Twilight Recap: Bella has arrived at the weekend beach get-away only to suddenly notice that every girl in Forks hates her for being beautiful.
Twilight, Chapter 6: Scary Stories
Folks, if we're going to go much further into Twilight, I have to make a confession: I'm not much of a romantic.
This is a problem for me. You may have noticed that I don't find Edward attractive. Now in all fairness, I should say that I find the idea of Edward basically attractive. The idea of a handsome, desirable, wealthy, socially-valued man who follows me around and compliments my every move and worships every molecule of my being is a fantasy that works perfectly well as long as I don't drag it out into the sunlight and let it wilt.
But I find the execution of Edward to be dreadfully lacking because in the harsh light of day, the rich-attractive-worshipful fantasy man becomes a controlling-stifling-abusive jackwagon. And I don't feel like that's my cynical spin on the text, as I think the Edward-dragging-Bella-forcefully-to-his-car scene speaks for itself. But then I feel bad for pointing that out and messing up a perfectly good fantasy. Especially when the person I'm most wanting to point this opinion out to is actually in fact Bella.
Now, I do try to understand Bella's perspective. Goodness knows, I've made enough moony eyes at problematic boys in my day to scare off a whole parcel of them with my overwhelming admiration. And I'll even admit that there's a piece of Twilight that tugs just a tiny bit at my heart strings. But the part of Twilight that appeals to me isn't so much the excitement of new love because I honestly cannot stand the Love Interest. If anything, the appeal for me is that of raw love, love for its own sake, without really looking at the focal point of that love very closely. And I find that interesting, because sometimes I start to think that Bella feels the exact same way.
Is the author in on this? Is the text asking me to not fall in love with Edward so much as to instead fall in love with love? I sometimes honestly can't tell, and it doesn't help that I am right now looking at a passage in The Twilight Saga Official Illustrated Guide that says, in an interview with S. Meyer, the following:
...Edward's not perfect. There were things about him that didn't make him the most perfect boyfriend in the whole world. I mean, some things about him make him an amazing boyfriend, but other things were lacking...
So even S. Meyer doesn't think that Edward is the most perfect boyfriend in the whole world? I do not yet know how to assimilate this data point. Does anyone in-text ever convey this point to Bella? If Edward is admittedly not the Most Perfect Boyfriend, can we then extrapolate that he is not the Most Perfect Husband? Is that an author-supported interpretation of the text now? While my mind tries to grapple with this new fact, let's look at some text.
It was only fifteen miles to La Push from Forks, with gorgeous, dense green forests edging the road most of the way and the wide Quillayute River snaking beneath it twice. I was glad I had the window seat. We'd rolled the windows down -- the Suburban was a bit claustrophobic with nine people in it -- and I tried to absorb as much sunlight as possible.
I find it interesting that the only passages in Twilight that I've really liked are the scenery passages. I usually don't like scenery descriptions in text, though I will admit they can be fun to write. But as a reader I often skip over them -- partly because they are frequently so florid, but more often than not because they tend to distract me from the actual story going on. And yet in Twilight the scenery descriptions seem almost indispensable, as they're one of the few focal points where I feel like we see something about Bella's personality, straight and unfiltered.
The problem, though, is that what we see about her personality doesn't fit terribly well with what we've been told about her. She misses the sun, sure, but there's a lot of exultation in the Gorgeous Forests of Forks that seems curious to me. Within the text, we're told that Bella is a desert girl -- she hails from Arizona and she misses the beauty and splendor of the desert. I actually kind of get that, as I'm a Texas girl and while I don't precisely find the desert beautiful, I do like a relatively dry climate. Trees are nice and pretty and I've got a willow in the backyard that I couldn't live without, but if I'm in an area that has gone overboard on the whole foliage thing, like when I visit my cousins in Georgia, I start feeling a little creeped out by the excessive greenery and the overwhelming feeling that if we idle the car for too long, the kudzu will get us.
The sense I sometimes get from the text is that Bella is romanticizing her surroundings rather than really living in them. Forests are gorgeous and beautiful and dense from the inside of a Suburban, but outside that safe bubble, the same forest is itchy and sticky and filled with ticks just waiting to latch onto you under your clothes. And I most definitely feel like Bella's approach to the Forests of Forks is similar to her approach to the Vampires of Forks: she views them as beautiful and desirable from afar while seemingly discarding her actual, less-than-pleasant interactions with them. Edward's jackwagonry is forgotten as quickly as the ticks are, presumably because both those details mar the ideal that Bella seems to want to savor.
We picked our way down to the beach, Mike leading the way to a ring of driftwood logs that had obviously been used for parties like ours before. There was a fire circle already in place, filled with black ashes. Eric and the boy I thought was named Ben gathered broken branches of driftwood from the drier piles against the forest edge, and soon had a teepee-shaped construction built atop the old cinders.
"Have you ever seen a driftwood fire?" Mike asked me. I was sitting on one of the bone-colored benches; the other girls clustered, gossiping excitedly, on either side of me. Mike kneeled by the fire, lighting one of the smaller sticks with a cigarette lighter.
"No," I said as he placed the blazing twig carefully against the teepee.
"You'll like this then -- watch the colors." He lit another small branch and laid it alongside the first. The flames started to lick quickly up the dry wood.
"It's blue," I said in surprise.
"The salt does it. Pretty, isn't it?" He lit one more piece, placed it where the fire hadn't yet caught, and then came to sit by me. Thankfully, Jess was on his other side.
The thought strikes me that a major problem I have with Twilight is how inexperienced Bella is. She's never really lived outside of Arizona. She's never had a serious boyfriend. She's never had sex. She's never seen a driftwood fire. The list of things she's never done is a very, very long list.
There's nothing wrong with inexperience, nothing bad about it. Experience is tied almost inextricably to Privilege: if you don't have the money, the connections, the ability, the safety to experience new things, then you simply can't. And there's nothing necessarily wrong with liking one's own inexperience; there are lots of things I don't want to experience. That's okay, and there's nothing wrong about that.
But. Just as inexperience isn't inherently bad, it's not inherently good either. I see inexperience as morally neutral, and fully capable of help or harm depending on the situation. It's something that someone like Bella should be aware of, in the same way that I would like her to be aware of any limitation. Bella has limited experience with forests and boys and vampires. I wish she could therefore keep in mind that as pretty as the forests and the boys and the vampires seem to be, there are things she simply does not know about them, things that could be potentially major deal-breakers.
Bella doesn't seem to be aware of the idea that her wide-eyed wonder at all things new might not pierce past the surface appearance. She sees the forest as beautiful, so therefore there are no ticks. She sees Edward as wonderful, so therefore his abusive behavior rolls lightly off her without making an impression. She sees vampires as exotic, so therefore the fact that many of the Cullens seem deeply unhappy never sinks in. This preference for opinion over reality seems to extend even into the narrative: Bella sees her constant clumsiness as nothing more than a minor irritation, and yea verily so it is.
After a half hour of chatter, some of the boys wanted to hike to the nearby tidal pools. It was a dilemma. On the one hand, I loved the tide pools. They had fascinated me since I was a child; they were one of the only things I ever looked forward to when I had to come to Forks. On the other hand, I'd also fallen into them a lot. Not a big deal when you're seven and with your dad. It reminded me of Edward's request -- that I not fall into the ocean.
Bella has been going to Forks every year since she turned 14. The tidal pools were one of the few things she looked forward to when visiting. Does this passage mean that she hasn't been to the tidal pools since she was seven, or that she hasn't fallen in since she was seven, or that seven was when the most falling happened?
And dear sweet Xenu did we really need this passage to explicitly point out that Edward was totally correct and forward-thinking in advising a girl he barely knows to not fall in the ocean? I mean, doesn't the fact that she's aware of her disability and taking steps to remain safe point to an interpretation that she actually knows what she's doing? Do we really need Edward in her head telling her what to do as if she hasn't already made that decision?
Also, I think it's tragic that she can't get the closer look at the tidal pools that she secretly craves because of her disability and the fact that no one in her group can be trusted to help her. If Edward doesn't take her back here for a private viewing from the safety of his sparkly vampire arms, then he's Not Worth It.
Lauren was the one who made my decision for me. She didn't want to hike, and she was definitely wearing the wrong shoes for it. Most of the other girls besides Angela and Jessica decided to stay on the beach as well. I waited until Tyler and Eric had committed to remaining with them before I got up quietly to join the pro-hiking group. Mike gave me a huge smile when he saw that I was coming. [...]
The hike wasn't too long, though I hated to lose the sky in the woods. The green light of the forest was strangely at odds with the adolescent laughter, too murky and ominous to be in harmony with the light banter around me. I had to watch each step I took very carefully, avoiding roots below and branches above, and I soon fell behind. [...]
I was very cautious not to lean too far over the little ocean ponds. The others were fearless, leaping over the rocks, perching precariously on the edges. I found a very stable-looking rock on the fringe of one of the largest pools and sat there cautiously, spellbound by the natural aquarium below me.
If this chapter has a point beyond Native American Vampire Legends, then I would think the point is about being heart-achingly alone within a very large group. Bella is still a stranger to her high school friends. The girls shun her out of jealousy or irritation at her clumsiness, and the boys are only interested in her for superficial reasons: she's new, she's attractive, she's interesting. Nobody really understands her, not in that soul-searching I bet you're hurting inside way that Edward displayed when he realized that Bella maybe wasn't super keen on living in Forks.
It's melodramatic, but there's a certain logic to it. I don't think Edward is super-special insightful for figuring out that Bella is unhappy; I think it's probably pretty clear to a lot of people that she's not happy. If anything, I think Edward is unusual for caring enough about her unhappiness to comment on it. I think that's valuable, and it sort of works into the "most teenagers lead lives of quiet desperation" theme that I get sometimes from the text.
I think it's perfectly fair for Bella to be sad. She misses her home and her mother. She's living with a father who doesn't really connect with her and -- best I can tell -- doesn't make an attempt to connect with her. She has attracted unwanted attention from the boys at her school and she's unclear on how to dis-spell that attention. She is treated badly by the girls at her school for things she doesn't want and can't help: her clumsiness and her admirers. She seems to be clinically depressed and absolutely no one in her life is taking steps to help her. That's sad.
But... it's also frustrating for me. I feel sometimes like Bella is romanticizing her depression, romanticizing her disabilities. Maybe that's her coping mechanism, and... I'd be okay with that. But I'm not okay when I feel like the text is asking me to join in. Treating Bella's depression and her clumsiness as pretty, endearing, ladylike traits to be envied and emulated is treating Bella with a fundamental lack of respect. And when I feel like Bella is doing that to herself, I get frustrated. I feel like she's clumsy and depressed for the sake of being clumsy and depressed because "clumsy and depressed" has been internalized (by her? by the author? by the genre? by the reader?) as something a feminine hero must have, by literary law.
There's nothing wrong with having a weakness. There's nothing wrong in accepting and embracing that side of yourself. But Bella seems to revel in her weakness, and the writing seems to reward her for it. And that makes me uncomfortable.
I was completely absorbed, except for one small part of my mind that wondered what Edward was doing now, and trying to imagine what he would be saying if he were here with me.
And because I am not a romantic, my first thought is that she already knows what Edward would be saying to her if he were there: he'd be insulting her in some way. But in Twilight it's not that simple. And this is what I mean when I wonder if Bella and S. Meyer aren't in on the swap going on here, the invitation to the reader to fall in love with love instead of in love with Edward.
The point has been made on this board -- and it's an excellent point -- that Bella's and Edward's feelings for each other are not markedly different from werewolf imprinting. Edward is drawn irresistibly to Bella because of her smell (unique to his tastes!) and her psychic shielding (the one mind he can't read!). Bella is drawn just as strongly to Edward, immediately needing to know who he is and being deeply depressed whenever he reacts violently or shunningly to her. The couple is drawn together by forces they can't fight, but though they love each other, we've seen nothing to suggest that they have any reason to like each other.
And so on the surface it seems strange that much of this chapter has and will be taken up with little pointed notes of how distressed Bella is by Edward's absence, how anxious she is to know when she will next see him, how strongly she desires to have him close by, how she imagines what he might say to her if he were there. Why should she care? This time away from him should be a reprieve, since the majority of their interactions so far have left Bella angry, upset, anxious, and sorrowful. Bella -- if she is to make any sense at all as a human being -- should not love Edward at this point in the narrative.
Yet she seems to be in love with something, if not with Edward then perhaps with the idea of Edward. Maybe this makes sense if this isn't a story of a girl falling in love with a boy, but rather a story of a girl falling in love with what that boy represents. Maybe she's just falling in love with love for the sake of love. Maybe she's falling in love with a vampire because she's a vampire in a human body. Maybe... I'm honestly not sure. Maybe she's just yearning to be with her "imprinted" mate -- imprinted on her by fate or vampire gods or her author, I don't know -- in the only way she knows how.
But still... it's irritating for me as a reader because I don't understand what Bella is supposed to be, what is supposed to motivate her, and why I should be rooting for her to succeed. It's one of the ways in which I wish this were a slightly different story. If Bella had an explicit goal -- health, college, a specific career, something -- I think it would work so much better. But she doesn't, and I'm left stumbling after her wondering if I'm supposed to be awwww, she loves Edward already or ummmm, why are we thinking about the guy who insulted you right now. I feel like Bella is as anxious to avoid showing her thoughts to us as she is to Jessica and Edward and, as a reader, that's frustrating.
Finally the boys were hungry, and I got up stiffly to follow them back. I tried to keep up better this time through the woods, so naturally I fell a few times. I got some shallow scrapes on my palms, and the knees of my jeans were stained green, but it could have been worse.
And this just breaks my heart. Just because it could be worse, Bella, doesn't mean you should be satisfied with a bad lot in life. Please remember that when Edward comes back from his hunting trip.