Content Note: Medical Professionals, Classism, Privilege, Mockery
Twilight Recap: Bella is being carried by Edward to the nurse's office after nearly fainting in Biology class.
Twilight, Chapter 5: Blood Type
"So you faint at the sight of blood?" he asked. This seemed to entertain him.
I didn't answer. I closed my eyes again and fought the nausea with all my strength, clamping my lips together.
"And not even your own blood," he continued, enjoying himself.
There's a double meaning going on here, of course: to Edward, blood is perfectly common to him as his sole source of food. Even if he only feeds once a week, that means he sees and consumes blood about as often as some Americans eat pizza (including myself, since we have Pizza Weekends at the Mardoll house). So the idea of someone who faints at the sight, smell, or mere mention of blood is a novelty to him. Then, also, there's the foreshadowing that Bella is going to want to become a vampire in the very near future. She's a person who is sickened by blood, and yet wants to modify her body to the point that she can only be sustained by consuming blood on a regular basis. How will that work? Tension!
Interestingly enough, though, I think this works well with the theory of an Otherkin!Bella, if we apply the theory brought up in the comments that if vertigo can be the result of a brain saying jump!, then perhaps Bella's nausea can be seen as the result of a brain saying feed! in a seemingly inappropriate situation. I like this idea, because it fits my preference for Twilight to be less the story of a girl pursuing an unhealthy relationship with a vampire, and more the story of a girl working with and around an unhealthy relationship to become a vampire. So I'm still clinging to that.
But even though this exchange is apparently meant to be cutesy foreshadowing, I can't help but point out that Edward Not-As-Seventeen-As-He-Looks Cullen is having a really lovely time at Bella's expense and that makes him a jerk in my book. Again. Once again, this guy is a trained doctor at least two times over. I'm shocked and reviled by the idea of a doctor who is less interested in distracting the patient until a moment of pain, nausea, and faintness has passed and more interested in amusing themselves with a contemplation of the patient's unusual symptoms. Nice to see the Carlisle Compassion hasn't rubbed off on the boy genius here. If we later see a copy of the Hippocratic Oath anywhere near Edward's accolades and diplomas, I'm going to drop dead from irony overdose.
I hope -- I really hope -- that this Jerky Edward is done on purpose, that this is supposed to underscore his inability to sympathize with non-vampire people. I would actually kind of like something done deliberately like that, a concerted attempt on the part of the author to point out the complete fail of Edward and other doctors like him. If this is meant to showcase that a lifetime of medical training can be immediately undone by an all-pervading sense of contempt for other people, then well done!
But... in order for that to work, I think we'd have to see some kind of growth on Edward's part towards learning to care for all people and not just for Causes-Special-Feelings-In-My-Bathing-Suit-Area Bella. From a literary standpoint, you can't morally redeem a character by having them practice token acceptance -- their new-found compassion and sense of community has to reach beyond the one person on earth they've decided is their soul-mate, in order for it to have any real meaning.
"She's just a little faint," he reassured the startled nurse. "They're blood typing in Biology."
The nurse nodded sagely. "There's always one."
He muffled a snicker.
The nurse is trying to comfort Bella and reassure her that she's not unusual or weak to feel faint -- that this is a yearly occurrence. Edward... finds this hilarious. I don't even know why this is amusing.
This is not advanced psychological stuff here; Edward's scholastic training should have covered at least a basic introductory psychology course. Heck, even if he hasn't had a lick of psychology training, he should have at least seen a good bedside manner at work before now. Doesn't graduate training in medicine also include observation periods? Shouldn't he have at least observed and possibly helped Carlisle at various points over the last century? A huge part of medicine isn't just treating the symptoms, it' treating the source.
Bella is on the verge of fainting, and stress and tension are exactly the sorts of things that can push her over the edge into unconsciousness. Getting her calmed down as quickly as possible -- by, for example, reassuring her that her fainting is normal and won't make her a social outcast at the school and that Everything Is Going To Be Okay -- is a huge part of treating the source of her fainting, rather than just the symptoms by having her lie down for awhile. This nurse is practicing medicine, without even having touched or examined Bella. Edward, whose education supposedly surpasses this nurse's by so much, is actually hindering Bella's recovery by continuing to be a stressor in her environment.
"Just lie down for a minute, honey; it'll pass."
"I know," I sighed. The nausea was already fading.
"Does this happen a lot?" she asked.
"Sometimes," I admitted. Edward coughed to hide another laugh.
Now the nurse has noted that Bella knows more about fainting than her usual patients, and she is concerned and questions Bella as to how often this happens. Again, fainting on a regular basis is not usual and can be indicative of a serious underlying health problem. This nurse actually cares about her patient. Edward, the official doctor in the room, is still cracking up at the idea of his not-quite-girlfriend dropping like a goat at regular intervals.
"You can go back to class now," she told him.
"I'm supposed to stay with her." He said this with such assured authority that -- even though she pursed her lips -- the nurse didn't argue it further.
Oh my gosh. Nameless Nurse, you are the heroine of this novel. You reassured Bella. You tried to help diagnose her medical condition and fix it. You stood up to Edward Cullen and told him he could get his smirking butt back to class. I love you, Nameless Nurse. Someone get this woman some fanfic, stat!
Unfortunately, this is Twilight and -- as Amarie has so beautifully pointed out -- you cannot pull rank on Edward Cullen in Twilight. Edward Cullen is the absolute personification of authority: he's the whitest white, the richest rich, the most desirable male, the one with the highest education. The only authority a woman can have over Edward Cullen is the authority that he grants her out of love, the authority of Mother Esme and Wife Bella. But good on you, Nameless Nurse, for trying. Bless your heart.
It's hard for me to read this and not feel like we're reading yet another Verna scene, but localized for Twilight values. There are three people in this scene: Nurse, Bella, and Edward. Edward, as an educated white male, is asserting his privilege by consistently snickering and treating the entire situation as comical to him. But who is he snickering at?
Ultimately, I think the answer to that question is that he is snickering at them both. I think Edward's obvious contempt throughout this scene is an invitation for one of the other players to join him in his privilege at the expense of the other. The Nurse is being offered the chance to join in with a little wink-wink-nudge-nudge with Edward and smirk at how weak and helpless Bella is. Just imagine! Fainting at the sight of blood! We educated professionals know better! Edward and the Nurse would never faint at the sight of blood. Let's collectively dismiss Bella by sneering at her.
Or, alternately, Bella can join in with Edward and direct his mocking at the Nurse. So serious! Doesn't she already know that Bella is fine because if there was a real need to be worried, Bella would know, as would the highly educated Edward? So solicitous! Aren't her attempts at comforting Bella so generic, so canned, so boring-banal-adult? And -- not to be mean, but let's all be honest here -- so uneducated! Do school nurses even have degrees? Edward has at least two. Let's bond by snickering over the Nurse.
Edward is offering these two women a choice: they are unprivileged compared to him, but they can join him in his privilege, but only by putting down the other one. He's comfortable in his divisiveness -- even if both women reject him and stand against him, he's still the figure of authority here because this is the world of Twilight. The Nurse has no power to send him out of her office because he can claim with authority that a male teacher told him to stay with Bella. Bella has no power to send him out of her presence because his beauty and glamor undermines any conviction in her "no"s.
A major problem with Edward is that when he laughs, he laughs from a position of power. Good humor is about poking fun at the oppressors, and about using the power of laughter to undermine toxic social structures. Laughing at people who are under you, simply for the fact that they have less power, less education, worse health, or are more vulnerable than you isn't humor. It's mockery.
And it's only funny if you buy into the idea that people who aren't Edward deserve to be mocked.