[Content Note: Dysfunctional Relationships, Taking the Abuser's Perspective]
Twilight Recap: Edward has beckoned to Bella across the school lunchroom and she's joined him at his empty table.
Twilight, Chapter 5: Blood Type
So let's talk about Point of View, or POV. POV is -- for the three of you who aren't NaNoWriMo'ing right this very instant (and how are the rest of you coming, by the way? Hugs to you all.) -- the perspective from which a story is told. A book like Twilight is told from Bella's perspective; we don't, for example, see the tense scene at the Cullen house in the aftermath of the van incident where Edward explains his actions and everyone waits on tenterhooks for Alice to determine their fate.
POVs are difficult. If you go with a single POV, then as an author you're going to struggle with making sure that the protagonists see and hear everything that the reader needs to see and hear. When done poorly, you end up with the Rayford/Buck issue in Left Behind where they basically have to follow the Antichrist around, doing his laundry for him, in order to see all the action. A better solution might have been to make the Antichrist a POV character, but the problem there is that being a POV character tends to make the reader understand the character, and understanding is frequently a crucial first step in sympathizing. (Not that sympathy always follows understanding. Again, see Rayford/Buck.)
A POV isn't a perfect window into a character's soul; POVs can be unreliable, and -- I might argue -- almost should be, if we hope to capture a reasonable facsimile of human thought and experience. And we've discussed multiple times how much of what Bella says can actually be taken as fact. But what I've talked less about is getting into Edward's head, probably because I care less about his thoughts and more about his actions. (Intent! Not magic!) But the fact of the matter is, we don't really have Edward's perspective and it's possible that his interpretation of this conversation would look very different. (And yes, I know about "Midnight Sun" and we'll get there but my policy with deconstructions is that anything written in a different book years after the first can be safely ignored for the moment in favor of the text at hand.)
So! Because otherwise today's post would have been another long omg-look-at-Edward-he-is-a-jerk-and-it-makes-me-SAD post, today instead you are going to get Ana doing her best to get inside Edward's head in a way that makes his jerkiness less so. Because I like a challenge. And, er, if you did want another omg-Edward-is-a-jerk post, please rest assured that there will be many more of those in the future. I WILL NOT DEPRIVE YOU. Because trying to assume the best from Edward Cullen, for me, is a little like trying to believe that just because no one has ever managed to summon Biggie Smalls by saying his name three times in a mirror doesn't mean that it couldn't happen. What I'm saying is that I have to ignore a lot of past behavioral evidence in order to give Edward the benefit of the doubt.
But! I'm going to try.
"So, as long as I'm being . . . not smart, we'll try to be friends?" I struggled to sum up the confusing exchange.
"That sounds about right."
This interaction could sadden you. From Bella's perspective, she's not being promised love or romance or a rose garden; she's sort-of-kind-of wringing out a grudging willingness to be 'friends' from a person who is not being friendly at all. And she's having to insult herself, by accepting his insults as truth about herself, in order to get even that small measure of consideration.
But! From Edward's perspective, this is a rather serious concession from him. It's implied in the text that the Cullen vampires haven't had human friends in a long time, possibly not since being turned. Part of this is the implicit issues between predator and prey, but also there's always the Italian Vampire Mob hanging over everything. I'm not sure how much of a security breach is necessary in order to justify a burning of the house down, but I'm pretty confident that the Cullens have felt the need to be on their best behavior and blend in. (It's just that they're terrible at it! But maybe they're like fae -- they can't tell that they seem fundamentally different.)
So it's not that Edward is being a grudging jerk and forcing a young girl to eke out some measure of kindness from him; he's a different being on a different plane of existence taking a very dangerous and tentative step towards war with an Italian Vampire Mob. Surely we can all sympathize with that a little.
I looked down at my hands wrapped around the lemonade bottle, not sure what to do now.
"What are you thinking?" he asked curiously.
This interaction could frustrate you. After all, Bella is having a really frustrating day. The boy she feels inexplicably drawn to has suddenly turned warm after weeks of being painfully cold. Now he's not just offering to take her on a day-trip, he's also wanting her to sit with him at lunch. This should be a chance to celebrate her good fortune, but wrapped up in all this is the problematic fact that this boy also spends all his time in either stony silence or talkative insults. Should she be happy or sad? Should she express her boundaries and step into this potentially painful relationship or walk away now? Should she get-the-f-out while the getting is good, or should she give him a chance? (And if she walks away now, what will the gossips say? She's already turned down the second-most eligible boy in school, Mike.)
And here, in the midst of all this inner turmoil, Edward is soliciting that she speak her mind in an environment that is not safe, where everything she says is likely to be taken wrong and used against her. So you could be forgiven for feeling like Edward needs to spend less time brow-beating Bella into sharing her innermost thoughts and more time deliberately creating a safe space for her so that when she chooses to speak her mind, she can do so without fear.
But! From Edward's perspective, this is the first conversation he's had in 100 years where he couldn't immediately read the other person's mind. Bella is a blank to him, in a way that no one else has been for most of his existence. So from his perspective, he's not demanding that she open her heart and mind to him so much as he's just savoring the novelty of having to ask the question.
"I'm trying to figure out what you are."
His jaw tightened, but he kept his smile in place with some effort.
This behavior could concern you. After all, it's very interesting that Edward's physical reactions to his emotional mood are so obvious to Bella. You could call this a fudging of the limits around the first-person POV, but you could just as easily take it as fact that Edward has the worst poker face ever. This is particularly interesting since I'd think that 100 years of constant mental feedback would teach someone a great deal of the psychology of body language. And I would think Edward would have a good deal of motivation to learn to be a consummate liar, what with the whole Italian Vampire Mob thing hanging over their heads at all times. You'd think that Edward would be the face of the Cullen family; the point-man sent out to fix things when anyone gets too suspicious. In fact, the more I dwell on it, the more I think it's not possible that Edward is this crappy at reading people and adjusting himself accordingly.
So! The alternate explanation is that Edward is doing his barely-suppressed-rage act on purpose in order to scare off Bella. Sure, there's something deeply problematic about a lover who just can't stay away but is also going to be deliberately rage-y and off-putting so that she'll do the hard job of running away and breaking up with him. But! From Edward's perspective, this isn't a serious thing to Bella and once she gets him out of her system, he can go be miserable for eternity while she goes to college. Or... something. At least, I guess that's what he's thinking?
"Are you having any luck with that?" he asked in an offhand tone.
"Not too much," I admitted.
He chuckled. "What are your theories?"
This interaction could annoy you. Edward really should not be encouraging Bella to work out all the ways he's different from others, if only for reasons of safety -- not only his, but also hers. And Edward really should not be asking Bella to work out these ideas verbally while he smirks and chuckles at her, if only for reasons of politeness.
But! If we look at this from Edward's perspective, it's possible that he's not doing this to mock Bella or encourage her to rush headlong to their shared, Italian-Vampire-Mob orchestrated doom, but because he's just so captivated by the idea of watching someone work out the oddness of the Cullens. It's really almost a longing to be in that place again, the place where one doesn't know about the existence of vampires, and trying to experience it vicariously, to revel in that delicious ignorance. Or, at the very least, it's a sort of research he's conducting for the good of his family.
"Won't you tell me?" he asked, tilting his head to one side with a shockingly tempting smile.
I shook my head. "Too embarrassing."
"That's really frustrating, you know," he complained.
"No," I disagreed quickly, my eyes narrowing, "I can't imagine why that would be frustrating at all -- just because someone refuses to tell you what they're thinking, even if all the while they're making cryptic little remarks specifically designed to keep you up at night wondering what they could possibly mean . . . now, why would that be frustrating?"
"Or better," I continued, the pent-up annoyance flowing freely now, "say that person also did a wide range of bizarre things -- from saving your life under impossible circumstances one day to treating you like a pariah the next, and he never explained any of that, either, even after he promised. That, also, would be very non-frustrating."
"You've got a bit of a temper, don't you?"
"I don't like double standards."
We stared at each other, unsmiling.
This exchange could invigorate you to the point of printing up and ordering a dozen "Team Bella" shirts in a variety of shapes and sizes. After all, Bella is finally finding her voice and standing up for herself by pointing out that Edward has been probing her relentlessly for information the entire conversation while deliberately giving nothing about himself away and then mocking Bella when she points out that she doesn't understand him. Now she's calling him a hypocrite, and she's doing it with specific examples, clearly-calmly-rationally, and with a delightfully crunchy veneer of sarcasm, just like the chocolate around a Mallomar.
And you might be tempted to see Edward as a complete jerk in this exchange for completely failing to recognize and agree that Bella is right and has a point, and for failing to take that point on board, and for failing to stop harping at her in his not-delightful-at-all whatchathinkingabouthuh manner, and going back to basics on the whole "creating a safe space" concept. No, instead he makes faces and frowns and tells Bella that speaking up for herself and establishing boundaries is having "a temper" whereas what he's been doing all year is just normal jaw-tightening.
But! What you would fail to understand there is the huge gulf that exists between Edward and Bella. From Edward's perspective, he's a greater being, with more important feelings that are more worthy of airing through words and body language. From the same perspective, Bella is a lesser being -- interesting, no doubt, and possibly worth getting to know, but only if she understands that her feelings are subject to Edward's approval, and that when her innermost thoughts are solicited, she must censor those thoughts heavily or risk being assigned a variety of labels she may not want. It's not Edward's fault that he feels this way; it's just the nature of the way he's been living for the bulk of his existence.
"Can you do me a favor?" I asked after a second of hesitation.
He was suddenly wary. "That depends on what you want."
"It's not much," I assured him.
He waited, guarded but curious.
"I just wondered . . . if you could warn me beforehand the next time you decide to ignore me for my own good. Just so I'm prepared." I looked at the lemonade bottle as I spoke, tracing the circle of the opening with my pinkie finger.
"That sounds fair." He was pressing his lips together to keep from laughing when I looked up.
This interaction could break your heart. I mean, here Bella is pouring out between the lines just how damaged she was when Edward turned unexpectedly cold to her a few weeks before, and she's not asking him to not do it again, she's asking him to give her some kind of warning so that she can get used to the idea of being without him and saying her goodbyes. In some sense, this is precisely how communication in a relationship should work: Bella is conveying to Edward how important he is to her, and letting him know what considerations she needs from him.
And Edward... is laughing at her. He's amused that she is already dreading his eventual mood-swing or whatever it is that has caused him -- twice! -- to avoid and aggressively shun her. And he's agreeing to her considerations, but he's either lying through his teeth or doesn't understand the spirit of the request, because if the "New Moon" movie is in any way accurate to the book, Edward's 'warning' is "we're leaving" and Bella says "when" and he says "oops, that's the car now, bye!" and that, Edward, is not a warning.
But! From Edward's perspective... uhhmmm... he had his fingers crossed?