Twilight, Chapter 2: Open Book
For the rest of the lunch hour I very carefully kept my eyes at my own table. I decided to honor the bargain I’d made with myself. Since he didn’t look angry, I would go to Biology. My stomach did frightened little flips at the thought of sitting next to him again.
You will recall from last week that Bella has spent the bulk of her lunch hour (a) not eating anything, (b) studiously sipping sugar soda, and (c) seriously considering faking an illness in order to hide in the nurse's office for the entirety of Biology class. While studying Edward, she decided that "If he was glaring at me, I would skip Biology, like the coward I was."
Edward has magical mind-reading powers that work on everyone except Bella, so he can't tell when she's looking at him, but his attention was peaked when Jessica noticed that Bella was staring at him. (Follow all that?) Edward and Bella have locked eyes -- briefly -- across the crowded cafeteria, and his expression has been merely curious, and not hostile.
Once again, I find the dynamic here very interesting, and possibly a little unrealistic. On the one hand, I respect Bella's right to trust her initial judgment of the Biology Incident as hostile and frightening. And I can't stress enough that her judgment was right -- Edward was actively considering murdering her. It doesn't get more real than that. So it makes perfect sense to me that Bella would be anxious about sitting next to her would-be murderer again.
On the other hand, however, several days have gone by without anything odd happening. Sure, Edward has been out of school, but he could have been out sick or have had an allergic reaction or something. Certainly, his siblings haven't gone to any effort to single Bella out for any violent behavior, and her father has vehemently praised the Cullen children for being paragons of good teenagers.
It's not that I think Bella should revise her initial judgment based on the opinions of her father and the other Forkians who seem to think the Cullens are peachy-if-odd, but I do somehow feel that most people would revise their opinion of Edward Cullen in this situation. Not because we don't trust our judgment or we're all pushovers, but rather just because Edward's behavior is so utterly unusual that it's natural to seek other, more likely explanations for the behavior.
I find Bella's decision here -- to "honor" her self-bargain in light of the fact that Edward isn't glaring at her -- rather touchingly poignant. It puts me in mind of an almost superstitious mentality, where life is governed by tiny self-promises and little blessings and jinxes: If the supermarket is out of Cherry Coke, I'll start my new caffeine-free regimen this week. If the Adopt-A-Pet people at Petsmart have a German Shepherd puppy this weekend, it's a sign that we're meant to get a dog. If Jim is in the office today, then I'm going to ask him for that raise... otherwise, it's not meant to be.
There's a part of me that sees this as further proof that perhaps Bella has low self-esteem: she's not relying so much on her own logic and reasoning skills as she is on little bargains, coin-tosses, and promises. And yet, I also can't help but feel that this is another aspect of infantilizing Bella and de-fanging Edward in the process -- we could have a detailed breakdown of "what are the pros and cons of me showing up in Biology and what are the statistical odds of my being murdered before class is out" that might really cause the reader to grapple with the danger Edward presents, but instead we just get a quick and almost childish bargain: heads Bella goes to class, tails she runs to the nurse.
Once inside the classroom, I saw with relief that my table was still empty.
I can see Bella being relieved if she thinks there's still a chance that Edward will cut class, but that hasn't been his mode of operation thus far: on the days he's missed class, he's missed lunch as well.
If I were Bella, I think I would be a little more concerned about showing up to class before Edward. Were Edward already in his seat, she could repeat the "slow walk to her seat" routine from their last Biology class together and if Edward showed even the slightest sign of bad behavior again -- glaring, stiff body language, etc. -- then she could immediately bolt out of the room and go with the nurse's office Plan B.
As it is, though, she has very little time left before class starts, and it's going to be harder to bolt from the room once the teacher has started his lecture. Once again, I think Bella isn't taking the long view here.
I heard very clearly when the chair next to me moved, but my eyes stayed carefully focused on the pattern I was drawing.
“Hello,” said a quiet, musical voice.
I looked up, stunned that he was speaking to me. He was sitting as far away from me as the desk allowed, but his chair was angled toward me. His hair was dripping wet, disheveled — even so, he looked like he’d just finished shooting a commercial for hair gel. His dazzling face was friendly, open, a slight smile on his flawless lips.
(I really had to restrain myself from posting whole sections of this chapter and just bolding all the Purple Prose adjectives. That wouldn't be a proper deconstruction, Ana, I told myself. But it would be darned funny, self replied.)
I'll confess that in the last however many weeks since I read the entire book, I'd forgotten just how... turgid the Edward descriptions are. Somehow, the FLAWLESS ANGELIC LIPS OF EDWARD irk me as much or more than any other criticism I could level at Twilight, and I'm not sure why.
Maybe part of the problem is that despite being a very visual-sounding description, I can't actually visualize Edward from this description -- it's a long description that doesn't really seem to say much. The only thing I can think of when I try to imagine "flawless lips" is Angelina Jolie, and if anyone around here is going to have plump Jolie lips handed to them on a silver platter, I'd probably appreciate them more on me than on, say, Husband.
Then there's the odd line about "shooting a commercial for hair gel". Hair gel? I imagine that "underwear model" wouldn't have flown past the censors, but why hair gel? What is that supposed to invoke in the reader's mind besides "generically handsome"? It certainly doesn't drive home a specific hair style to me, as there are about as many different ways to use hair gel as there is to style hair in general.
(Interestingly, all the "hair gel" male photos I can find have the men showing off the sensitive-pouty-lip technique, so maybe the "hair gel" line and the "flawless lips" line were linked in a way that initially went over my head.)
“My name is Edward Cullen,” he continued. “I didn’t have a chance to introduce myself last week. You must be Bella Swan.”
My mind was spinning with confusion. Had I made up the whole thing? He was perfectly polite now. I had to speak; he was waiting. But I couldn’t think of anything conventional to say.
“H-how do you know my name?” I stammered.
He laughed a soft, enchanting laugh.
(Ya'll don't mind if I keep purpling the prose, do you? It's the only way I can keep from ranting incoherently about it.)
It's interesting that on her first day of school, Bella pretty much expected everyone to be all over her business because Forks is a Small Town and gossip is the main export of all Small Towns everywhere. Now, here we are all of about a week later -- more than enough time for everyone in the school to have heard her name second- if not first-hand -- and she's shocked and stammery to have Edward know her name off the bat.
“No,” I persisted stupidly. “I meant, why did you call me Bella?”
He seemed confused. “Do you prefer Isabella?”
“No, I like Bella,” I said. “But I think Charlie — I mean my dad — must call me Isabella behind my back — that’s what everyone here seems to know me as,” I tried to explain, feeling like an utter moron.
Of course, the real mystery isn't that Edward knows her name, it's that he known her nickname, 'Bella'. S.Meyer seems rather proud of this foreshadowing mystery and has set it up very painstakingly by having everyone Bella meets call her 'Isabella' so that they can be ritualistically corrected in every introductory conversation. By not falling into this pattern, Edward is therefore telegraphed as Special.
The problem with this is that it doesn't make sense.
It doesn't make sense for two reasons. The first reason is that Charlie doesn't call Bella 'Isabella'. He doesn't call her 'Bella', either; he calls her 'Bells'. It's a nice nickname and has a very fatherly feel about it -- it doesn't have the delicacy of 'Bella', the formality of 'Isabella', and the 'beauty' trappings of either. It's short, endearing, and vaguely androgynous -- the sort of nickname you might come up with if you didn't want to saddle your daughter with a lifetime of expectations that she be "as beautiful as your name" all the time.
Of course, Bella contends that Charlie uses the formal 'Isabella' around town, but this doesn't seem to fit with his personality. Charlie is a Small Town Police Chief who (apparently) eats at the local diner pretty much every night and goes fishing down at the reservation on the weekends. Despite not being terribly close to Bella emotionally, he's obviously proud of her and wants to show her off to his fellow Forkians, as we can see from his Wall O' School Portraits that he maintains in the house. I can imagine Bella being 'my daughter' or 'my little princess' or 'my Bells' or any number of potentially embarrassing terms for Bella, but why would Charlie revert to the uncomfortable and informal 'Isabella' around his closest friends and neighbors?
Secondly, Bella's (and S.Meyer's) astonishment that Edward knows her True Name doesn't work because Bella has been going around correcting everyone in town for a week at this point. Sure, it's possible that Edward has magical mind-reading abilities and he's picked up Bella's True Name from the minds of all her new friends at school, but it seems far more likely that he's overheard her being discussed at school, or that his siblings have mentioned her at the dinner table. ("Did you hear Chief Swan's daughter moved up here?" "Oh, yeah, Bella? Mike couldn't stop talking about her during gym practice.")
The only way Edward's insight into Bella's True Name is interesting is if Bella is assuming that Edward doesn't exist when she's not around -- as though she's some kind of star in a fictional novel and that when someone isn't in the same scene with her, they cease to exist until the next moment they're needed. I'm not saying that mentality isn't in keeping with Bella's personality thus far, but I do find it laughable that as a reader that I'm supposed to consider Edward's inside knowledge as a meaningful piece of foreshadowing.
Thankfully, Mr. Banner started class at that moment. I tried to concentrate as he explained the lab we would be doing today. The slides in the box were out of order. Working as lab partners, we had to separate the slides of onion root tip cells into the phases of mitosis they represented and label them accordingly.
“Ladies first, partner?” Edward asked. I looked up to see him smiling a crooked smile so beautiful that I could only stare at him like an idiot.
I was showing off, just a little. I’d already done this lab, and I knew what I was looking for. It should be easy. I snapped the first slide into place under the microscope and adjusted it quickly to the 40X objective. I studied the slide briefly.
My assessment was confident. “Prophase.”
“Do you mind if I look?” he asked as I began to remove the slide. His hand caught mine, to stop me, as he asked.
I watched him, still staggered, as he examined the slide for an even shorter time than I had.
“Prophase,” he agreed, writing it neatly in the first space on our worksheet.
I get that this scene is supposed to be cute, I do. Bella and Edward have both done this lab before -- Bella, because she was in the advanced class in Phoenix, and Edward because he's in high school for the dozenth time at this point -- and they're both trying to show off how quickly they can run through the lab.
This is kind of cute, and I think it could potentially be a foundation for a sweet scene where they both realize that they're trying to impress the other and everyone has a good laugh. Or they could both end up admitting that they aren't really biology wunderkinds and that they are going off of past experience with the lab, and that would be good for a nice ironic what-are-the-odds chuckle as well.
Instead, however, the scene almost builds to decrease romantic chemistry between the two: Bella seems increasingly annoyed that Edward isn't wrong about any of his guesses and therefore can't be given a proper comeuppance, whereas Edward seems increasingly surprised (because Girls Are Dumb) and then amused (because Smart
“Interphase.” I passed him the microscope before he could ask for it. He took a swift peek, and then wrote it down. I would have written it while he looked, but his clear, elegant script intimidated me. I didn’t want to spoil the page with my clumsy scrawl.
We were finished before anyone else was close. I could see Mike and his partner comparing two slides again and again, and another group had their book open under the table. [...]
Mr. Banner came to our table then, to see why we weren’t working. He looked over our shoulders to glance at the completed lab, and then stared more intently to check the answers.
“So, Edward, didn’t you think Isabella should get a chance with the microscope?” Mr. Banner asked.
“Bella,” Edward corrected automatically. “Actually, she identified three of the five.”
Mr. Banner looked at me now; his expression was skeptical.
“Have you done this lab before?” he asked.
Let's talk about all the things I don't like about this passage.
First of all, I don't like that Mr. Banner outright assumes that Edward did the entire lab just because they're done early. Yes, he's had Edward all year, and yes he's had a chance to see that Edward is an "advanced" student who no doubt finishes his work early. (Because if you're an immortal vampire trying to blend into the high school scene, it makes sense to ace every class easily and without the slightest bit of effort.)
But he's had Bella for all of a couple of days: he's had zero chance to evaluate her as a student. Furthermore, he clearly wasn't watching them just now, so he must realize that his assumption is based on zero factual data. He should not, therefore, be snidely assuming that Edward did all the work and that Bella isn't just as advanced as Edward. Certainly, it's one thing for him to say "who did which slides?" but to just snip at how Isabella couldn't possibly have done anything during the lab is unacceptable.
Second of all, Mr. Banner digs himself even more deeply in when -- upon learning that Bella identified three slides to Edward's two -- he immediately turns suspicious and asks whether or not Bella has had the lab before. Because she couldn't possibly just be smart or good at Biology or have read ahead in the textbook over the weekend or any other option.
It doesn't matter that Mr. Banner's suspicions are right (Bella has had a similar lab class before in Phoenix); what matters is that he is only suspicious about Bella's apparently "unusual" intelligence. At no point does he ask Edward if he's done the lab before. Nor are we the readers expected to dwell on the fact that Edward is demonstrably no more intelligent than Bella -- the fact that Edward is only good at Biology because he's had this lab numerous times in the past is never explicitly called out in text in the same way that Bella's "fake proficiency" is called out over and over again with Biology, English Literature, and the rest of her classes.
Which brings me to my third complaint: Edward's elegant writing and Bella's clumsy scrawl.
Throughout the pages of this book, Edward is exalted time and again while Bella is humbled. Edward is good at Biology. Edward writes beautifully. Edward plays the piano. Edward can walk and chew gum at the same time. At each display of Edward's dazzling brilliance, Bella takes a moment to reflect on the fact that she is not nearly so smart, so elegant, so creative, so talented. All this is presented at face value: Edward is Special and Bella is Lucky to have him.
But the fact of the matter is, Edward isn't Special -- he's just had a head start on Bella. He's had a hundred years to practice his handwriting, learn to play the piano, and master his gum chewing technique -- she's had a decade or so, tops. Heck, Bella may be even more talented than Edward considering that school is laughably easy for them both, but she's had the course work only once before and he's had it dozens of times!
None of this is ever called out in text, in my opinion. The author seems to unconsciously fill the role of Mr. Banner -- Edward's accomplishments are good and strong and fine and praiseworthy, while Bella's accomplishments are borderline cheating and don't demonstrate any skill on her part. Why? Bella and Edward both excel at school through rote memorization -- the only difference is that he's a boy vampire and she's a girl human. Sexism or specism? You decide.