Content Note: Eating Disorders, Power Fantasies
Twilight Recap: Edward has approached Bella in the parking lot at school and asked if he can take her to Seattle on her planned day-trip. Bella has agreed, but is puzzled by Edward's behavior.
Twilight, Chapter 5: Blood Type
The rest of the morning passed in a blur. It was difficult to believe that I hadn't just imagined what Edward had said, and the way his eyes had looked. Maybe it was just a very convincing dream that I'd confused with reality. That seemed more probable than that I really appealed to him on any level.
Part of me wants to say that we're back for another round of Bella's low self-esteem, but looked at from another angle, her feelings here are kind of logical. Not because she's not valuable or appealing (which is what I think she is trying to convey and with which I disagree), but because she's got no reason to believe she's valuable or appealing to Edward.
After all, in addition to the much-repeated-on-this-blog hostile and aggressive behavior he's dished out to her since literally the first hour they met, he's also just spent the entire morning insulting her and his invitation to Seattle was delivered in the most back-handed of ways: he's going with her not because he wants to, but because he claims she's ruining the environment with her gas-guzzler truck. Great.
I am utterly devastated, though, by the revelation that Bella thinks that a morning of being rudely insulted and given backhanded compliments is so wonderful as to be suspiciously dreamlike. I've never wanted an intervention for a character as badly as I do for Bella Swan. And that makes me sad.
So I was impatient and frightened as Jessica and I entered the cafeteria. I wanted to see his face, to see if he'd gone back to the cold, indifferent person I'd known for the last several weeks. Or if, by some miracle, I'd really heard what I thought I'd heard this morning.
Disappointment flooded through me as my eyes unerringly focused on his table. The other four were there, but he was absent. Had he gone home? I followed the still-babbling Jessica through the line, crushed. I'd lost my appetite -- I bought nothing but a bottle of lemonade. I just wanted to go sit down and sulk.
This is now the second or possibly third time that Bella has had a liquid lunch because of her fear and anxiety over Edward Cullen.
A feature I particularly dislike in literature aimed at women is the insidious idea that food is a luxury and that in times of anxiety and distress -- times that most heroines encounter in the course of their stressful lives -- food falls magically unneeded by the wayside. If the book is particularly steeped in this problem it may even be used as a justification for the heroine's socially acceptable waistline: oh, whoops, my distress slimmed me down into a smaller dress size, tee hee.
Anxiety and nerves can cause some people to avoid food because they are too uncomfortable to eat. But this is incredibly unhealthy if it occurs frequently over a compressed time period, and if Bella keeps doing this, she's going to get seriously sick. When I was at my most depressed, I alternated between not eating for long stretches of time and bulimia because it was a way to exert control over my surroundings. The life I was living was incredibly dangerous to my health, and if I'd continued for a very long time I could very easily have needed hospitalization. This is not light-hearted romantic fantasy material here -- her relationship with Edward is making Bella physically ill.
Some teachers and counselors are trained to spot symptoms of eating disorders and provide help and aid to students where they can. I'm not surprised that the Forks staff isn't really attuned to this concept, but they should be -- someone needs to be able to step in and help Bella get off these anxiety-riddled liquid-lunches. But really this just feeds into my on-going gripe that Bella is clearly deeply depressed and no one is doing anything about it. And that makes me sad.
"Edward Cullen is staring at you again," Jessica said, finally breaking through my abstraction with his name. "I wonder why he's sitting alone today."
And the thing of it is, you can't tell me that S. Meyer isn't doing this on purpose. There was no need for Bella to go through this ooh, I'm too filled with womanly distress to manage solid food! act. It's actually terribly unnatural: Edward is sitting alone because... why? Oh, I see, so that Bella can be all nervous and then get called over to his private table without the interference of his siblings or having to interact with them in any way at all.
It's a way to build fake suspense and continue to isolate Bella and Edward from having to interact with anyone besides each other, and all you had to do was have a character completely change his schedule in order to do something that makes no sense, i.e., eat lunch by himself at a completely empty table in a school cafeteria that probably isn't a sprawling cavernous eatery. And this is supposed to be the big romantic setup for this scene. And that makes me sad.
My head snapped up. I followed her gaze to see Edward, smiling crookedly, staring at me from an empty table across the cafeteria from where he usually sat. Once he'd caught my eye, he raised one hand and motioned with his index finger for me to join him. As I stared in disbelief, he winked.
"Does he mean you?" Jessica asked with insulting astonishment in her voice.
Bella, no. You can't have it both ways. You can't keep insisting to us that no, really, what could Edward see in awful old ME and then get huffy when Jessica is astonished. Especially when her astonishment could equally be an astonishment at Edward wanting to interact with someone he's been openly hostile to, or her astonishment at Edward beckoning Bella like she's his gorram harem girl and he wants his gorram peeled grapes.
*clears throat* Sorry about that.
Now, as has been pointed out before, this I'm worthless, but you'd better not think so! attitude is -- again -- not inconsistent with chronic depression. But that doesn't make me feel any better! Either I have a smug heroine who puts herself down but doesn't mean it, or I have a depressed heroine who puts herself down but doesn't like others to weigh in with their opinions. So I can either be annoyed at the heroine, or thoroughly despondent at her slow downward spiral into further depression. And that makes me sad.
"Maybe he needs help with his Biology homework," I muttered for her benefit. "Um, I'd better go see what he wants."
I could feel her staring after me as I walked away
When I reached his table, I stood behind the chair across from him, unsure.
Could this be any more awkward? Please tell me I'm not the only one utterly flabbergasted by the literal beck-and-call on display here. There's just something very uncomfortable to me about Bella's near-instinctive drive to obey the non-verbal commands of a man who has treated her with zero kindness (sans the whole life-saving thing) and mountains of abuse and hostility for their entire extremely-short relationship together.
And I don't understand why we couldn't have been honest and open and totally empowered here. Sure, he's insular and insulting, but you can't deny he's totally hot, so I'll go see what he can do for me, er, what I can do for him, ahem would be (a) perfectly truthful at this point and (b) probably accepted by Jessica as a valid explanation for the situation. Certainly more so than "Biology homework", seeing as how Edward has been established already as a wunderkind at Biology.
(Random thought: Who is collecting the Cullens' homework assignments when they're off "hiking"? Surely the teachers aren't putting together individual homework folders for them? After they've been so snarly to Bella, it's hard to imagine they'd be so kind to the inconvenient Cullens. Because... Jasper?)
And yet... would that be honest from Bella's perspective? There's nothing in the text to suggests she even considers turning him down an option. Not in a I don't want anything to do with you way, but even in a yes, I see you, and I'll happily talk to you later, but I'm having a lovely lunch with my friends at the moment way. This is not presented as an option. Nor is there any real indication that Bella is going over to Edward's table because it's what she wants to do; there's a lot of talk about her "disappointment" at his absence, but for all her implied relief that he's there, there's not really an indication that she seems to think she yet has a chance at those Sparkle Thighs.
I'm left with the impression that she obeys him not because she wants to or because she thinks it will benefit her in some way, but rather because she literally cannot think of any other possible course of action. And that makes me uncomfortable as a reader.
Maybe it's not supposed to read that way; maybe we're supposed to read their "relationship" as further along -- or at least in a different place -- than where I'm reading it. Maybe her instinctive "jump up and go" behavior is meant to seem trusting, in the same way I would "jump up and go" to my husband, because I trust that he wouldn't interrupt my lunch unless it was important. (Not because my lunches are super-important, but more because Husband isn't much the "beckon" type, so I'd immediately know Something Is Up.)
So possibly I'm just reading this whole scene wrong, and yet... would it have been so hard to have Bella explain a little of this to me? I'm sitting here saying, "I have no idea why she's doing this," which means the author must have thought it was obvious why she's doing this, so all I'm left with is my gut instinct that he's a hot man who must be obeyed, and I've nothing to counteract that impression. And that makes me sad.
"Why don't you sit with me today?" he asked, smiling.
I sat down automatically, watching him with caution. He was still smiling. It was hard to believe that someone so beautiful could be real. I was afraid that he might disappear in a sudden puff of smoke, and I would wake up.
The problem with highlighting the Purple Prose is that you either highlight individual words -- which eventually seems woefully inadequate -- or you end up highlighting the entire book. And that makes me sad.
He seemed to be waiting for me to say something.
"This is different," I finally managed.
Argle-bargle-farking-blaster. He called her over so that she could sit down and they would stare silently at each other. NOT AWKWARD AT ALL. The silver screen is not big enough to contain the passion that is Edward and Bella. And that makes me so very sad.
"Well . . ." He paused, and then the rest of the words followed in a rush. "I decided as long as I was going to hell, I might as well do it thoroughly."
I waited for him to say something that made sense. The seconds ticked by.
"You know I don't have any idea what you mean," I eventually pointed out.
And here is another case where I kind of like Bella. I mean, here we have a statement that is reasonable, straight-forward, and full of understated snark. If the whole book were like this, I'd have so much less to complain about.
'Course, in my ideal version of the book, after she points out that everyone at the table knows she doesn't follow his little enigmatic statements, and he smirks and says 'I know', confirming that either (a) he's being monumentally rude, (b) he thinks very little of her intelligence, or (c) all of the above, she would calmly stand up and head back to her table to eat a proper lunch.
This is, alas, not a perfect world. And, as you might guess, this makes me sad.
He smiled again, and then he changed the subject. "I think your friends are angry with me for stealing you."
"They'll survive." I could feel their stares boring into my back.
"I may not give you back, though," he said with a wicked glint in his eyes.
He laughed. "You look worried."
You heard it here, folks: Bella has friends, and they want her back at their lunch table. Edward the Mind Reader said so, and I think we can take it as read that he's being honest.
I think we're supposed to read this as Bella's group being jealous of her. She has, after all caught the eye of the beautiful and unattainable Edward Cullen. And, of course, the boys are angry because they can feel Bella slipping away. In the game of Patriarchy, Bella just rolled a natural twenty, and her teammates and competition aren't happy for her.
And yet... because this is Twilight and apparently it's up to me to fill in the blanks, I'm not going to interpret it that way. I'm going to take this at face value because I can: all of Bella's friends are angry at Edward for his very rude behavior in beckoning Bella over and commandeering her for lunch.
I kind of would be, too, and it wouldn't be because I totes love Bella's company, although maybe in some ways I would. Bella is quiet and keeps to herself, sure, but she's clearly nice enough to have hooked up all her girlfriends with guys for the dance and she's been pretty encouraging about the whole thing. And now this boy -- a boy who has, for the last year, been pointed standoffish and smug to everyone -- is giving her orders in the cafeteria and who does he think he is? And she's following his order because why? Sure, he's hot, but she's shy and easily taken advantage of, and also he saved her life, and he better not be thinking she owes him any favors. Not cool.
I can actually think of a lot of reasons for Bella's friends to be upset and angry and worried. And I can think of similar reasons for why Bella should be upset and angry and worried. For all this tense gulping and fidgeting and urgent eye contact dancing, Edward still hasn't said a single nice thing to Bella. He's just said possessive things to her. It's sexy in a power fantasy, but significantly less so with real world strangers which is, supposedly, what Edward is to Bella. So that makes me sad.
"No," I said, but, ridiculously, my voice broke. "Surprised, actually . . . what brought all this on?"
"I told you -- I got tired of trying to stay away from you. So I'm giving up." He was still smiling, but his ocher eyes were serious.
"Giving up?" I repeated in confusion.
"Yes -- giving up trying to be good. I'm just going to do what I want now, and let the chips fall where they may." His smile faded as he explained, and a hard edge crept into his voice.
And this is, if I'm counting correctly, the third time today that Edward has told Bella that he is dangerous to her and that she should stay away from him and that if she chooses to be with him anyway and gets hurt in the process, it's effectively her own fault. If you count all the protestations at the hospital, this is probably the fifth or sixth time.
From a fantasy perspective (both sexual and otherwise), I get this, I do. But I expect Bella to at least reflect on these protestations as something more than just excuses for... um... why Edward can't be with her, even though he clearly is being with her in some sense of the word. There needs to be a point where she says to herself you know, I don't really understand why he keeps saying that, maybe I could explore that a little in my head. And then come up with a few hundred reasons why someone might say and mean "I am dangerous to be around". Like because your dad is hosting a weird adoption cult. Or because your family is in the witness protection program. Or you're affiliated with an Italian mob of ancient vampires. Or something.
But Bella never does. She's so interested in being with Edward that she doesn't once consider so far what he might mean with all this talk of danger and going to hell and warnings and hard edges in the voice. I'm not saying she has some kind of responsibility to stay away from Edward, but I'd like to see her carefully consider all this and at least make some contingency plans like okay, if I find bodies in his cellar, I'm moving back to Arizona. I mean, that would seem reasonable to me. But Bella never does. And that makes me sad.
"So, in plain English, are we friends now?"
He grinned. "Well, we can try, I suppose. But I'm warning you now that I'm not a good friend for you." Behind his smile, the warning was real.
"You say that a lot," I noted, trying to ignore the sudden trembling in my stomach and keep my voice even.
"Yes, because you're not listening to me. I'm still waiting for you to believe it. If you're smart, you'll avoid me."
"I think you've made your opinion on the subject of my intellect clear, too." My eyes narrowed.
He smiled apologetically.
This passage. This passage! This passage. A real warning. Not even remotely heeded. Breezed incuriously past. Another Pilate-esque washing of the hands. An abdication of responsibility that Edward has no right to give up. Another insult. An ineffectual calling out of the insult. An apologetic smile that isn't apologetic because apologies don't work that way. This passage! It makes me so very very sad. I'm literally rendered entirely incoherent by this section.