Twilight, Chapter 7: Nightmare
I am going to make an executive decision today and that executive decision is this: I am going to power through the rest of this chapter like there is no tomorrow. I'm hoping we can finish it in one post. Two, tops.
Now, I know what you're probably thinking. But Ana, you are most likely thinking, we have only spent four posts on this chapter; five if you count this one. That's not very many posts for a chapter as long as this. And you will note that there are still pages and pages left in this chapter.
And you would be right, O Reader! We have not spent more than five weeks on this ridiculously long chapter and if the gods of literary criticism are on our side, we are not going to spend more than five weeks on it because OH MY GOD NOTHING HAPPENS IN THIS CHAPTER. Do you know how hard it is to make interesting commentary on this chapter? This is the outline for this chapter:
- Bella has a dream.
- Bella gets up and details every little thing about her morning.
- Bella does a Google search.
- Bella stomps out into the forest to think about her Google search.
- Bella comes back home and does homework.
- Bella goes to school and turns down Mike for the eight millionth time.
- Bella talks to Charlie about the next chapter.
You see that? I nearly bored myself to death just typing that. So today we're going to skip over the bulk of that and actually talk about the only thing interesting in this interminably long chapter: Bella's reaction to Macbeth. It's very topical, I promise!
It was just noon when I got back inside. I went upstairs and got dressed for the day, jeans and a t-shirt, since I was staying indoors. It didn’t take too much effort to concentrate on my task for the day, a paper on Macbeth that was due Wednesday. I settled into outlining a rough draft contentedly, more serene than I’d felt since . . . well, since Thursday afternoon, if I was being honest.
That had always been my way, though. Making decisions was the painful part for me, the part I agonized over. [...]
This decision was ridiculously easy to live with. Dangerously easy.
Maybe it's just that I'm a curmudgeony curmudgeon, but I'm starting to roll my eyes at all the insistence that no, really, this is super-dangerous and highly-actiony. Yes, you shot down pop-up windows Bella; yes, you're making an uber-dangerous decision. You're quite a rebel. Get on with it.
And, curmudgeonyness aside, this feels like a mark of bad writing to me. There's nothing wrong with having a nice, calming Thinky Chapter to let the reader catch up to everything that's going on. Or, for that matter, with having a nice, tense Thinky Chapter to let the reader build up some much-needed dread for what is to come. Indeed, there are many different kinds of Thinky Chapters and most of them are valid and valuable in a novel like this one.
But a Thinky Chapter shouldn't be dressed up with a lot of window dressing that tries to insist that it's really an Action Chapter. All this huffing and shooting (ads) and stomping and storming and dangerousing just makes Bella seem over-wrought and childish, and a dozen or more potential interesting leads are doused before they've even had a chance to start. (For instance, from a paragraph not shown because it never panned out into anything: Bella is lost in the woods! No, wait, she's not.)
And, in some ways, this is a problem with Twilight in general. Obviously lots of people love these books and enjoy settling down to marinate in the fantasy, and there's nothing wrong with that. But I don't... get it. For me, at least, it frequently seems like this book is a series of leads in to potentially interesting action only to be almost immediately resolved. I mean, just so we're on the same page here, this is an Epic Tale of Romance where the two leads are happily coupled by the end of chapter 9. In a book that is 24 chapters long. What are we going to have to read about once Edward and Bella are happily boy/girlfriended? (Spoiler: Vampire Baseball.)
I guess what I'm saying is that I just miss not having the sort of tension that I would expect in a vampire novel or a romance novel or a vampire romance novel.
And so the day was quiet, productive -- I finished my paper before eight. Charlie came home with a large catch, and I made a mental note to pick up a book of recipes for fish while I was in Seattle next week.
The rest of this paragraph is about how thinking about the Seattle trip thrills Bella with a feeling that should-be-fear-yet-isn't because Edward (he-who-may-be-a-vampire) is giving her a ride to Seattle, but I think it's far more interesting that Charlie is an avid fisherman and Bella is an avid cook and yet those particular streams have apparently never yet been crossed.
Which makes some sense, I guess, if Bella learned to cook after she stopped visiting Charlie in Forks, since Arizona isn't exactly the fresh fish capital of the world, but then I find myself wondering why she doesn't just learn to cook fish from Charlie and then I hit up against the unavoidable suspicion that Charlie, Avid Fisherman doesn't know how to cook what he kills and just lets the women on the reservation cook for him.
I slept dreamlessly that night, exhausted from beginning my day so early, and sleeping so poorly the night before. I woke, for the second time since arriving in Forks, to the bright yellow light of a sunny day. [...] I opened the window -- surprised when it opened silently, without sticking, not having opened it in who knows how many years -- and sucked in the relatively dry air.
There are three things of interest here: One, Bella slept without dreams because Edward isn't in the area to pop into her room and stare at her all night long. Two, since the sun is out, Bella won't see Edward today at school and that will no doubt make her very sad. Three, the window opens flawlessly because Edward has been popping into her room, etc. etc. All caught up now? Then Bella describes how handsome Charlie is and what Renee saw in him when she got married to him. And we get this:
But when he smiled I could see a little of the man who had run away with Renee when she was just two years older than I was now.
Renee was a teenage bride, too? Bella is seventeen; that means Renee was nineteen when she got married. And what's this "run away with"? Did their parents not approve of the marriage? WHAT HAPPENED WITH RENEE AND CHARLIE? And while I've always been weirded out that Movie!Renee is all woohoo-teen-marriage-yeah! with regards to Bella's romance and wedding, I'm now doubly weirded out because you'd really think that if Renee was married at 19 and divorced-with-a-baby at 21, then maybe she'd have something kind, gentle, and wise to say to her daughter on the subject of why this might not be the Best Idea Evah.
And now I need to go look up if Renee was really 21 at the time of the divorce. And HOLY FRIJOLES, BATMAN, there's a huge section on Renee in the otherwise-fairly-sparse Twilight Official Illustrated Guide.
Short(er) Version: Renee was born in California. Her parents divorced when she was a child, and she never really knew her father. Her mother was "bitter" and "hardworking". Renee "did not do well in school, despite the fact that she tested well". Does that mean she didn't like school or she didn't learn much despite being good at memorization or she did poorly at memorizing but rocked the essay exams? I honestly don't know. Renee moved out of her mother's home after high school and began a whirlwind adventure life of minimum wage jobs and summer-long road trips camping up and down the coast.
She feel in love with Charlie and he proposed to her. They were married by a justice of the peace with Charlie's parents and his three best friends in attendance; Renee's mother refused to respond to Renee's communications. Renee was happy with Charlie and enjoyed her job as a waitress in Forks and was excited to be pregnant, but then after Bella was born Renee became depressed by the constant rain and didn't want to raise her baby in Forks. She begged Charlie to leave with her, but he wouldn't, so she left on her own, moved back in with her mother Marie (who died when Bella was twelve) until she could complete her elementary education degree and find a job teaching kindergarten.
And since most of you have been wondering: Renee "did her best to keep herself from becoming entangled romantically" since she'd decided she was crummy at relationships and she worried about the effect her dating would have on her daughter. It was only after Bella encouraged Renee to start dating again that she found and fell for Phil.
Question: Does any of that come through in this book?
(Oh, and apparently Renee was born in 1968 and was divorced in 1989, so she was 21-ish when she left.)
And now I've forgotten where I left off. Probably just as well. Bella EATS BREAKFAST! and then DRIVES TO SCHOOL! and then DOODLES IN HER NOTEBOOK! and all the doodles are DARK EYES STARING AT HER! This is probably foreshadowing that she's obsessed with Edward Cullen (who has DARK EYES THAT STARE AT HER!) but it would have more impact if she didn't keep telling us every single page that she's literally obsessed with Edward Cullen.
And then Mike jogs over.
He came to sit by me, the tidy spikes of his hair shining golden in the light, his grin stretching across his face. He was so delighted to see me, I couldn’t help but feel gratified.
I don't mean to be a curmudgeony curmudgeon, I swear, but I can't interpret this any way other than Bella being completely self-obsessed since her gratification here otherwise flings down all character consistency and dances upon it.
Bella does not like Mike. She's turned him down for a date to the Spring Dance, after which he uncomfortably harangued her and tried to bully her into changing her made-up-on-the-spot plans that she'd created in order to avoid going with him. He's made her intensely comfortable by openly admiring her at the beach outing when she wanted to be left alone, and he acted inappropriately territorial towards Jacob. Bella was annoyed enough by this last offense to double her efforts to flirt with Jacob, just to get back surreptitiously at Mike. WHO SHE DOES NOT LIKE.
So now that Mike is doing the thing that he always does -- grin delightedly at Bella -- and this thing always makes Bella uncomfortable to the point of triggering her flight response, Bella now feels... gratified.
This is not consistent characterization. The only way I can think to make this work is that Mike's open admiration brings discomfort only when there are witnesses nearby, and his open admiration brings gratification and pleasure when they are (relatively) alone. And this makes Bella seems so deeply shallow to me: she craves admiration from people she doesn't like, but only if there are no witnesses to pressure her to reciprocate kindness. I really don't think S. Meyer meant for Bella to seem that way, but she's such an inconsistent character that I can't keep up.
"I never noticed before -- your hair has red in it," he commented, catching between his fingers a strand that was fluttering in the light breeze. [...]
I became just a little uncomfortable as he tucked the lock behind my ear.
Yes! This is an uncomfortable thing! The boy who keeps trying to worm his way into a relationship despite your constant refusals to date or go out with him, the boy who tries to bully you into changing your plans to suit his needs, the boy who acts territorial over you to nice strangers you are trying to have a conversation with -- THAT BOY getting in your personal space bubble is an uncomfortable thing! I agree with that!
What I do not understand, Bella, is why you forgot all that behavior thirty seconds ago in order to bask in the admiration that he continually offers you despite your clear indications that it is unwelcome.
"What did you do yesterday?" His tone was just a bit too proprietary.
Mike, if you are not vampire nommage by the end of this novel, it will be a huge disappointment to me.
Bella, a pro-tip for you: use proactive motion to get out of these conversation. "Worked on my essay -- oh! It's almost time for class, you coming?" *scoop up notebook, walk briskly away towards large group of classmates* This also would have worked on Beach Day when Mike tried to get you to sit shotgun with him: "Oh, I prefer the back so I can chat with the girls. But thanks!" *flash smile, walk briskly to large group of classmates* I'm not victim-blaming you; it's just that this novel would be blessedly shorter if I didn't have to deal with TRAPPED BY MIKE! once per chapter.
"I mostly worked on my essay." I didn’t add that I was finished with it -- no need to sound smug.
He hit his forehead with the heel of his hand. “Oh yeah -- that's due Thursday, right? [...] What are you writing yours on?"
"Whether Shakespeare's treatment of the female characters is misogynistic."
He stared at me like I’d just spoken in pig Latin.
Ha! You thought I was kidding when I said the only interesting thing in this chapter is Macbeth.
For the record, you don't get to find out Bella's answer to the question of whether or not Shakespeare's treatment of the female characters in Macbeth is misogynistic. I'm guessing (in my curmudgeonly way) that you don't get to find that out because it would require Bella knowing what "misogynistic" means beyond a simple "Lady Macbeth seems like kind of a jerkface, y'know?" And I quite frankly doubt that Bella has a strong grasp of Misogyny 101, because I kind of feel that if she did, she would be more effective at calling out all the misogyny that she herself experiences, over and over again, throughout this series.
I mean, really, I can count off the top of my head several instances of misogyny in this book so far that Bella has failed to internally label for what it is. Mr. Banner immediately assuming that she'd taken the Biology lab before rather than being simply good at it. Mr. Banner letting Eager-Beaver Mike manhandle her out of the classroom when she was in a near-faint. Mike blaming her for dealing with her faint in a Medically Appropriate Manner, and Edward dangerously scooping her up to carry her against her wishes. Charlie not doing almost no housework (outside of apparently doing the dishes) and relying on her to shop weekly, cook nightly, and do all the laundry washing once she arrived. Charlie buying her a car without verifying her make/model/detail preferences, and then trying to hide the truth of its age and condition. Charlie, Mike, Edward, Mr. Banner, ad infinitum.
Misogyny, despite the etymological root, isn't about "hating women" in the sense that one can, say, hate fire ants or hate broccoli. Misogyny isn't a simple checklist to fill out: Are all the women in Macbeth complicit in murder and/or deception? Circle one: Yes/No. Misogyny isn't a buzz word to be invoked to suddenly silence The Liberals or prove you're One Of Us: But what people don't understand is that The Hunger Games is inherently MISOGYNISTIC because the female protagonist kills people. The word isn't a talisman to be used that way, and it's certainly not a magic word that will suddenly imbue the female character saying it with Strong! Female! Character!
Bella, as fond as I sometimes am of her, is not a feminist. She's not Kat from 10 Things I Hate About You, champing at the bit to get up in class and lecture on misogyny in Shakespeare. Nor is she, for all her very serious flaws in this area, a Phyllis Schlafly leaping forth to combat the Feminist Menace.
Bella is neither of these things in part because she doesn't care about these things. Her EveryGirl character practically requires her to have no interests, no hobbies, no preferences. She likes books without passion and without detail: Austen and the Brontes are her safe go-to books when she has to name-drop someone, but as for what books dwell in Port Angeles that are not available in the Forks library, we have not a glimpse, not even an inkling of genre. (Unless you count the fish cookbooks.)
The subject of Bella's paper -- whether or not Shakespeare's treatment of the female characters in Macbeth is misogynistic -- is not a subject that was assigned to her or that she picked from a list. It's her own topic, as evidenced by Mike having clearly never heard of or considered such a thing before. But it's a topic that does not fit her character as outlined, a topic dropped into the narrative for no purpose or addition to her character except to try to glom a buzzword onto Bella. This book can't be misogynistic if the protagonist is a feminist! Quick! What are some feminist words? We're just lucky Bella doesn't try to later name-drop Gertrude Stein in equally-awkward passage.
In a way, I'm sorry we don't get to see Bella's paper, sad that we don't get to hear her reasoning. In a book that's about a young girl rushing to get married, pregnant, and vampire'd before she grows out of her teenage years, in a book that features an overbearing, virginity-obsessed father and an overbearing, virginity-obsessed boyfriend/husband, and in a book where college, careers, and higher fulfillment is only ever presented as an alternative to happy-sexy-married-life instead of something potentially complimentary, it would be nice to hear the protagonist's thoughts on misogyny and all its many and varied forms. It would be interesting to hear how she reconciles the problems she confronts in her beloved classical literature and how she extrapolates those issues and projects them onto the complex world around her. I would like that.
But we don't get that. We just get a quick drop of a feminist term to clumsily signal that Bella is Smart! Modern! Sassy! Strong! and then we drop right back into Bella angsting over how to tell Mike to please leave her alone without having to be direct, open, honest, or in any way lose all that gratification of being constantly adored.
But who am I really kidding? Bella probably just cribbed her topic from Wikipedia.
We didn't get through Chapter 7 today. All the sads forever.