Twilight: Sound Effects Added To Lessen Tragedy

Twilight Recap: Bella and Edward have finished their Biology lab and Bella has confessed her motivation for coming to Forks while Edward has marveled at how much suffering she has undergone in the past few weeks.

Twilight, Chapter 3: Phenomenon

Today we're going to take the text in order: Clumsy, Boys, Clumsy, Boys. I may be a little unpleasant; I apologize in advance.

   I jumped up to look outside, and then groaned in horror.
   A fine layer of snow covered the yard, dusted the top of my truck, and whitened the road. But that wasn’t the worst part. All the rain from yesterday had frozen solid — coating the needles on the trees in fantastic, gorgeous patterns, and making the driveway a deadly ice slick. I had enough trouble not falling down when the ground was dry; it might be safer for me to go back to bed now.

And now we come to the issue of Bella's clumsiness.

When I started reading Twilight, I was actually surprised at how many references to Bella's clumsiness are jammed into the first few pages. I mean, we're not 40 pages in and she's already beaned people in the head at volleyball and fallen over several times and been tacitly acknowledged by the entire school after one week that she's a klutz beyond all possible imagining. And it's only going to get worse from here.

At first I thought it was a sort of Every Teen characterization: many teens feel awkward as their bodies change and develop, so it seemed like this fit the pattern of Bella-the-Reader-Insert. But then the characterization started getting more and more in your face to the point where Edward will actually claim that Bella can't walk in a straight line across a level room without falling on her face. And I don't think we're meant to read that as an exaggeration. I figured S. Meyer was being heavy handed and didn't know when to reign Bella's One Defining Character Trait in a little to more subdued, realistic levels.

By the end of the novel, however, my cynicism had kicked in full force and I now firmly believe that Bella is a Walking Disaster Area merely so that beefy wolfmen and shiny vampires can have an excuse to pick her up and carry her everywhere like a handbag. Plus, it's great comedy for the whole family! We'll delve later into why this bothers me intensely.

But putting aside my cynicism for a moment, I'd like to talk about how disappointed I am that Bella's One Trait To Rule Them All characteristic doesn't influence the story more. I realize that Bella is a poor girl (living in a 2-bedroom 2-bathroom house with a single mother and a father who can take her on yearly vacations to California and with the ability to jet up to Washington on a moment's notice) and that the internet is something that doesn't feature heavily in her life (outside of the upcoming Hot! Google! Action!) but even with limited funds and a lack of specialty stores, why is there no mention of Bella owning special shoes? It seems to me that a good pair of non-slip shoes would be cheaper than the medical bills and lawsuits. (Question: Does Renee's mysterious income stem from her milking Bella's frequent spills into lucrative lawsuits? Discuss.)

Then there's the way Bella's parents seem not to notice or care about her condition. Should someone with (apparently) hand-eye coordination and depth perception issues be given a sturdy monster truck vehicle which is capable of flattening the other cars at school, as Bella noted in the last chapter? And yet 9 times out of 10, she's seen maneuvering that huge truck in and out of tight spaces like a champ, so what is the source of Bella's balance issues, if it's not depth perception and hand-eye coordination? Inner ear infection? Munchausen stemming from her parental neglect? Is it not strange that her parents apparently haven't had her professional examined for any medical issues? I'm not trying to be flippant; severe balance issues can cause serious harm to people, and can be indicative of serious medical problems. Why is no one -- not her parents, not her counselors -- noticing this problem and helping her? Once again, I'm furious that the Twilight adults are so utterly incurious about their charges.

   I threw down a quick bowl of cereal and some orange juice from the carton. I felt excited to go to school, and that scared me. I knew it wasn’t the stimulating learning environment I was anticipating, or seeing my new set of friends. If I was being honest with myself, I knew I was eager to get to school because I would see Edward Cullen. And that was very, very stupid.
   I should be avoiding him entirely after my brainless and embarrassing babbling yesterday. And I was suspicious of him; why should he lie about his eyes? I was still frightened of the hostility I sometimes felt emanating from him, and I was still tongue-tied whenever I pictured his perfect face. I was well aware that my league and his league were spheres that did not touch. So I shouldn’t be at all anxious to see him today.

This passage rubs me up the wrong way, but it's hard for me to immediately understand why.

For starters, I actually think it's not a bad thing for Bella to be excited about seeing Edward again. Edward is the first person in this book who has shown genuine interest in her feelings, and they were able to have a pretty deep conversation about why Bella moved to Forks and why the decision has made her unhappy. I can understand feeling embarrassed and vulnerable the next day, now that she's bared her soul, but at the same time, it would be a little exciting to have finally found someone to talk to in the dreary green hell that is Forks. Considering that Bella has been extremely isolated since arriving to Forks and apparently has been isolated her whole life, this seems like a pretty major life event to have a Maybe-Friend all of the sudden.

There's also the fact that Bella has been dreading seeing Edward for weeks since his first violent introduction to her in The Biology Incident. When he did finally show up again, he was polite and engaged her in conversation, even expressing sympathy for her situation. Yes, he still leaned away from her during class, but to me this would indicate that the prior outburst was therefore nothing personal -- if he can be charming to her and then still lapse into that leaning-away-while-grimacing behavior, it seems all the more likely that her shampoo is giving him an allergic reaction or something and he is just too polite to say. Or that maybe he has irritable bowel syndrome or something totally unrelated to her presence. Either way, I would think it would be a huge relief to find that your lab partner for the year apparently isn't a sociopath intent on your destruction, and that revelation alone would be enough to make me excited to see him again -- I'd want to re-confirm that everything is peaches and cream between us now. 

Then, also, Edward is the first boy at school who has been interested in Bella without salivating down her blouse, or so it would seem to hear Bella tell it a few paragraphs down. And I think that would be rather refreshing, too -- Bella has already indicated how uncomfortable she feels being stalked-into-relationship by Puppy Mike and Chess Club Eric, so it seems like it would be very nice to have Just A Friend Edward to talk to and bond with. They're both out-of-towners, so they may have a lot in common since moving to Forks. Plus, Edward is supposed to be an actual orphan and Bella is an emotional one, so they'd probably have a lot of support to provide each other. And he's got two sisters, both of whom may also want a friend! Seriously, Just A Friend Edward seems like a jackpot for Bella.

So it's actually quite frustrating to me that all Bella can focus on is how pretty Edward is and how she shouldn't get her hopes up because she's UglyFace and he's SexyMusical. I get there's sexual attraction going on here, and I'm not saying that Bella shouldn't be attracted to guys, but there's a difference I think between saying "I shouldn't get my hopes up for anything more than friends" and "I shouldn't be friends because he's not attainable". There's no reason in my mind why Bella can't be simultaneously excited to see Edward because he might be a good friend in the making while also harboring a quiet sexual attraction to the boy. If the friendship pans out, maybe they can act on that attraction, but I can't think she's likely to get much chance at him if she shuts him down and refuses to be friends. (S. Meyer will disagree with this assessment.) And between a minuscule chance and zero chance, I'd pick the former.

Because Bella isn't interested in being friends with someone she wants but can't have, this characterization has the effect of making her look either very shallow (I can't have him, so I don't want him) or very low in self-esteem (He won't want me, so I shouldn't bother him). Both of these are valid characterizations, and nothing to necessarily complain about, but I don't like it being presented as some kind of ideal behavior. There's nothing wrong with being friends with someone who doesn't want you as a romantic partner, but I can't at the moment think of anyone in this novel who fills that role for Bella. Bella doesn't have friends, she has suitors. And that's not healthy, in my opinion. (Question: How would Twilight be better if Bella had a male best friend who was utterly uninterested in her romantically? Discuss.)

There's also the problem that in a few sentences, Bella is going to start complaining about how rough it is to be wanted by all the boys in school. I'm not trying to downplay this: having an unwanted suitor can be extremely unpleasant, especially if they're going the Stealth Boyfriend route that Mike and Eric seem to be quietly attempting. This is unsettling because it forces the object of attention into a position where she/he has to say "I know what you are doing, and I need you to stop. We don't have that kind of relationship, so please modify your behavior." This is extremely unpleasant because it involves confrontation and, in many cases, over behavior that can be superficially claimed to be innocent. (But I was just carrying your books for you! Geez!)

So I'm not going to say that Bella doesn't have the right to complain about her Stalker With A Crush. But at the same time, it doesn't work for me to have her complaining that she really shouldn't be excited about seeing Edward because it's not like he'd ever be interested in a relationship with her. I just feel like a more sensible character would have at least a moment of Gosh, it was nice to talk to a guy without feeling pressured into a relationship before going on to lament his unattainable hotness. Just a single moment of reflection, that's all I ask.

Beyond anything else, I don't like this passage because it's so overwrought. I can be petty like that.

   It took every ounce of my concentration to make it down the icy brick driveway alive. I almost lost my balance when I finally got to the truck, but I managed to cling to the side mirror and save myself. Clearly, today was going to be nightmarish.

OK, here comes the unpleasant bit. *deep breath* The thing that bothered me most in my read-through of Twilight was the clumsiness issue. I'm serious. Everything else in this novel, every potentially bad thing, I minded less -- much less -- than the ha ha Bella falls down a lot stuff. And now I'm going to try to break down why it bothers me so much.

I have a chronic pain condition, so I know a little bit about living with a chronic pain condition. Falling down a lot is a chronic pain condition because falling down hurts. Bella falls down all the time, so it stands to reason that she would realize that falling down hurts. For people who fall incidentally, once or twice a year, falling may be comedy gold with a bad bruise to go with it the next day. For people who fall excessively, once or twice a day, falling is not something they joke about because falling means constant pain, twisted limbs, broken bones, casts, crutches, hospitalizations, and much more.

Knowing that, this line of narration means that Bella came very close to seriously injuring herself, because someone who falls every day (as Bella empirically does in-text) is very unlikely to joke about a little slip-and-slide as a near-death experience. (Furthermore, that "nightmarish" line isn't actual overwrought narration -- today actually will be nightmarish for Bella because she's almost certain to seriously hurt herself. Again.) She might joke about it in person, to minimize the pain of living with a chronic condition, but she would not joke about it in her head, which is what the narration supposedly is. I can almost guarantee that a Real Life Bella would be narrating this way:

   It took every ounce of my concentration to make it down the icy brick driveway without falling. I almost lost my balance when I finally got to the truck, but I managed to cling to the side mirror and steady myself. Clearly, today was going to be nightmarish.

I may be being totally nit-picky, but for me those three words completely transform this passage from Haha, Bella falls a lot and it's cute and endearing and funny! to Oh, crap, Bella falls a lot and that must suck pretty badly. The first passage made falling desirable; the second passage makes falling undesirable.

Bella as a character doesn't minimize her pain internally. We have had detailed internal descriptions of how awful Forks is, how much she hates retaking her classes, how embarrassing it is to realize Charlie still loves Renee, how dreadful it is to have to put up with school pictures of herself in the hallway, how annoying it is to listen to Jessica's chatter, how uncomfortable it is to deal with Mike and Eric, how cold and wet and dreary and snowy it is in Forks, and... I think you get the picture. Bella may "suffer in silence" before her peers, but she doesn't self-edit her own pain.

Except when she falls down

The thing is, Bella doesn't actually have a chronic condition of falling down, because no one takes it seriously. It's the tree falling in a forest issue -- if Bella fell down all the time, someone would take it seriously. Maybe not everyone. Maybe not her neglectful parents or her narcissist boyfriend or her self-absorbed friends or her overworked teachers. But Bella would notice. Bella would have to notice, because Bella would be in pain constantly. Bella would take the falling seriously, and therefore the narration would take the falling seriously.

People who are in pain constantly think about their pain. They think about minimizing it as much as possible. Their thoughts will be occupied by their surroundings, their own actions, the actions of others, they way they stand, the way they walk, the way they carry things. There will be a constant internal battle for control and management and prevention of the pain. They may never be able to prevent falling with these mental exercises, but they'll still try because that's how humans are wired -- we want to minimize pain, cuts, bruises, and twisted and broken limbs.

Bella doesn't do this, ever. Her constant tumbles in Twilight are as serious to her as they are to a court jester. Whoops! There goes Bella! Oops! Bella falls again! It's slapstick comedy, over and over and over again. Haha! Bella beaned someone in the head with a volleyball! Will she never learn? Hahaha.

Futurama: The Birdbot of Ice-Catraz

To someone with chronic pain, this is insulting. S.Meyer is taking something that many people have to live with and she's shining it up into a lovable and amusing character trait. Bella's trips and tumbles aren't serious things that cause serious harm; they're just a cutesy characteristic to make her seem flawed and lovable. It's the equivalent of making a character who is supposedly suffering from cancer and then discarding all the icky cancer bits to talk about her adorable bald head and oh she gets cold at night so she needs a fluffy-wuffy werewolf to warm her up and isn't that adorwuble? Oh, but that's different because falling doesn't kill people, right? Well, not quite.

Beyond the issue of pain and privilege, though, Bella's not-really-chronic condition is troubling for what it represents. If the issue was isolated to sloppy characterization (She's clumsy!) and slapstick (...and it's funny!), without ever having consequences then it would merely be insensitive. However, it's worth noting that Bella does in fact hurt herself, and there are in fact consequences to her tumbles. The issue here, though, those "consequences" are actually presented as wonderful benefits.

When Bella seriously hurts herself for plot-convenient reasons, her pain isn't a source of sorrow but rather a source of joy because it becomes an excuse for her to be coddled, loved, carried, babied, and protected. Edward will at one point literally carry Bella because he doesn't trust her to walk without hurting herself. This isn't presented as a bad thing, as a chronic condition like this would most certainly be, but rather something advantageous. And because we have so few women in the Twilight novel, Bella enlarges to a sort of Every Woman in the narrative. Since her romance with Edward is supposed to be a pure example of True Love, a platonic ideal for the rest of us to aspire to, her actions and attributes become more than descriptive -- they become (intentionally or not) prescriptive.

Bella's clumsiness becomes not something to lament and avoid, but rather something to envy and emulate. Just think, girls! You, too, could fall at the drop of a hat and then you could have your very own strong Edward to sweep you up, kiss your (very tiny! and not really painful at all!) bruises and carry you away into HappyLand. And all you had to do was pretend to have a serious condition that kills people yearly!

Am I making mountains of molehills? It's possible.

   Driving to school, I distracted myself from my fear of falling and my unwanted speculations about Edward Cullen by thinking about Mike and Eric, and the obvious difference in how teenage boys responded to me here. I was sure I looked exactly the same as I had in Phoenix. Maybe it was just that the boys back home had watched me pass slowly through all the awkward phases of adolescence and still thought of me that way. Perhaps it was because I was a novelty here, where novelties were few and far between. Possibly my crippling clumsiness was seen as endearing rather than pathetic, casting me as a damsel in distress. Whatever the reason, Mike’s puppy dog behavior and Eric’s apparent rivalry with him were disconcerting. I wasn’t sure if I didn’t prefer being ignored.

This passage tells me two things:

1. Bella has intense insight into her own author by instinctively understanding that her "crippling clumsiness" is meant to endear her to the reader and is meant to cast her as a damsel in distress to both Edward Sparklethighs and Jacob Oilychest so that they can take turns coddling, carrying, and catering to her.

2. Bella sees her own disability as pathetic.

adjective /pəˈTHetik/ 

  1. Arousing pity, esp. through vulnerability or sadness
  2. Miserably inadequate

The funny thing is, I agree with Bella. Falling over all the time is pathetic. But I somehow suspect that I am using the first definition of the word (i.e., worthy of empathy) whereas Bella is using the second.

Now having ranted myself hoarse, I don't want to come down too hard on S.Meyer. I think that she would probably agree that falling down all the time and living with chronic pain is a seriously bad thing. I additionally think that she probably meant for Bella's "disability" to be a positive trait in an affirming way, kind of like how Riordan's dyslexic characters can read Ancient Greek and isn't that just so freaking cool? I'm guessing that S.Meyer wanted Bella to be real, visceral, and flawed, so that she could turn around and say You're Beautiful And Special And Wonderful, Even If You Don't Realize It.

And I respect that, I do. And I want to like it, to encourage it. We need more weak heroes. We need more characters who live and struggle with chronic pain. But -- and here's the thing -- the pain has to be real. It has to be uncomfortable. It has to be unwanted. It has to be inconvenient. It has to at the very least be something more than a big joke or a source of embarrassment. The pain should be crippling in its own right and not because it makes the heroine angst about her dating options. And it has to be dealt with more deeply and sensitively than just a big excuse to be carried around on the shoulders of supernatural sex gods.


depizan said...

When I read Twilight, I didn't really believe in Bella's clumsiness because it came and went so much that it felt like Bella making a big deal out of nothing (lots of people are dangerous at volleyball, etc) up until the end when her injuries from the climactic fight are dismissed as her falling down a flight of stairs and out a window and everyone believes it. D: There wasn't enough "DO NOT WANT" in the universe for that.

I think the problem for me was that Bella's clumsiness was frequently told rather than shown, and some of the mentions didn't make much sense (to me). This scene was one of those - getting across a sheet of ice is a challenge for pretty much anyone, and one might expect a person who actually had balance difficulties would simply call out sick rather than risk getting badly hurt. Though, in truth, I was distracted by the apparent research fail* and probably didn't pay as much attention to Bella as I should have.

So...not only does the book have a disturbing tendency toward "how to cover up domestic abuse," but it diminishes the struggles of people with actual chronic problems. Fun times.

*Unless things have drastically changed, ice to the point described in the book would have closed schools in Washington state. They certain would have when my mom grew up in Bremerton. (Which seems to be of similar weather to actual Forks.) Also, I find it very difficult to believe that a person who learned to drive in Phoenix would zone out the first time they drove on ice. People in Prescott, AZ - which actually does get snow - drove extremely cautiously every time it snowed.

Nathaniel said...

"Just a single moment of reflection, that's all I ask."

For Twilight and Bella, that will forever be too much to ask. Sorry.

Brin Bellway said...

I can't think she's likely to get much chance at him if she shuts him down and refuses to be friends. [...] And between a minuscule chance and zero chance, I'd pick the latter.

I think you mean the former.

Patrick said...

Bella isn't a weak character, though" she's more or less perfect (and will be even more so as a vampire) in her author's eyes - except for the clumsiness, which is like a garish sign proclaiming her to be flawed. Plus, her clumsiness comes and goes. Bella will run from the Cullens at full speed through the airport without a problem, for example.

Ana Mardoll said...

Brin, yes, thank you. I'll have to fix that. I never was good at Chutes and Latters. :D

JohnK said...

(Question: How would Twilight be better if Bella had a male best friend who was utterly uninterested in her romantically? Discuss.)

Well, she'll have someone who can (without being genuinely hurtful) deflate her bad habit of being a little pompous and melodramatic, while still supporting her by showing her that there are people who like her without being infatuated with or dependent on her. Though that's not just a male friend trait. Bella doesn't have any friends -- male or female, does she?

Personalfailure said...

speaking as a semidisabled chronic pain patient, guess what I will hurt myself to avoid being seen as? a pathetic damsel in distress. that's what. some nice ablist privilege you got there, ms Meyer.

Samantha C. said...

I totally understand that it could be different for other people, or for an alternate Me who was chronically in pain, but....well, it IS that little silver lining to being sick and injured to know that the people you love will help you through. Not the way it's used in Twilight maybe, but one of the most romantic things is the guy (or girl) who comes over and brings you soup and helps you change the sheets and stays with you when you're hurting. In a litany of far more dangerous traits given to Edward and held up as ideal, carrying the girlfriend so she doesn't get hurt actually doesn't strike me as very bad.

But then, I'm not opposed to Damsels either. I don't spend my life pining for a prince charming, I don't refuse to live my own life or take on my own burdens. But I love the fantasy of being swept away and never having to worry again. Because it's a fantasy. Not something to hope for, but something to escape into.

Ana Mardoll said...

I should clarify: I'm not against nurturing relationships or characters who want and need nurturing. I myself have chronic pain, and I'm very grateful my husband is willing to care for me.

I find Bella's characterization insulting, though, because she only has to deal with the "sexy nurturing" and suffers NONE of the chronic pain. I understand not wanting to dwell on the pain overly much, but the verbiage in the book makes it sound silly and cute and childlike that Bella falls, instead of serious. Taking a chronic condition and making it "cute" just so that you can use it as an excuse for cuddling is problematic.

And though I'm not against Weak Partner / Strong Partner relationships portrayed seriously and sensitively in literature, I *do* object to it being presented as an ideal, as Bella/Edward are. I'm not sure if that makes sense? Having a nurturing partner when you need one is very valuable, but most people with chronic conditions, as much as they love their partner, would much prefer not having the pain, period. Presenting pain as a DESIRABLE thing BECAUSE you'll get a nurturing partner is... back to front, so to speak. :)

Ana Mardoll said...

Also: Nurture/Need relationships are complicated in chronic cases. You mentioned the "oh, he took care of me during my cold" gratitude-sexy feeling, and there's a lot of that, but there's also a huge amount of guilt (because your partner doesn't get a "normal" relationship) and resentment (because your partner can't understand what it's like to be in pain all the time). That's one of the things I mean about examining a Nurture/Need relationship sensitively. Meyer sorts of blows past all that by making the pain not real and the condition go away once vampire'd.

Patrick said...

Furthermote, in those scenes Bella regularly doesn't want help or nurturing, but her protestations fall on deaf ears. Edward decides she can't walk, so she doesn't. That doesn't read as nurturing to me, but as patronizing.

Silver Adept said...

@depizan - Oh, yes! Snow makes the schools nervous in Washington - visible ice on sidewalks would have closed them and a lot of the nearby businesses, too. There are far too many hills in the area for driving to be safe, as many of the residents of Seattle found out last winter when a strong snowstorm hit and froze.

As for Isabella Sue and her supposed tragic flaw, S. Meyer plays it like the premise of Pure Luck - Bella's the person that would find the banana peel on a floor, the one broken chair in the board room, be in the path of a truck when it hits the one patch of black ice in the parking lot. If she was clumsy, we would see her fumbling small things regularly, like the slides in Biology, or her pens in class, or the occasional trip on a flat surface when nobody is looking and she can just correct herself. It would be small things that are irritating and occasionally big hurtful things, and sometimes big things that turn out to be hilarious with hindsight.

I'm clumsy. Isabella is unlucky. Her lack of grace only happens when there's a major consequence to be had from it, like injury (or something very close to it), social status downgrading, or having a big strong man nearby to catch her and carry her (okay, some of those may be deliberate, in the "Tee hee, how clumsy of me to drop this so that I can bend over and show you my assets" sense). Furthermore, as we find out later on, Bella took ballet. I find it hard to believe that she could be clumsy now, having done ballet then - some amount of the grace required for that had to have stuck through puberty.

Once we change the classification, then the Tragic Flaw isn't all that tragic - you just apply Murphy's Law and be sure not to indulge in the planning fallacy around her, and you can completely mitigate her "clumsiness". You still get tripped up when the day she tags along to the baseball game is the day that another set of vampires decides to crash the place, but you can probably assume once they get there that Bella will be their target for sport, because she's unlucky enough to be appetizing to them, and more unlucky because they don't have scruples, morals, or obey any sort of code about not invading another vampire's territory.

Plus, three books later, [spoilers? Out of scope? Looking too far forward?] you can turn the perfect girl into the perfect vampire, because she was unlucky enough to get preggers from her vampire boyfriend and mere humans can't stand the violence of that birth. Twilight becomes the story of a girl with a -10 Luck score who happens to find companions that can compensate for her. I mean, how unlucky for you to have Renee and Charlie as your parents, then have Phil take away Renee and have to move to Forks to get away from him?

(Although, in the end, because of all of this, I suppose one could argue that Bella turns out to actually have been lucky, but there's a lot of bad luck she has to go through to get to that point.)

Ana Mardoll said...

@Silver Adept, so she has a -10 Luck score, but rolled a natural 20 on the "turn into vampire" stat change and ended up invulnerable?

depizan said...

@Silver Adept

You're right. Bella the unlucky makes far more sense than Bella the clumsy. I'd still expect it to give her more trouble than it does, though. I don't have the book, but I know when I read it, I spent some time going bzuh over her doing things that her clumsiness should have interfered with (and which you'd still expect bad luck to interfere with). I mean, she cooks for her dad, she rushes up and down the stairs, she goes for walks (which once has other dangers), drives, goes to a dance... and I don't remember her botching any of those things (granted, I only read Twilight). Mostly, she says she's clumsy and is apparently bad at sports (but not ballet?).

Ana Mardoll said...

I believe the ballet was "bull in china shop" syndrome and was intended to "improve" her. Hold on...

“No, I haven’t been there in almost ten years. I was a terrible dancer — they always put me in the back for recitals,” I admitted.

Well, that actually isn't as bad as I'd remembered, if she made it to recitals. Unless ALL the kids were in the recitals. Hmm.

Samantha C. said...

Ana, I do understand - I guess it just feels sometimes like there's something being conflated that I can't quite tease out. It just strikes me because you were talking so recently about a need for Weak heroes - and yet, you still don't want Damsels. You want characters who are weakened and are still Heroes with a capital H, who do the Right Thing and triumph on the end all on their own. Which is awesome.

But damnitall, I like my fantasy to have some pathetic, weak, non-heroic, overwhelmed Damsels in it. I always loved that role since I was a little kid (despite my mom banning Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty from the house specifically so I wouldn't "look up to" it). I think of the raging hatred that the Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones) fandom has toward Sansa Stark, the ingenue with the rosy view of the world who doesn't do an awful lot because she's spent her 13 years training to become a beautiful, useless noble lady. Whose fault is it that that's who she became? Does she not belong in the story because she's a passive character? Or (as I personally feel) is it incredibly feminist to acknowledge that women can in fact be weak and powerless and still people, with their dreams and desires and wishes being worthy of the respect of proper characterization?

This is all straying REALLY far from Twilight - and Bella herself does not embody the Damsel for as much as she makes reference to the archetype. But it's something I've been thinking about a lot recently and long-term. I sometimes feel that even feminist messages are telling me it's not okay that i like the Damsel, because it's not okay (strong, self-sufficient, independent) to want to be one for real (which I don't even).

Ana Mardoll said...

Well, it's not that I have a problem with Damsels. I don't hate Bella for being, well, not a feminist character.

For instance, I don't blame Bella for having apparently no ambition to go to college, because I don't think she's been raised in an environment that values that. I don't hate Bella at all, and I don't have a problem with that aspect of her character...

...until it starts being portrayed as a good thing, a desirable thing, even a necessary thing to get the happy ending.

Bella isn't a weak character who struggles with weakness - like being raised to nothing but housework and having chronic pain. She's a "weak" character whose traits are presented as something desirable. Her author doesn't see her weaknesses as weakness and it shows in the text.

It's the difference between making a realistically blind character (weak) and a blind character whose "lack of distractions" make him a magic kung fu master ("weak").

And I most definitely do not want Heroes who do right all the time, I swear. (You know I like Edmund Pevensie, right? ;)) But I don't want heroes who do wrong while the author stands over my shoulder are shouts how right it all is. :)

Ana Mardoll said...

So the Tl;dr version would be:

It is feminist to acknowledge that women can be weak and still be valuable.

It is not feminist to maintain that women should be weak to be valuable.

Alas, whether or not the author is saying the latter will probably depend on the reader. :)

Ana Mardoll said...

And... (ooh, look at Ana, triple-posting because she loves the sound of her own voice! Gah!)...

I should say that I get what you're saying. I don't think Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty should be banned; I enjoy the Disney Beauty and the Beast tale and see it as nice fantasy fluff and not Stockholm Syndrome because I'm just looking at that moment to be entertained. I don't think there's some onus on Liberal Feminists to treat everything as Serious Business and as such you can't enjoy a good romance novel because you're endorsing weak-woman-stereotypes or something. No one should have to live with the responsibility of that, and furthermore if we were only allowed to enjoy Perfect Feminist Literature, we wouldn't have much to choose from.

I've said from the beginning of this deconstruction that I can see how people might enjoy Twilight and that I don't think there's anything wrong with enjoying Twilight. That should say something about where I stand on people who like Twilight as fun fantasy escapist awesomeness -- I think if people like it, they should read it, because why would you waste time reading something you don't like. And I definitely don't think you should feel guilty for liking some escapist Damsel in Distress fantasy -- sometimes it can be relaxing to be a Damsel for a few hours and let someone else save the damn world for a change. Nothing wrong with that. :) And I hope it doesn't sound like I think there's something wrong with that.

But I also don't see Bella as a Weak Character in the sense that I meant in the post a few months ago. She's not a strong character, perhaps, but I don't really see her as weak either. In some ways I wish she *was* weak -- if she was actually getting seriously hurt from all this falling and the vampirism saved her from that, that would be an interesting character motivation -- we'd have to look at how much she wants to turn into a vampire to be YoungPrettyBeautiful forever and how much she wants it because she's fed-up with her chronic pain conditions. I'd be very interested in a character like that because it would be more about her dreams (no pain!) than about her being embarrassed to be older than Edward.

chris the cynic said...

But damnitall, I like my fantasy to have some pathetic, weak, non-heroic, overwhelmed Damsels in it.

Isn't Ana's complaint that Bella is none of those things?

[removed unnecessary stuff where I talk about books I haven't read and the goddess of dew]

Anyway, it seemed to me that the fact that Bella wasn't remotely overwhelmed, her weakness doesn't appear to in any way resemble actual weakness, she is being presented as heroic, and ... I think Ana actually agrees on the pathetic side of things (for a given value of pathetic) but other than pathetic it seemed to me that Ana's point was Bella wasn't those things.

chris the cynic said...


For the love of the subjunctive mood, it's "I wish she *were* weak -- if she were actually ..."

The subjunctive mood. All the cool kids are using it.


I have no idea why I felt the need to say that. I certainly don't always these things right, as demonstrated by the fact that I started off calling it a voice instead of a mood.

Loquat said...

Oh, I'd bet money any ballet class 7-year-old Bella would have been sent to would be the type to put every single kid in the recitals. You have to go waaaay up the competitiveness scale to find ballet classes that weed bad dancers out of the recitals in the elementary school age bracket.

depizan said...

if she was actually getting seriously hurt from all this falling and the vampirism saved her from that, that would be an interesting character motivation

That would actually help the story a lot.

Ana Mardoll said...

@chris, I'm afraid it takes a few Marvin Gaye songs to get me in the subjunctive mood...

Brin Bellway said...

For the love of the subjunctive mood, it's "I wish she *were* weak -- if she were actually ..."

Really? I was given to understand that "were" is only mandatory for hypotheticals considered impossible. "I wish she was weak" doesn't seem to fall into that category, so "was" should be acceptable.

Amarie said...

Ana, please rest assured that I absolutely see what you’re talking about. You have every single right to be offended. Plus, a *lot* of people that suffer from depression, loss, etc. have just as big a bone to pick with New Moon. Even more, people who have suffered (or still suffer) from abuse find a deep offense with the entire series (i.e, Mark).
So, you’re not alone in your outrage. Promise. *internet hugs*

I’m about to be unpleasant here, too. Haha.
Somewhere, Mrs. Meyer said that her stories would always have a lot of light to them. No suicide, depression, rape, abortion, coup d’etat, etc. And, from a surface look, the audience has to agree with her.
But the problem is that it’s not that the Twilight Series is *light*…it’s that it either won’t or can’t fully acknowledge its problems. There’s *plenty* of dark, if not interesting concepts/storylines in the books. Rosalie’s rape. Emily’s scarring. Alice’s time in an asylum. Edward’s near-death from the Spanish Influenza. Renee’s refusal or inability to take care of herself and her child. Carlisle’s crazy human father. Billy’s paralysis.
And there are so much more that I haven’t even named.
Now, the thing is…in the hands of a *capable* author, all of these storylines would be fascinating and engaging. You could weave and interlope them amazingly until you have a true series worthy of being called a ‘saga’. You might not have a young adult novel anymore, but you’d certainly have a worthy novel.
But, the fact of the matter is that we are *not* working with a talented, or insightful author. Instead, we’re pretty much working with an author that seems to have such a sheltered world view that it borderlines on naïve and childish. From there-like I said-the series only backfires on itself time and time again. It’s not that there’s a lot of light in the stories…it’s that there *is* lot of dark. It’s just simply, a) not dealt with, b) ghosted over in a paragraph or two, and/or c) treated as something endearing/comical, rather than disturbing.
It’s just so sad, and it’s ultimately a terrible waste of potential.

About the question of Renee’s income…
*evil snickers* While I wish it were different, I think it says somewhere that Renee is a kindergarten teacher. Plus, an attractive, ditzy woman like her couldn’t have had *just* Phil in her dating exploration. So, there’s another avenue of income from there. But, I’m getting ahead of myself, haha…

About how Twilight would be better if Bella had a male friend...

I’m completely agreeing with JohnK. Honestly, who a character is friends with, and who they *aren’t* friends with adds a great deal to the characterization process. And, it’s not very hard to do, either. Not to mention that you add color and possible tension to the plot, as a whole.
But, the problem is (and I don’t think Stephenie Meyer could dispute this) the question of how does one create a friend for the likes of Bella Swan? Better yet, how would one *justify* creating such a character? Bella is quite simply nine kinds of unlikable, in the name of Dante. To this day, I *still* do *not* understand how Alice tolerated Bella’s reactions to all that she did for her. I really, really don’t. And, in real life, I don’t see how anyone else could, either. If you want to give an acknowledgment to her birthday, and give her a gift…you’ll hit a wall. If you want to ask her to consider your side of a certain issue-and it conflicts with hers-you’ll hit a wall. If you want to ignore her because she said/did something that really, really hurt you…you’ll hit a wall.
Making a healthy relationship work with Bella Swan is just…a fantasy. And, I think to some extent, Stephenie Meyer knows that.

Ana Mardoll said...

Amarie, thank you for the internet hugs. Back at ya! :D

And, dear googly moogly, I forgot about the upcoming depression fun. I remember Mark being really frustrated with those pages.

Also: Charlie has a mentally unstable father?!? o.O I did not know this thing. When do we get to see him?

Silver Adept said...

@Ana Mardoll - Consider it having beaten the RNG on a polymorph trap. It occasionally happens.

As for Bella's ballet as a young girl, then yes, she would be part of the recital. I still think something of that would have been imparted, if only subconsciously. And all of those other complex things, like cooking, that she seems to be able to do without running into issues like burning herself on a hot pan.

As for the question of what would Twilight be like if Bella had a non-romantic friend? Probably more like a Clique novel, as Bella's apparent sociopathy would make her the kind of person ready to climb the social ladder, violently dethrone whomever was at the top at the time, and then establish a dynasty of fear and terror at Forks High School. Her one friend would be her first minion at the beginning and eventually either the leader of the opposition faction or the trusted lieutenant that betrays her at the critical moment to bring her down. I'm not sure which.

@Amarie - I think I have to relinquish my Dark Mantle to you and simply act as your harbinger and herald. You've clearly got this angle down. There are all of these traumas that happened, happen, and will happen in this series, but none of them seem to have lasting effects on any of the people they happen to. What should read as a study in terror and bloodshed is instead...sparkly. Nothing against sparkly, as it could have been rolled into the terror as the Stepford-style front presented while all the torture, anger, revenge, and worse was going on behind the scenes. But instead, we get a romance that glosses over all the interesting bits in its haste to construct a poor substitute for True Love.

depizan said...

Young adult novels can deal with dark and heavy subjects. (Dark and heavy isn't my thing, so I'm blanking on specific titles. I know there are some, though.) Meyer just chose not to - or rather not to acknowledge that she kind of needed to deal with them.

I'm not sure if Meyer has a sheltered worldview, exactly, but it's certainly off. I would say it's more the worldview of someone who wants to be sheltered. I mean, she did have Bella threatened with rape when she went to town to help her "friends" shop for prom dresses. I wander around at night in a faaaar bigger place than, what was it, Port Angeles, and I have yet to stumble across wandering rape gangs. (I'm not saying it's impossible; I'm saying that Meyer implies that it's inevitable, which it's not.)

The odd thing is that by having dark stuff in passing and not dealing with it, I think her world comes off darker and more twisted than if she did deal with it.

Kit Whitfield said...

Because Bella isn't interested in being friends with someone she wants but can't have, this characterization has the effect of making her look either very shallow (I can't have him, so I don't want him) or very low in self-esteem (He won't want me, so I shouldn't bother him).

I think there's an alternative: 'I can't have him, so there's no point torturing myself with the temptation. I should just forget him.'


is it incredibly feminist to acknowledge that women can in fact be weak and powerless and still people, with their dreams and desires and wishes being worthy of the respect of proper characterization?

I agree with Ana that it's not feminist if weakness is presented as desirable. I'd also add something: it's not feminist if it's not presented as equally factual that men can be weak and powerless and still people. If you present men as capable of weakness too, then you're acknowledging humanity. If you don't, you're presenting weakness as feminine.

You might argue that you're presenting weakness as a result of socialisation ... but that's a problem too. It implies women are so weak that their strength can be entirely socialised out of them, for a start. But it's also a question of the difference between a personality trait and an ethos. A woman can be strong-willed but socialised into weakness, but then you don't have a weak person: you have a disempowered person. Her strength and weakness will be at war, and probably turn inwards, with occasional explosions or, alternatively, a highly developed passive aggression. If a woman's genuinely weak, a weak personality, then you need weak males as well to balance it up. Otherwise it starts to look like her socialisation was actually appropriate, and the only problem is that she lacks an environment to support her.

The other thing is that you can have a strong damsel in distress. She may be someone who deals with hardship with fortitude, courage and dignity, but simply isn't able, for some reason unrelated to her personality, to deal with it alone. Raiders of the Lost Ark, for instance, features a woman who runs her own business, wins drinking contests, drives a hard bargain, punches men when she's angry, and can take a joke - who also happens to get kidnapped, and then needs rescuing because, well, you would in that situation.

There are different degrees of damsel-in-distressness, I think. There's being in distress purely because of circumstances, and there's being in distress because you're not a strong person. And if it's the latter, you're kind of permanently in distress.

Twilight seems to have a mixture of the two. Circumstances large and small contrive to place Bella in distress fairly frequently, but her clumsiness provides constant crises until Edward rescues her from it by vamping her. Which is to say, he ultimately rescues her from herself, which is not a very empowering fantasy. As to weakness of personality - she's an extremely aggressive person, really. She gets everything she wants and she's unswayed by anyone else's feelings.

To my eyes, Twilight looks like an extremely taut net of contradictions, largely because the ideas of what women are supposed to be strain against the fact that women are human beings, producing some strong tensions. Bella's a peculiar mixture of weakness and strength. I might call it feminist in that it's a book written by a woman for women that speaks to female desires - but I think it is, at most, a book that's struggling with feminism rather than promoting it.


Ana, I can't add to your points about chronic conditions, but I just wanted to applaud.

Rakka said...

Out of the scale of the rest of the conversation, but if the driveway is icy, why doesn't she just walk on the grass? Frozen sleet is nasty stuff, especially on pavement/brick surface, but the ground beside the driveway is probably not too deeply frozen, since it's only been cold for one night, so it'll give a bit and make it easier to walk on. It seems like it ties in with Meyer's inability to see falling down a lot as something serious, so that Bella would try to minimize the risk, even if it meant picking a non-conventional route to the car.

keri said...

Out of the scale of the rest of the conversation, but if the driveway is icy, why doesn't she just walk on the grass?

Maybe Meyer just doesn't know about ice? I'm not sure how it gets out in Arizona or Utah or wherever she's from, but I don't think I've ever dealt with ice enough to know how to handle it - I'm from Florida and have lived here my entire life, have never seen snow except in a freak storm in 1989 when I was 4.

Admittedly, my unfamiliarity with snow and ice and Washington rain forests made these parts of the books slide by me - I have no idea what it's like to drive on ice, so I don't know if it's more difficult (other than having to go more slowly, just like in lots of rain that slicks up the pavement), or what it's like to have chains on the tires.

Sailorsaturumon said...

Bella's clumsiness is thought of as a "never grew out of it" sort. Remember how when children aged 1-2 learn to walk, they constantly fall? Belle never came over it. AND, because of that, her bones never grew out of their childish durability - Bella doesn't injure herself by falling, just like small children don't.

Nn the other note, yes, stong damsels in distress are what makes a story anjoyable, as opposed to charachters having "hurt me!" sign on their foreheads.

depizan said...

Maybe Meyer just doesn't know about ice?

If she's a lifelong Arizonan, that's entirely possible. But it's also research fail. I mean, I grew up in Iowa (and now live in Colorado*), and I have no idea what it's like to have chains on my car tires. I'd want to find out before I wrote about it, though. Hell, a quick call to Forks High would answer the question of whether they'd even have school under these conditions.

*Although chains are allowed here, I've never seen them on anything but semis, and then only on I-70 going through the mountains. I don't think they were allowed in Iowa when I was growing up; I do know no one used them. Nor did people use them in Washington state when my mom was growing up - a lot longer ago - though I can believe that a law enforcement officer would have some. I'm not sure if he'd have some for a second vehicle, and I'm not sure I believe that he could sneak them on Bella's truck.

Nathaniel said...

The reason small children don't injure themselves much when they fall is a matter of distance, not bone structure. So even that doesn't work.

Amarie said...

To Ana…

Oh, you’re more than welcome!
Yes, Mark was nine kinds of pissed off the more he read. And no one could blame him. Honestly, the way Mrs. Meyer either can’t or won’t deal with the issues that she has just makes you…wonder.
But, no, no!! Not Charlie; *Carlisle* had a crazy, human father. He was the kind of guy that went after all these ‘sinners, witches, vampires’, etc. In other words, he burned normal and innocent people at the stake for doing ‘such and such’. Kind of like the Salem Witch Trials? Only, I *think* Carlisle’s time is in the sixteen hundreds in England. We don’t get to really see Carlisle’s father; we get a mention of him in the chapter where Edward talks about his past.
I apologize for not clarifying. D:

To Silver…

No, no; I think you do a *much* better job, haha. I just stated the obvious in the books, and nothing more. Goodness, I don’t know what to say…I practically look up to you when it comes to Darkest Sketches. All I can say is that I’m very, very flattered and I still say that you own the Dark Mantle. :D

At Depizan…

Actually, you’re right; we *can* deal with dark issues in an adult novel. I suppose I was thinking in much too overwrought terms. My apologies. ^ ^
But…some good, dark novels would certainly be by Scott Westerfield (PEEPS is my FAVORITE). It’s been a long while since I’ve read young adult myself, though. So, that’s all I have at the moment.
I agree with you; Mrs. Meyer *does* seem to want to be sheltered. Didn’t she ask Summit Entertainment to make sure that none of the Twilight movies were rated R, so that she could see them? And about how her world comes off much more darker and twisted…again, you’re after my own heart. :D

Ana Mardoll said...

Gah, can't believe I misread Carlisle as Charlie. I was just hoping SO MUCH that Grandpa would breeze into Forks and tell everyone to their face how much they suck and it would be chalked up to mental illness when really he's The Last Sane Man On Earth. :)

Amarie said...

Aww…it’s alright, Ana!
But, that *would* be interesting. Grandpa Swan going into Forks and giving his son a good, stern lesson on parenting. Now, *that* would be a Twilight that I could read. *evil snickers* >:D

Ana Mardoll said...

Grandpa: "Good god, boy, you haven't even repainted those gawd-awful yellow cabinets. What's the matter, you blow all the FOOD MONEY on another month-long California vacation by the sea for the little princess? Have you talked with her about getting a job or planning for college? Back in my day, kids expected to work for a living, and didn't just sit around reading Wuthering Heights every weekend..."

Amarie said...

I love you, Ana! I do!!! :D

And don’t even get me started on how Grandpa Swan could go on about Renee. In my view, Charlie’s first infraction as a parent was letting her take the baby. My thing is, that if Charlie knew just how mentally incompetent that Renee was/is…then what was he doing letting her take his child? That just screams to me of neglect. And so, I can’t really feel sorry for him when it comes to Bella’s lack of emotional connection with him. In my eyes, he’s lucky. Because, if that were *my* father that let my harebrained mother take me as an infant and rob me of my childhood? I’d probably hate him more than I hated her because he actually had the mental capacity to know better.
But, that’s just me. ^ ^

Gelliebean said...

"What should read as a study in terror and bloodshed is instead...sparkly. Nothing against sparkly, as it could have been rolled into the terror as the Stepford-style front presented while all the torture, anger, revenge, and worse was going on behind the scenes. But instead, we get a romance that glosses over all the interesting bits in its haste to construct a poor substitute for True Love."

I find the most terrifying stories happen when everyone knows what dark horrors lurk, and no one will discuss or acknowledge them to each other. This is why I'm fascinated by the thought of Twilight as a true horror novel: Bella as the only new inhabitant of a tiny town completely under the Cullens' thrall; everyone is terrified of them, but unwilling to speak against them, so Bella just gets vague warnings about staying away from The Family without any legitimate reasons to back it up. She decides that her schoolmates are just trying to see how gullible the new kid is, and besides, Sparkelboi is pretty darn charming and interesting, and maybe everyone's jealous of his family because they're wealthy and influential and all so gorgeous.

In the meantime, Sparkleboi is being so charming and interesting because he can't read Bella's thoughts and that makes her a challenge, and she's the first person he's ever met that he wasn't getting instant feedback from on how to manipulate her, so he's trying to do it the hard way.

Of course, all this would be bark without the bite :-p unless the Cullens really do pose a threat, if they aren't actually 'vegetarian' vampires but are feeding off the people in town.... For the most part, the only results for the victim are bite patterns on the neck and a deep lethargy the next day, and no one ever talks about those or about the occasional 'unexplained' disappearance.

Sailorsaturumon said...

It has to do with both fall distance AND being used to it. People that fall often (like Karate Fighters) do it better than others. And bella doesn#t actually fall BADLY that often - she constantly has balance problems, but mostly she just has to grip something OR falls on her behind.
The point however is that clumsines is not always attributable to some treatable condition. Often, it is an incorrect "brain wiring", which cannot be corrected. Non-slippery shoes and protective clothing (knee and elbow protectors? padded clothing? possibly even helmet?) are still a must, though. Can it be that Bella refuses to wear such things because of vanity? If so, it would make a good plot.

hapax said...

Nurture/Need relationships are complicated in chronic cases. You mentioned the "oh, he took care of me during my cold" gratitude-sexy feeling, and there's a lot of that, but there's also a huge amount of guilt (because your partner doesn't get a "normal" relationship) and resentment (because your partner can't understand what it's like to be in pain all the time).

Y'know, I never really realized it until I read this post, but yeah, there is something comparable to the Rape Fantasy going on here for me.

As a chronic pain /always falling down type myself (goodness, we have enough CPS here for a convention, don't we?), I get So Darn Tired of the conflict you describe -- YES, I want someone else to take care of me, to the physical work for me, stand behind me and catch me, but NO, I want to be independent, my overall health depend on forcing myself to walk and move as much as possible, and the guilt and the resentment that you describe and...

oh my goodness, how refreshing it was to fantasize myself into the relationship where I didn't have to fight myself about this all the time. The decision was taken out my hands. I wasn't *less* because of my disability, I was cherished *for* my disability (after all, all humans are fragile cripples to vampires, Bella is just more overt about her weakness). I didn't have to fight for my physical integrity and independence, I could just lie back and enjoy it...

Of course, this pleasure IS pure fantasy, and would be as horrific in real life as the rape fantasy. But I never realized the strength of the subconscious appeal until now.

Rachel said...

No, "were" is used for hypotheticals that are contrary to fact, regardless of their plausibility.
It is true that "was" is used for past-tense hypotheticals when the speaker doesn't know whether it's true, the same way "is" is used for those cases in the present-tense. But if the statement is contrary to fact, regardless of its likelihood, it's subjunctive and therefore "were" (at least in the present tense).

If she were actually weak, it would make more of a difference in her life.
If I were Spider-Man, I'd tell everyone.
(In both cases the speaker perceives that the statement is contrary to fact, so the subjunctive "were" is used even though the situations have different levels of real-life plausibility.)

If she was here, then where did she go?
If he is Spider-Man, I can't believe he kept it a secret from me all this time.
(These don't use the subjunctive, because they may be true in actual fact--it's not just that they seem like things that could happen in real life, they're things the speaker suspects *are actually happening* [or have actually happened] in real life.)

Emmers00 said...

I have an acquaintance who calls herself clumsy/unlucky. And she is constantly doing things like cutting herself, shutting other people's hands in doors, etc. But it's not that she's that much more physically unskilled than other people, it's that she's not careful. She's frequently rushing and not paying attention, and despite being "clumsy", she has an over-inflated idea of her own skill with dangerous things. It seems like more of a mental shortcoming than a physical one (though, as you can probably tell, I'm not fond of her so I may be being too harsh). My theory is that our protagonist and our author are essentially the same person - Bella thinks and says things the way an "idealized" SMeyer would, and the image of Bella that the reader is intended to form is how SMeyer would like to imagine she would be perceived if she said and did those things (i.e., selfless, vulnerable but strong). And perhaps SMeyer is a bit "clumsy" herself, and so gave that trait to Bella, too, as it's humanizing, and a convenient flaw that gives Edward even more of an excuse to be physically controlling of Bella. But, like many of Bella's other characteristics, it's something that is far less endearing to a critical reader than the author intends it to be. (I've never seen or read any interviews with SMeyer, so I don't really know what's she's like, I've just formulated the theory as a way to explain how SMeyer could write such an unlikable character while clearly intending her to be likable).

Ana Mardoll said...

Of course, this pleasure IS pure fantasy, and would be as horrific in real life as the rape fantasy. But I never realized the strength of the subconscious appeal until now.

That makes sense and fits with the Twilight Is Fantasy explanation overall. No Real Life partner is ever perfect about taking care of a CPS person, so to have a Fantasy Partner who swoons at the thought of taking perfect care of the CPS sufferer could be a compelling fantasy, as you say. It's the carry over to Real Life that sets of the oh-wait-does-not-work alarm bells.

And, of course, all this is side-stepped by Bella's promotion to vampire at the end.

Sailorsaturumon said...

Another interesting thought: can it be the Good-Thing-You-Can-Heal principle at work?
What if by some reason (maybe supernatural) Bella NEVER injures or seriously hurts her self by falling? THAN it would be LOGICAL that her brain, never really experiencing pain from her falls, indeed never grew out of it.
Chilfdren learn not to fall because FALLING HURTS. A lot. If for Bella, falling doesn't really hurt that badly, she wouldn't have learned not to fall as good as others do - which would explain both her clumsiness AND her cavalier attitude towards this, and part of her not understanding the others - she just doesn't appreciate how hurtful/dangerous falling is. STRONG hero after all?

hapax said...

@Sailorsaturumon -- iirc, that's a real disorder called (runs and finds out) congenital analgesia. It's in fact very dangerous, since pain is our bodies' way of telling us "That thing you just did? DON'T DO IT AGAIN!"

Children with this disorder tend to suffer burns, infected wounds, broken bones, if not worse, because they just don't learn not to hurt themselves.

Idle thought: Renesmee (I can never type that name without gakking) is nigh invulnerable from birth. I am now wondering how she learned to walk, let alone fine motor control, without that built-in feedback system.

Even more idle thought -- eventually the kid is going to hit puberty. Most people I know learn about their own sexual responses through self-stimulation. This is a process that probably needs to have the "that HURTS" shut off valve. Now I really couldn't give a flying nematode whether the Sparklebrat grows up sexually healthy, and the good Lord knows that S Meyer never thought this aspect through, but especially with a werewolf "fated mate", one has to wonder...

Ana Mardoll said...

I appreciated that Steig Larsson took the congenital analgesia route for a villain and DIDN'T make it seem like an invulnerable-awesome-superpower. Yes, it was handy in certain circumstances, but very much not worth it overall.

I had a response about how Nessie's lack of a pain response just means Jacob and she can fall in Twue Luff even sooner, but it killed my soul to type it, so I'm not. Eventually I'll have to deal with the horror that is imprinting on infants, but for tonight my world is bright and beautiful.

I DO like the name SparkleBrat. :P

hapax said...

Oh, Lordhavemercy, I just remembered that hapaxdaughter has started reading these deconstructions. Pleasepleaseplease don't let her come here and find her mother chatting about prostitutes, rape fantasies, and vampirical masturbation....

Ana Mardoll said...

I hope it will give her a deeper understanding of Twilight-enjoyers while still understanding why the series isn't a healthy road-map for Real Life. As it does us all. :P

syfr said...

I just finished Alicorn's fanfic (novel length!) Luminosity, and its sequel Radiance.

I must say, they are much better than the original books probably are (I haven't read them, just deconstructions.)

A lot of the things that you point out as problems are dealt with.

Becky said...

Hmm, well... I am someone who is very clumsy (Bella's clumsiness didn't bother me so much when I read the book because it seemed like an exaggerated version of my own clumsiness). I certainly don't fall daily or weekly, but I do fall more frequently than most adults, and I can say that for somebody young, strong and able bodied, falling isn't really that big of a deal. In my experience, it is (a lot!) more embarrassing than it is painful. I mean, nobody likes bruises or skinned knees but they're not comparable to a chronic pain condition. And when you are young, strong and able bodied, falling from a standing position doesn't result in broken bones or other serious painful injuries (at least, it hasn't yet in my experience. Although I do worry about getting older).

Ana Mardoll said...

Really? Huh. I would expect bruises and skinned knees on a daily/weekly basis to be a pretty painful problem. Still, I'm glad you shared your own experience -- that makes me feel a little better about Bella's constant falling not ever being portrayed as overly painful... :)

Anna said...

"Question: How would Twilight be better if Bella had a male best friend who was utterly uninterested in her romantically? Discuss."

Unfortunately I suspect that the only way SMeyer would allow this to happen (since Bella is so beautifulspecialmagical and all men instantly fall in love with her) would be to give Bella a gay male best friend. Since the books are so very Bella-centric, this would be a gay guy who exists solely to advance the plot for the straight characters. Since fiction already has far too many of those, I think I've just identified a way in which Twilight could actually be worse. I'm as surprised as you are.

Now I'm wondering about the ramifications of Edward's mindreading for LGBT students at Forks, especially the ones who aren't out yet. No matter how much they try to hide their sexuality, Edward is going to know. Vampires don't seem to change much after vamping, so does Edward still hold 19th-century attitudes towards homosexuality? I shudder to think of what this might mean for any LGBT people who come within Edward's range. Then again, he's not exactly friendly to anyone. Maybe he would in fact be less hostile to the gay guys, because hey: finally a guy whose thoughts don't involve coveting Edward's love interest! (Remember, every straight male in the school must fall in love with Bella). But mainly my brain is going down the depressing route of picturing a gay student bullied by Edward, who knows the reason for their victimisation, but can't get anyone else to listen because - to everyone but Edward - their sexuality is too well hidden. Nobody believes it's homophobic bullying, because without mindreading powers there's no reason for Edward to assume his victim is gay.

I dislike this.

Ana Mardoll said...

Since fiction already has far too many of those, I think I've just identified a way in which Twilight could actually be worse. I'm as surprised as you are.

That IS a rather impressive feat.

I suspect that Edward might be less hostile to the gay students once Bella shows up because, as you say, they'll be the *only* males in school not thinking lustful thoughts about Bella. But before Bella shows up? It's hard to say. :( Perhaps the saving grace here is that the Cullens seem not to interact with anyone, either positively or negatively?

Of course, the "gay guys safe from Bella-lust" issue just begs the question of how Edward will feel about the lesbians who must fall in love with Bella. Edward never mentions this to Bella, so maybe somehow the lesbians at the school are immune to her powers of attraction?

chris the cynic said...

Unfortunately I suspect that the only way SMeyer would allow this to happen

If we're going with a counterfactual already can we not also assume that we are breaking free of the bonds of Meyer?

So it turns out that Bella meet's Eric's friend Josh whose only interest at first is in having a nice game of chess with her, and while Bella isn't really interested in chess (I'm guessing based on her apparent association of chess with bad skin and greasy hair which doesn't seem like the first impulse of someone who really likes the game) the idea of spending time with someone who isn't drooling over her (canonically all boys other than Edward out of lust, Edward drooling both from that and from the thought of sinking his teeth into this wonderful banquet sitting right news to him) is appealing so they start playing regularly.

Friendship grows, Josh never takes a romantic interest in Bella. If necessary to really drive home that no, his lack of interest in Bella does not apply to all females one could have him ask Bella for relationship advice because he really likes that girl over there, but can't figure out how best to tell her.* Regardless, he would provide a source of the friendship that Bella lacks.

Of course, if we are assuming that we have escaped the bonds of Meyer, then the story might not be such a bad place for gay characters. They might be allowed to exist for reasons other than serving as safe opposite sex friends for straight characters, and perhaps Bella could indeed be friends with one of the well characterized male who is gay.


It seems to me that having vampires set while at the same time capable of learning doesn't make a lot of sense unless they're set in a very general way**. Edward's mind reading would give him so much more perspective on what it's like to be not ... well not-Edward really. It's not just LGTB people. Post vampification Edward would know more about what it means to be gay, to be trans, to be bi, to be a racial, ethnic or religious minority, to be female, to be a refugee, to be poor, to be disabled in any way, to be anything that causes not-Edward people to think in ways different than Edward, than he ever did in is few years as a human. That that wouldn't change his views is nigh inconceivable.

It doesn't mean he'll be nice. Maybe it turns out that it just makes Edward pissed of at everyone who isn't privileged because their thoughts are not fun and he resents hearing them.


* I'm imagining him freaking out because he's been friends with not-Bella girl for a lot longer than he's wanted to date her, and he's worried that if he handles things badly not only will he be rejected wrt dating but he'll also screw up a friendship that's really important to him. So at first his plan was to say nothing and ignore his feelings but the result of that is that the relationship is increasingly weird and awkward for him. He can tell his plan A is not working but he doesn't know what to do.

Turns out that the friend he would usually turn to for advice is the one who he needs advice about, looks around, finds he doesn't have many people he can ask. He sees how Eric is trying to court Bella and immediately rules out Eric as a source of advice. Probably rules out some other people, though I'd also buy that he only has three friends in the first place. Eventually he turns to Bella.

** Which I seem to recall someone saying was how it worked. The vampire can learn and grow and change but the general personality will stay the same. So Edward might be stuck as Smug forever, but he might start off acting smugly superior to the objects of his bigotry and end up acting smugly superior to bigots.

Anna said...

"Of course, the "gay guys safe from Bella-lust" issue just begs the question of how Edward will feel about the lesbians who must fall in love with Bella. Edward never mentions this to Bella, so maybe somehow the lesbians at the school are immune to her powers of attraction?"

Hm... well, as you mention, Bella is evidently supposed to fit the "damsel in distress" model, and thus lends herself to being part of a highly stereotypical male-female romance. I can imagine that you might have several guys fantasising about being the handsome prince who saves Bella from herself, while the queer ladies who are less interested in partaking of these heteroromantic stereotypes are correspondingly less interested in Bella.

On the other hand, I'm a girl, I like girls, and sometimes I do want to rescue the damsel in distress, so that's evidently an oversimplification. I would suggest the lack of female interest in Bella is a side-effect of the cultural belief that Only Men Have Sex Drives, except Bella's own sex drive seems to be portrayed fairly well within Twilight, so female libido evidently does exist in S Meyer's world. Can I just claim that the lesbians at the school have better taste in women than the straight guys do? :P

(Actually, if Bella's "oh I'm so clumsy, because I'm a girl" routine is just an act, I can see it being an act that annoys other women a lot more than it annoys men. That might put the lesbians off)

chris the cynic said...

Can I just claim that the lesbians at the school have better taste in women than the straight guys do? :P

I think that the universality of Bella-lust implies that it is disconnected from taste in women. It would seem to be more like a magic power than a believable result of the usual things that result in attraction. Perhaps the spell was cast in a way that targeted only straight males. Or maybe Edward simply doesn't want to talk about lesbians because he considers them icky.

Or, possibly, because since he can't read Bella's mind he has no idea how she would react.

Edward: "You know Mikalah wants you something fierce."
Bella: "Oh-my-god, really?"
Edward: "Yeah."
Bella runs off to ask Mikalah to go out with her. They live happily ever after. Edward is all alone.

thesunrises said...

Thank you for this. As someone who falls down a lot (mild ataxic cerebral palsy -- I don't need a cane unless I go somewhere with ice), I often become very uncomfortable when people deconstruct Bella's tendency to fall because they tend to do it in a way that implies someone who falls often is "broken" or could not realistically have their own story. I had my sense of uncomfortableness when I read Twilight (I've only read the first book, to see what the fuss was) concerning the clumsiness, but I couldn't really put it into words because whenever I tried to discuss it people tended towards the "pssh I am Bella and I can't take care of my self! That's so funny~~!" argument, whereas my actual feeling towards it is like how you've described. I know narratively it's dangerous to have a female character who has to rely on others throughout the day, but that is something that happens -- but at the same time my worries about it is how it undermines falling as a real problem.

I will disagree on jokes, though. I don't make them in the moment, but the second I was in that car I'd probably be making fun of myself mentally :).

thesunrises said...

I am mildly worried my first paragraph didn't make sense :/ I just meant that I agree overall, and basically that I wish there were heroines with real chronic health issues.

Ana Mardoll said...

Thank *you* for posting! I love hearing from everyone on this issue. And I completely agree -- we need more heros/heroines with chronic health issues that are treated seriously and not like a comic relief valve. :)

TheSquirrel said...

I'm seriously enjoying this deconstruction!

Whenever I read severe clumsiness as a character trait, I can't help but think of Jar-Jar Binks and get uncomfortable. Much like Jar-Jar Bella, Jar-Jar Binks' inappropriate slapstick was also notably dangerous yet weirdly turned out to be serendipitous for his caretakers who also had supernatural abilities. Hmm.

Sorry if this comment doesn't add to the enlightening conversation. :) Keep up the good work.

Ana Mardoll said...

Not only did it definitely add to the conversation, it made me laugh. Thank you. :)

Kit Whitfield said...

And when you are young, strong and able bodied, falling from a standing position doesn't result in broken bones or other serious painful injuries (at least, it hasn't yet in my experience. Although I do worry about getting older).

It does if you trip over a computer wire. Just sayin. :-(

In a way, you could do a lot with a character who had a genuine balance problem that threatened her wellbeing. It would give her a motivation to want vamping, which would have to be carefully handled but could create some interesting dynamics in a relationship, including the guy thinking 'Does she actually love me, or does she just want out of her balance problem?'

But showing her coping with it could give a writer a lot of scope. Say it's bad enough that on difficult days she sometimes has to wear kneepads and headgear. (I've seen documentaries where people with really serious balance problems do have to wear some kind of helmet.) Add that to being the new girl in school, and an icy day is a real issue: do I take a risk of cracking my head, or do I go in wearing my pads and stand out like a sore thumb in a school where I'm already an outsider and risk permanently getting branded as That Weird Girl? Social or physical risk, which do I gamble on? And if I wear my pads, am I going to wear them in like crutches and say it's medical, or am I going to cover the helmet with the huge gaudy woolly hat I knitted and make a feature of it to prove I don't care? Put my energy into patiently requesting respect for my condition, or into bidding for the Privileged Eccentric niche?

If you could do something like that, you could get readers sympathising - and if you showed her doing it with reasonable fortitude and keeping her sense of humour, they'd probably admire the heck out of her. It might be an interesting way to go, anyway.

Darth Ember said...

Speaking up as another somewhat clumsy person; I frequently look down at my knees and shins, see bruises, and go "Huh. Where did that come from?" I do tend to forget about the incidental collisions with the coffee table and so on; they simply cease to be relevant once it stops hurting.
But then, I rather suspect my difficulties in terms of colliding with things come at least partially from my eye problems; my eyes work a bit funny, and don't give me binocularity of vision, so I have no real depth perception. I have to estimate where things are based upon their relative size compared to other things. It tends to make working out whether I'm too close to a chair or a doorframe or whatever a bit tricky.
Though I can still use a knife to cut up food and so on; I even drive, and haven't had accidents beyond the very minor bingles everyone gets when they're learning. (I'm very, very careful on the road. Sometimes people behind me honk their horns when I'm too slow turning onto a road or going onto a roundabout, but they're just douchecanoes. I value my life considerably more than their getting where they're going an omg whole minute sooner.)

hapax said...

Darth Ember, I don't have binocular vision either, so I know *exactly* what you're talking about.

About the only thing I haven't learned to compensate for is pouring liquids into a round glass -- I have to get down and watch from the side.

But walls and (especially) doorframes -- since I tend to keep walls on the side of my "weak" eye, I am *always* walking into things.

Of course, it doesn't help that I'm usually walking around with a book in my hands...

chris the cynic said...

I necessarily must have had depth perception when I was young because school had vision checks back then and my vision in both eyes always checked out fine. At some point my right eye went downhill a lot. I didn't realize it because my left eye took up the slack very well, but it meant that I'd lost my depth perception. Then when I finally found out that my right eye sucked (as in, "The only letter I can read is the E at the top of the chart, and I'm squinting to do it. How the Hell did this happen?") and got my first pair of glasses the world changed.

It was the first time I really understood what depth perception was. I must have had it at some point before, but until I went from not having to, in an instant, having it I really didn't understand what was.

The weird thing is, it has to be the case that I was walking into stuff most when I had depth perception (because that was when my eyes checked out fine) and I slowly learned not to bump into things while slowly losing my depth perception.

By the time I'd mostly stopped bumping into things I'd also mostly lost my depth perception.

Darth Ember said...

Oh dear Eru yes, the pouring thing. I *cannot* judge how much I've poured properly unless I look at the side of the glass. I can make a rough estimate, but that's all.
In my case it's not so much a weak eye as the fact one's short-sighted and one's long-sighted, and they switch to see things at various distances. I can consciously switch them, too, or half-switch and just go all unfocused very easily if I want. The thing I can't do, sadly, is sync them up.
The optometrist was kind of startled to find this out.

Darth Ember said...

I've worn glasses; they addressed the issues regarding the short-sightedness and long-sightedness, respectively, of my eyes. They didn't sync them up.
Probably didn't help that I had a turn in one eye when I was young; multiple operations to fix that, when I was little, and it still wanders a bit if I'm really tired. (Mostly nobody seemed to notice, but I got at least one cruel comment at school of "I can't tell who you're looking at!" in a drama practice thing that entailed making eye contact around a circle to tell people to move, nonverbally.)
It is not good for one's hand-eye coordination, or spatial awareness of where the body is.

I went to high school afraid of basketballs. Not enough coordination to catch them, and too much difficulty seeing exactly where they were going. Didn't help that there was a horrible boy in my primary school sport practice who thought it was funny to either throw the ball over me instead of to me... or *at* me. It hurts when a basketball hits you in the head, and getting glasses knocked off sucks. Especially when you're young, and small. Pretty much killed any enthusiasm I might ever have had for ball sports; it left me constantly conscious that any ball ever might hit me.

It occurs to me that an eye condition like mine, and the related issues, would explain Bella Swan so much more easily. It'd make her more sympathetic, I think, if her hatred of sport was based upon the fear of being hit by the ball. She could still be clumsy; I don't always move my feet quite right, so I sometimes catch them on obstructions and stumble. But she wouldn't just be 'clumsy with no explanation, and no effort made to find out if there are medical issues.' Hell, she could even be torn between how people say laser eye treatment should only be done after a certain age, when the eyes have 'settled' to their adult setting, and worrying that if she left it that late, her brain would never adjust and her eyes, though technically fixed as far as short/long-sightedness, would never learn to sync up.

At which point becoming the ultimate hunter, with inhumanly good vision and absolute grace, would sound really, really tempting. Skipping over all the fretting about 'when should I fix this' and 'will it be too late' and 'how will I afford this' in favour of three days of not-good time, then everything being fixed forever.

hapax said...

The thing I can't do, sadly, is sync them up.
The optometrist was kind of startled to find this out.

Well, the advantage is that (back when I used to wear contacts), I could take one out if it got itchy or something, and it wouldn't affect my vision a bit. I just wouldn't use the eye without the lens for a bit.

I didn't realize that was unusual until my doctor was doing the "look into your eyes with a tiny flashlight" bit (it was also nice to be able to "turn off" the eye that HAD A FLASHLIGHT SHINING INTO IT thank you) and he kept getting upset that he had to readjust his focus when he switched between the eyes.

Oh, and 3D movies are a waste on me. Which is fine, I don't know of one I've particularly wanted to see anyhow.

chris the cynic said...

When I might fall on a flat surface, as Bella does, is when I don't lift my foot high enough or when I somehow manage to stand on the side of my foot. Both come without warning. The first will make me trip forward (though if I'm lucky not result in an actual fall) the second will make me worried I sprained my ankle (and, again, doesn't always result in an actual fall.)

If I fall from the first I'll likely be in pain in my now scraped up hands*, if I fall from the second my ankle will hurt like hell and it will be a while before I know whether I've injured myself or just caused pain.

I have no idea what causes either of those things to happen (nothing feels different until such time as stuff is already in the process of going horribly wrong.) If they happened as frequently as Bella falls I'd definitely be seeking medical help.


*We've discussed how it's a bad idea to stick your hands out, this is why.

hapax said...

When I might fall on a flat surface, as Bella does, is when I don't lift my foot high enough or when I somehow manage to stand on the side of my foot. Both come without warning.

[Playing doctor on the internet]

chris-the-cynic: Do you have unusually short big toes?

You may have Morton's toe, which is a common condition, and sounds mildly funny.

Except that in some cases, it causes a gait that sort of balances on the second metatarsal (like an ice skater on a thin blade) instead of the big toe. This often leads to the kind of falling that you describe.

It can (emphasize CAN, not WILL) also lead to all sorts of other problems in later age, so if you think this describes you, you might want to have an orthopedist or sports physician check it out.

Sorry -- I know FAR more about various pathologies and deformities of the feet than anyone should have to. :-(

Darth Ember said...

Oh, the 3D Movie thing... I have seethed at that before. Stupid new popular bandwagon technology...
I'm afraid it'll replace normal movies forever. That eventually, 3D will be the only thing around. At which point I can rule out ever seeing another film.

Ana Mardoll said...

I'm told they've come out with un-3D-ifying glasses for people who can't use 3D. Saw that on Tiger Beatdown, I think... :/

Inquisitive Raven said...

I have depth perception and I still have to get beside a container and look straight across to accurately gauge fill. Well, I can at least get in the ball park without doing that, but for actual measuring I need to do it.

On clumsiness, it's amazing how much you don't realize that core muscles have to do with balance until you get some surgically removed. It's not a big deal most of the time. I really tend to notice it most when I'm actively trying to balance on one foot or carrying an unbalanced load that wouldn't have bothered me pre-surgery.

Brin Bellway said...

I'm afraid it'll replace normal movies forever. That eventually, 3D will be the only thing around. At which point I can rule out ever seeing another film.

The theatre we usually go to doesn't have the set-up for 3D. I don't know if they have to get special non-3D film on their end or what, but on my end I wouldn't have known any of them were originally meant to be 3D if I wasn't told. (I don't feel like I'm missing out, either. I can do 3D, and it's nice (for me) for simulator theme park rides and such, but not for regular movies.)

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