Content Note: Fainting, Falling, Disordered Eating
Twilight Recap: Mike has reiterated his invitation that Bella join him this weekend down at the beach.
Twilight, Chapter 5: Blood Type
"See you," I replied. He looked at me once more, his round face slightly pouting, and then as he walked slowly through the door, his shoulders slumped. A swell of sympathy washed over me. I pondered seeing his disappointed face again . . . in Gym.
I'm pleased to see here that Bella is not the only one described in the narrative as pouting: apparently Mike can pout with the best of them. It's a small victory, but I'll take it. It's also interesting to me that -- if we believe the narrative -- a "swell of sympathy" is washing over Bella with regards to Mike.
I'm not sure that we can believe the narrative. A major problem with this assertion of Bella's sympathy is the "show-and-tell" problem, by which I mean that it's simply not enough to tell the reader that Bella is feeling sympathetic -- we have to actually see Bella be at least a little sympathetic to Mike in her actions and/or internal monologue. The description of Mike's exit -- his pouting round face, his slumping shoulders, his slow gallows trudge -- is so heavily caricaturized as to almost preclude sympathy. If anything, it feels like Bella feels sorry for Mike because he is so very buffoonish, which is not really very genuine or endearing sympathy.
However! Let's pretend that the narrative means us to take this statement serious, that Bella really is feeling genuine sympathy for poor Mike. What can we take from this?
Well, for one, either the sympathy is "too little, too late" or it is expressed so spartanly here that this sudden, new-found sympathy for Mike doesn't redeem Bella from the overall characterization that many readers take away of her being negative and highly censorious of others in her thoughts. So if this assertion of sympathy is meant to soften Bella to the reader and convey a sort of neutral gosh, I sure am glad I ended up with the REALLY handsome-rich guy and not just the MOSTLY handsome-rich guy, but I feel sympathy that there's not enough of me to go around tone, then it seems not to do the trick: Bella still feels negative because of the previously-mentioned narrative caricature of Mike.
I find it telling that this is one of the few times in the story so far that Bella has expressed sympathy for anyone. At my best recollection, the only other time I can remember Bella feeling sorry for anyone besides herself was when she was contemplating the newly-noticed Cullens and thinking how hard it must be to live in a rural town where people look askance at you for dating your adopted sister. That was probably forty pages ago, and between then and now we've seen Tyler banged up and seriously injured in the hospital and we've seen Jessica's heart nearly broken by Mike's preference for Bella, but it's only now that we're seeing Bella feel genuinely sympathetic to someone. Why?
I think the text is trying to underline the idea that Mike deserves sympathy, that he really did have some kind of claim on Bella, whether it be "first-dibs" or his local social status (which would appear to be greater than that of the outcast Cullens, but in actuality is not) or his willingness to take Bella to the nurse just now. I think we're expected to buy in to rape culture narratives where Bella is a "prize" to be fought over between the boys and which should go to the "best" player. Bella's sympathy in this context strikes me less as a piece of characterization and more of a narrative commentary signaling that Bella has effectively passed from Mike's imminent ownership to Edward's de facto control. And that Mike deserves sympathy for being so unexpectedly preempted in his courtship attempts.
"Gym," I groaned.
"I can take care of that." I hadn't noticed Edward moving to my side, but he spoke now in my ear. "Go sit down and look pale," he muttered.
That wasn't a challenge; I was always pale, and my recent swoon had left a light sheen of sweat on my face. I sat in one of the creaky folding chairs and rested my head against the wall with my eyes closed. Fainting spells always exhausted me.
Well, of course Bella faints regularly enough that she can tell us that fainting spells "always" exhaust her, implying a degree of regularity and banality to the event. She's a Delicate Heroine, so in addition to falling flat on her face every couple of minutes, she also faints at the drop of a hat. /snark
Which isn't to say that I'm mocking fainting. I've fainted several times myself, due to medication conflicts, and it's pretty much completely un-fun and definitely not a laughing matter. And it's very possible that whatever mysterious disease causes Bella to trip and fall constantly while still being able to parallel park perfectly is additionally responsible for her fainting spells. So far be it from me to poke fun at Bella merely for having a disability.
But the thing is, I don't think we're meant to read this as Bella being seriously ill and/or disabled. I think Bella's casual mention of fainting is supposed to signal to the reader the same things that her casual falling-down-without-being-seriously-injured tendencies are supposed to signal: that Bella is weak, child-like, approachable, delicate, and appropriately 'feminine'. And I especially do not like the coupling of Bella's fainting tendencies, falling tendencies, and "too upset to eat" tendencies, all within the first 70 pages of the novel. I feel like all these elements are dog whistles to convey that Bella is valuable at least in part because she adheres to a very specific Weak Woman fantasy: a woman who doesn't take up space and who can barely maintain an upright position and must therefore be carried everywhere.
We mentioned last week the infamous "I'm not anti-female, I'm anti-human" quote that Stephenie Meyer has been credited with. (Credit and much thanks to Patrick for locating the link!) And this is the thing: I don't expect Bella to be as strong as immortal super-human vampires. But then, I kind of doubt that anyone ever seriously did. The problem with Bella being "weak" isn't a problem with her being less strong or less fast or less awesome than vampires and werewolves. No, the problem is that she's a very stereotypical type of weak, where she is in fact weaker than most human women, but instead of that weakness being dealt with in a realistic and meaningful fashion, it's held up as something automatically attractive and worthy of emulation.
And I find that offensive, because I don't see this narrative as the triumph of a realistically weak woman over stacked-against-her-odds. Instead, I see Twilight as the story of one woman Winning At Patriarchy because she managed to unrealistically adhere to a lot of harmful stereotypes.
"Ms. Cope? [...] Bella has Gym next hour, and I don't think she feels well enough. Actually, I was thinking I should take her home now. Do you think you could excuse her from class?" His voice was like melting honey. I could imagine how much more overwhelming his eyes would be.
We've already decided that Edward has glamour, which is good because otherwise I would be screaming in all caps about rape cultures and authority figures who see nothing wrong with letting a strange boy take a fainting girl off school premises without so much as notifying her parents or the police or her-parents-who-also-happen-to-be-the-police. You will be let off easier than Mr. Banner, Ms. Cope, but I'm keeping my eye on you.
"Can you walk, or do you want me to carry you again?" With his back to the receptionist, his expression became sarcastic.
I stood carefully, and I was still fine. He held the door for me, his smile polite but his eyes mocking.
And this... I'm not even sure how to respond to this. I spoke before about how Edward mocks the people around him in a very broad manner and that it's up to his victims to ally themselves to him and join in his mockery of others if they want to be spared. And yet here Edward doesn't seem to be mocking Ms. Cope to Bella; he seems to be mocking Bella to Bella.
And she seems to be... if not on-board with that, then at least okay enough to not really call him out, either in person or in narrative. There's no seething description of her being angry or wanting to lash out at him but biting back her impulses. Everything is just very... neutrally descriptive. He's sarcastic and mocking, but Bella's actions don't seem to notice or register what her mind has already informed us. Why? I honestly don't know.
"So are you going? This Saturday, I mean?" I was hoping he would, though it seemed unlikely. I couldn't picture him loading up to carpool with the rest of the kids from school; he didn't belong in the same world. But just hoping that he might gave me the first twinge of enthusiasm I'd felt for the outing. [...]
He glanced down at me from the corner of his eye, smiling wryly. "I really don't think I was invited."
I sighed. "I just invited you."
In the wake of Edward being sarcastic and mocking, Bella asks him out on a semi-date.
I'll be the first to confess that I don't really get the appeal of Edward as a romantic partner. Oh, I like him well enough for what he represents -- wealth, beauty, youth, security, health, and privilege -- but I think his actual personality is dreadful. I can barely read his lines without getting a powerful urge to fling my eReader across the room; I can't imagine how I'd respond to him in person. I'd probably avoid him as much as I possibly could, as the rest of Forks seems to do.
But it's obvious thus far that Bella finds him perfectly mesmerizing and I'm not sure how much weight to give that. We've talked before that the Edward/Bella attraction is almost indistinguishable from the werewolf concept of "imprinting", even if it's never defined in those terms. But if the two lovers are fated to be together and nothing can tear them apart, then Edward's abrasive personality will hardly be enough to drive Bella away. Or perhaps his needling jeers are intended to be attractive to the reader, as we've mentioned the romance trope of the Teasing Hero. Possibly Edward just takes his teases a little too far in a novel where almost every characterization detail is outlined in sharp relief. I don't honestly know.
I do know that while I completely understand Bella's sentiment that the weekend outing will be completely uninteresting without Edward along, I'm still saddened that she expresses it in this way. I feel like a hypocrite saying so -- I myself am not terribly social, and it probably would take the inclusion of my soul mate in order to get me excited about a trip to a cold, cloudy beach in the dead of winter with a bunch of my barely-acquainted peers. And yet, at the same time, I know that I have the necessary emotional safety nets that if said soul mate leaves me one book from now, I will be able to soldier on without sinking into a deeply dangerous depression. I guess what I am saying is that I wish that Bella had more interests in her life than just Edward, Austen novels, cooking, Edward, and doing the house cleaning.
"Let's you and I not push poor Mike any further this week. We don't want him to snap." His eyes danced; he was enjoying the idea more than he should.
"Mike-schmike." I muttered, preoccupied by the way he'd said "you and I." I liked it more than I should.
This is an excuse: Edward cannot go to the beach because the beach is included in the werewolf territory that the Cullens have agreed not to trespass on. It is an excuse, however, that is particularly teeth-grindingly frustrating because -- once again -- Edward is blaming his actions on false considerations for other people. He asked to take Bella to town because he couldn't bear for her to waste gas, and now he's turning down a beach invitation because he can't bring himself to "push" Mike any further with Edward's rampant impinging on Mike's territorial rights to Bella. This annoys me to no end, especially since I know that Edward's refusal to own his decisions will be a staple of this series.
Hey, Edward? OWN YOUR DECISIONS.