sense is if Renee and Charlie have such bristling animosity towards one another that they never speak on the phone, not even about Bella or to arrange her visits, and when Bella does visit Charlie, the entire visit passes without a single conversation about Bella's life in which Renee features even a tiny bit. Only in this way -- with Charlie living in a little insular bubble with zero contact from Renee and no information about her second-hand from their daughter -- does it make sense to me that every little detail Charlie remembers about Renee can be treated as this epic love over which he eternally pines.
Well, the other possibility is that Bella is an absolute ditz and doesn't realize that after 16+ years of entertaining her father with "cooking fiasco" stories over their summer vacations, it might not be that epic when he recalls Renee's traits as an experimental cook.
The two eat in silence through dinner until -- getting up for seconds -- Charlie finally asks if Bella is liking school. She name-drops a few people, namely Jessica and Mike, and Charlie provides some rousing and rather unnecessary backstory for Mike, whose father "makes a good living off all the backpackers who come through here." And then Bella finally works up the courage to bring up what's really bothering her: the Biology Incident.
“Do you know the Cullen family?” I asked hesitantly.
“Dr. Cullen’s family? Sure. Dr. Cullen’s a great man.”
“They . . . the kids . . . are a little different. They don’t seem to fit in very well at school.”
Charlie surprised me by looking angry.
“People in this town,” he muttered. “Dr. Cullen is a brilliant surgeon who could probably work in any hospital in the world, make ten times the salary he gets here,” he continued, getting louder. “We’re lucky to have him — lucky that his wife wanted to live in a small town. He’s an asset to the community, and all of those kids are well behaved and polite. I had my doubts, when they first moved in, with all those adopted teenagers. I thought we might have some problems with them. But they’re all very mature — I haven’t had one speck of trouble from any of them. That’s more than I can say for the children of some folks who have lived in this town for generations. And they stick together the way a family should — camping trips every other weekend. . . . Just because they’re newcomers, people have to talk.”
It was the longest speech I’d ever heard Charlie make. He must feel strongly about whatever people were saying.
And now I have to think that the penny drops and we finally see that either Charlie is intentionally covering for the Cullens or he's been manipulated into being their dupe and just doesn't realize it. None of what he says here in this pro-Cullen rant seems natural; the flow of the whole thing feels forced to me.
"People in this town" would seem to indicate that Charlie is aware of gossip about the Cullens and is angry and disgusted about it. This is further indicated by his immediate jump to the defensive when Bella brings up the Cullens; instead of expressing surprise at her statement that they don't seem to fit in ("Oh, really? I hadn't heard.") or doubt ("That can't be right, honey, you must be mistaken."), he leaps to angry and upset. It is, of course, entirely possible that the town has quite a few malicious gossipers, but it seems odd somehow that Charlie would so quickly and so strongly discount the opinions of people he must have known all his life -- or at least the last 16+ years -- in favor of a new family of rich-but-odd strangers that, in all fairness, don't seem to be making an effort to fit in. It's not like they're inviting people over for dinner, and they're frequently yanking the kids out of school and insisting that they date within the family -- those things are going to seem a little anti-social in even the most favorable light.
"Dr. Cullen is a brilliant surgeon" also seems unnecessarily defensive. Carlisle may be a good surgeon, and there's nothing wrong with people saying so, but on what basis is Charlie saying that Carlisle is brilliant and could work in any hospital! anywhere! at ten times the salary! I'm genuinely curious on what Charlie is basis this assessment -- did the hospital provide Charlie with Carlisle's resume? It seems unlikely that Carlisle would have a long resume or list of accomplishments, considering that the Cullens are living "off the grid"; it seems equally unlikely that Charlie would have looked them up on a whim. The "we're lucky to have him" seems almost personal, but if Carlisle has been saving lives left and right since arriving in Forks with his Mad Surgical Skillz, then why are people hostile against the family? Something doesn't add up here.
"We're... lucky that his wife wanted to live in a small town," reads awkwardly as well. I suppose this is a veiled rant against Renee, but then again as far as we know Renee never had a problem with small towns -- her problem was with perpetually rainy towns. How does Charlie know that Esme "wanted" to live in Forks? Is that the Cullen cover story for the brilliant doctor being in a small town -- that his wife wanted it? Or is Charlie just assuming that Esme must want to live in Forks because otherwise she'd take off like Renee did? But even if this is the case, I'm having a hard time seeing how Esme's love of small, rainy town is extraordinarily "lucky". There are lots of women who live in Forks and Charlie should have met some of them, what with having lived there his entire life -- does he assume that most of them don't want to live in Forks, but they just don't have the resources to move?
Lastly is Charlie's strange assumption that "all those adopted teenagers" would automatically be trouble, and his interesting assertion that the Cullen children are all "well behaved and polite". Side-stepping the ageism that Teenager = Trouble as cutesy characterization for a hard-boiled police chief, I'm interested in knowing what contact Charlie has had with the Cullen children at all, other than "not getting arrested for stuff". As for their supposed virtues, only Carlisle's quick thinking and smooth explanations have kept the children from being reported as truant for their many missed days of school, and the children as a group are anti-social to the point of notoriety -- they do not hold jobs, do not regularly attend their classes, do not socialize outside of their family, do not date outside of their family, and do not smile much or give the time of day to anyone. It seems like the only way Charlie could call the Cullen children "polite" or "well behaved" would be by never interacting with them at all.
It seems strange, almost suspicious, for Charlie to be a mouthpiece for the Cullens with so little apparent interaction with the family. This isn't like his relationship with Billy Black, where he spends long weekends on fishing trips at the reservation -- Charlie doesn't even know the Cullens' names and ages -- in chapter 17, he will 'comically' mix up Emmett and Edward, while mistakenly calling the youngest Cullen "Edwin". It's apparent from every other scene in this book, every in-text interaction between Charlie and the Cullens, that the chief of police of Forks knows almost nothing about this new family -- or at least is pretending to know almost nothing about them -- and yet at the first reminder that the people he lives around and grew up with have disparaging remarks to make about this family, he will fly into an utterly uncharacteristic rant. Why?
I backpedaled. “They seemed nice enough to me. I just noticed they kept to themselves. They’re all very attractive,” I added, trying to be more complimentary.
“You should see the doctor,” Charlie said, laughing. “It’s a good thing he’s happily married. A lot of the nurses at the hospital have a hard time concentrating on their work with him around.”
Maybe there's a simpler explanation here. Maybe Charlie loves Carlisle not because he knows the first thing about Carlisle, but rather because he wants to be Carlisle. He's a brilliant man, and the town is lucky to have him! His beautiful wife wants to live in the small, sleepy town of Forks! His children are well behaved and polite!
It's the dream Charlie always wanted to live and instead of being jealous of Carlisle, he idolizes a man he barely knows. The fact that this unfounded idolization will indirectly cause Charlie to lose his only daughter to undeath is, perhaps, the most tragic aspect of all this.