Twilight, Chapter 2: Open Book
People greeted me in the parking lot Monday morning. I didn’t know all their names, but I waved back and smiled at everyone. It was colder this morning, but happily not raining. In English, Mike took his accustomed seat by my side. We had a pop quiz on Wuthering Heights. It was straightforward, very easy.
All in all, I was feeling a lot more comfortable than I had thought I would feel by this point. More comfortable than I had ever expected to feel here.
Bella waves and smiles at everyone at the school, even though she doesn't know their names -- on the face of it, this could be rather pleasant behavior. We can't expect Bella to know everyone's name at this point, not even in a small school like this, and it's nice of her to make an effort to be polite to people who are deliberately being nice to her. On the other hand, there's a certain overlay to this scene of aloofness, despite all the cheerful waving: Bella seems almost like a reigning prom queen deigning to smile down on the cheering little people whose names she can't be bothered to know.
Then, too, the ease with which she mentions Mike's "accustomed seat at [her] side" could be almost snobbishly regal or merely descriptive. Since Bella has already expressed discomfort in-text with Mike's attention towards her (at the beginning of Chapter 2, she described him as "taking on the qualities of a golden retriever" and noted with concern that "It looked like I was going to have to do something about Mike, and it wouldn’t be easy."), the tone is important -- a smugly flattered tone would seem out of place with her previous assertions of being uncomfortable with his admiration, but a purely descriptive tone about the continued unwanted affection seems equally out of place.
Her pop quiz on Wuthering Heights is easy, as well we would expect a pop quiz to be if the teacher's goal is simply to determine if the students are on-track for their reading assignments. After all, Bella has read the book once before and now again this weekend. In the same vein, it's not surprising that Bella is more comfortable in Forks than she had previously feared; considering that she thought Forks would be "literally [her] personal hell on Earth", it stands to reason that the reality would be less onerous than her imagination led her to believe. Still, there are two very different ways to interpret these statements of ease and comfort: either Bella is being mature and adapting nicely to her new circumstances, or she's being somewhat smug and melodramatic with her internal exclamations that the test is so simple for her and she's adapting so very well.
Mike caught up to us as we walked in the doors, laughing, with ice melting the spikes in his hair. He and Jessica were talking animatedly about the snow fight as we got in line to buy food. I glanced toward that table in the corner out of habit. And then I froze where I stood. There were five people at the table.
Jessica pulled on my arm.
“Hello? Bella? What do you want?”
I looked down; my ears were hot. I had no reason to feel self-conscious, I reminded myself. I hadn’t done anything wrong.
“What’s with Bella?” Mike asked Jessica.
“Nothing,” I answered. “I’ll just get a soda today.” I caught up to the end of the line.
“Aren’t you hungry?” Jessica asked.
“Actually, I feel a little sick,” I said, my eyes still on the floor.
Against all odds, the boy who was out of school for a week has suddenly returned!
I have mixed feelings about this scene. On the one hand, I'm already on record saying that Bella was perfectly justified in being unsettled by a large muscular man throwing hateful glares at her in Biology class and being socially unacceptable and totally disruptive. I also, having acid reflux issues of my own, fully understand that stress can cause stomach problems to flare up and make having lunch impossible or ill-advisable.
On the other hand, Bella has had a full week to rationalize the Biology incident. The other Cullens haven't said or done anything hostile to her, even though they've run into her briefly outside of class. Charlie has expressed his strong opinion that the Cullens are all good kids, well behaved and without ever getting into a lick of trouble during their stay in Forks. There's certainly something to be said for trusting one's instincts and listening to your own concerns, but there's another something to be said for analyzing a situation and coming up with plausible alternatives.
I mean, what's more likely? That the Cullens have been involved in a careful masquerade of perfect, law-abiding behavior but that Bella's unique scent was an almost irresistible siren call to Edward's vampiric tastes? Or that the Cullens are perfectly normal people and Edward had an allergic reaction to Bella's strawberry-scented shampoo and he was home all week sick from his chemical sensitivity? I'm just saying.
And despite my personal empathy for appetite problems in a stressful situation, I strongly dislike Bella's immediate disdain for food in light of Edward's mere appearance in the school cafeteria. There is a long and complicated history of food and eating in girl-directed media, and the usual stereotype is that when flustered and upset, appetite is the first thing to go for good girls. Since quite a few things are flustering and upsetting in YA literature, this has the side-effect of showcasing a pattern of unhealthy eating behavior to the reader. Sometimes this is even explicitly called out as a good thing for weight loss, as though being "too forgetful" or "too flustered" or "too upset" to regularly eat is a valid and healthy way to live.
So far, we have only seen food in the Twilight novel under the following situations:
- Bella in the cafeteria being too absorbed in the Cullens to enjoy her food.
- The Cullens in the cafeteria, openly not eating and described as thin, lithe, graceful, attractive.
- Bella in the cafeteria being too afraid of seeing Edward to enjoy her food.
- Bella at dinner with Charlie; Charlie has seconds, but Bella implicitly does not.
- Bella in the cafeteria being too shocked to see Edward to even attempt to eat food.
This is not a trend that I like. Not every novel has to be a foodie novel with lavish descriptions of each meal, but at the same time neither am I comfortable with some of the body-fear that I see developing in text thus far. Bella compares herself to the physical figure of Rosalie and notes that merely being in the same room with the model-esque woman causes her self-esteem to dip; the few mentions of food in the novel are really anti-mentions -- the food is mentioned specifically because it isn't being eaten or enjoyed.
A novel for a YA female audience doesn't need to be this way; a novel about vampires shouldn't be this way. Enjoyment of food is something that sets Bella apart from the vampires in her life; by taking time to highlight the sensual pleasures of food, S.Meyer could potentially develop a tension in both Bella's mind and the reader's -- is it worth giving up all the joys of being alive in exchange for love and immortality? One of the things that I personally dislike about getting older is that my taste buds seem to be getting more bland and jaded; Bella, on the other hand, is facing the rest of her life where every meal is the exact same three choices: human blood with a side of monstrous guilt, animal blood which is utterly unsatisfying, or human food that tastes like a pile of dirt.
A large part of our lives boils down to the procurement, preparation, and eating of food. We work to earn money to buy food. We come home and we prepare the food that we earned through our labor. We eat the food. Those of us who are especially fortunate and can afford to do so will usually expend the extra money, time, and effort to make the food enjoyable to our personal tastes. Food is what makes us human, and is one of the most defining differences between humans and vampires. From a literary perspective, vampires are vampires because they drink blood instead of eating human fare, just in the same way as zombies are zombies because they eat human flesh or human brains instead of human food. Sure, there are other characteristics that set the literary vampire apart from humans, but the change in appetite is one characteristic that is almost essential to the vampire definition.
By blowing past these differences between the-Bella-that-is and the-Bella-that-will-be with the usual body-fear of "I'm too distressed to eat my food, and as an implied side-benefit to my situational fasting I'll fit into a socially acceptable dress size" so common to YA girl novels, S. Meyer is missing a major point of difference between Bella's current life and her future one: a life where food is easy to procure, requires no preparation at all, fills you up for days on end, and yet is completely without pleasure or variety.
This isn't a small point, but S. Meyer seems to think it is.