Content Note: Insularity, Medical Issues, Blood-Drinking, Meat-Eating
Twilight Recap: Edward and Bella have concluded their dinner conversation and are heading back to Bella's house.
Twilight, Chapter 9: Theory
It was pointed out waaaaaaaaaay back in the distant past of last year that one of the appealing aspects of Twilight is the fact that when you are dating a Super Secret Vampire Boy, you have a secret. And I think that's a very good point, actually.
I don't keep secrets very well. No one in my family does; we actually just give each other shopping lists for Christmas and birthdays, a tradition that baffles my husband to no end. "Why don't you just give cash?" he asks, mystified at our un-romantic shopping list exchange.
"Because we like opening presents," I explain. "It's fun."
"But you already know what's inside them!" he points out.
"Well, of course! We don't like surprises." And the look on his face, and the look on my face... well, you'd just have to be there to see it. It's just such a different paradigm.
All of which is a long way to say that I don't like secrets. Whenever I get a secret, I immediately go divulge it to the cats so that I'm not the only one who knows anymore. And then I feel better, because I know they won't tell anyone. (And even if they did, no one even tries to listen to them.) But I do understand the concept and appeal of a group secret.
When you have a vampire boyfriend, you have a group secret. You can't share the secret with the world at large, but you can share that secret with your vampire boyfriend, or with his vampire sister, or with your werewolf buddy. What before had the potential to isolate you from everyone now has the ability to bring you closer with a small, intimate group of friends, lovers, and family.
I also think this could be potentially very powerful in a teenage setting, particularly for teenage girls. The common media portrayal of many teenage girl groups is the sharing of All The Things, usually huddled around a flashlight during a slumber party or clumped together at the school cafeteria table. In a time when many young people are trying to figure out what they want to be when they "grow up", what kind of body they're going to be living in for the next few decades, and what sexual orientation they rolled in the great game of Life, it seems natural to me that some people might walk a tentative line of Wanting To Share and Wanting Not To Share.
With vampirism, the choice is easy and already made for you: You can't share.
None of this, I want to stress, is automatically unhealthy or bad. Indeed, I almost think the intimacy of a relationship could be vaguely defined by some kind of information sharing metric -- Husband knows more about me in the areas of X, Best Friend knows most about me in the areas of Y, Mother knows most about me in the areas of Z. Father is for Monty Python, Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, and all the other fun British humor things. (Obviously this is going to widely vary for everyone. I'm rambling here. It's what I do.)
But! I had a point in all this and my point is this. While it is not bad to have and share intimate secrets with people in a relationship, there's a point at which in-knowledge can become an excuse for an unhealthy level of insularity. And I feel like Bella -- by becoming so utterly absorbed into Edward at the cost of all other relationships and her own personal health -- dances close to that line.
Certainly, in my opinion, Bella's patented spice-blend of mental snark, disdain, and disgust for the people in her lives isn't improved by her sudden "in-group" linkage to a man whose middle name might well be Disdain.
I was worried suddenly, worried about protecting Jacob.
"He just thought it was a silly superstition," I said quickly. "He didn't expect me to think anything of it." It didn't seem like enough; I had to confess. "It was my fault, I forced him to tell me." [...]
He startled me by laughing. I glared up at him. He was laughing, but his eyes were fierce, staring ahead. "Tricked him how?" he asked.
"I tried to flirt -- it worked better than I thought it would." Disbelief colored my tone as I remembered.
"I'd like to have seen that." He chuckled darkly. "And you accused me of dazzling people -- poor Jacob Black."
Bella is worried about protecting Jacob Black. She should be: she just divulged his name, his family, his location, and his dangerous willingness to talk about the Cullens to a vampire who has a history of taking matters into his own deadly hands and who is willing to do just about anything to protect his family. She should be very worried about Jacob, even if this is a "better late than never" situation.
But she's trying to protect him in ways that still leave all the cards in Edward's hands. She's submissively trying to turn Edward back to her, to put herself in harm's way on Jacob's behalf. That's kind of noble -- I mean, Jacob wouldn't be in trouble at all if Bella hadn't betrayed his trust at literally the first opening to do so -- but it's a continued victimization of Jacob. Really helping Jacob would mean being honest with him about the danger he's in so he can choose how to respond.
This exchange where Bella "helps" Jacob by playing up his innocence and her seductive ways is really just an elaborate way of mocking him. Bella is mocking Jacob to Edward, persuading him that Jacob is too little and young and innocent and ignorant to be concerned about. Of course, this doesn't matter one whit if the threat Jacob represents is one of discovery: if Jacob doesn't believe the treaty to be true, he may be more likely to spread the word about the Cullens and provoke the Volturi. But the real subtext here is that Jacob isn't a romantic threat to Edward, and Edward acknowledges that he is not by laughing at poor, bedazzled Jacob and his hilariously broken heart.
And this is kind of the "unhealthy in-group mentality" I was mentally poking at earlier.
"What did you do then?" he asked after a minute.
"I did some research on the Internet."
"And did that convince you?" His voice sounded barely interested. But his hands were clamped hard onto the steering wheel. [...]
"I decided it didn't matter," I whispered. "It didn't matter?" His tone made me look up -- I had finally broken through his carefully composed mask. His face was incredulous, with just a hint of the anger I'd feared.
"No," I said softly. "It doesn't matter to me what you are."
A hard, mocking edge entered his voice. "You don't care if I'm a monster? If I'm not human?"
He was silent, staring straight ahead again. His face was bleak and cold.
"You're angry," I sighed. "I shouldn't have said anything."
And then there's this.
I get what Bella is saying here: it doesn't matter to her feelings if Edward is a vampire. It's kind of like Intent Isn't Magic, except instead of being about how the intent behind existence of problematic elements in speech and text doesn't prevent us from being hurt when we see them, instead it's about how Edward's underlying nature doesn't prevent Bella from being awestruckedly in love with him whenever she sees him. I get that.
But the wording irks me here because, in my opinion, it should matter what Edward is.
Whatever the answer -- Superman, Spiderman, Vampire, Werewolf, Warlock, Wizard, Demon, Angel, Whitelighter -- Bella may still choose to be with him because love. She may not mind the difficulties of a their relationship, or she may decide that she wishes to be whatever he is herself. (Assuming that's possible.) She may have no trouble whatsoever adjusting to this new situation. But it should matter, if not what Edward is, then at least how what he is influences what he can do and how he can live. (Or un-live.) It should matter to Bella these things, not because they'll necessarily prevent her from loving him, but because those things will affect whether or not they can have a relationship, and what her life will look like within that relationship.
This doesn't always translate well to real life situations, but for an example: Husband very probably has Asperger syndrome, and I very definitely have scoliosis and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. This essentially means that for very large portions of the time, Husband is withdrawn and uncommunicative and I am tired and achy and snarly. None of this has prevented us from being deeply in love and choosing to build a life together, but it has influenced how we relate to each other. Husband understands, for example, that he can't quit his job on a lark to realize a dream of building computers from gently-used Beanie Babies because I am frequently incapacitated without warning and therefore it falls on him to be the steady wage-earner. In contrast, I understand that when I need someone to chat to in order to take my mind off of chronic pain, I lean on my parents or my friends or my blog on the internet rather than place that "entertain me, now!" burden on Husband.
And all these realizations about how our bodies affect our relationship? That took a long time to learn and sort out and understand. And it doesn't always work for everyone, especially once you start throwing vampires into the mix. (One of the things I liked about the one "True Blood" / "Sookie Stackhouse" book I read was that the author seemed to understand and sort of gently hint at the edges of the fact that a Vampire Boyfriend can be heck on your sleeping schedule and social life.) So while I get the "it doesn't matter, I'll still love you" sentiment, I still feel like "but it does matter, because it might affect whether or not we can be together" should follow. And it doesn't.
But then I never have liked "All You Need Is Love", so maybe that's just me.
He was suddenly resigned. "What are you curious about?"
"How old are you?"
"Seventeen," he answered promptly.
"And how long have you been seventeen?"
His lips twitched as he stared at the road. "A while," he admitted at last. [...] "You haven't asked me the most important question yet." His voice was hard now, and when he looked at me again his eyes were cold.
I blinked, still dazed. "Which one is that?"
"You aren't concerned about my diet?" he asked sarcastically.
"Oh," I murmured, "that."
"Yes, that." His voice was bleak. "Don't you want to know if I drink blood?"
Like most Edward Cullen lines, I hate the delivery (EDWARD CULLEN, YOUR TONE OF VOICE SUCKS), but for once -- just this once, perhaps -- he has a point.
And this is one reason why "I don't care if you're a vampire!" doesn't translate so well to human relationships, because this isn't like pretty much all the other things. Many humans eat meat, but most of them don't eat the meat of other humans, nor do many of them eat meat while it's still alive.
Again, this isn't to mean that right off the bat Bella shouldn't be with Edward. But it does mean that I find her stubborn incuriousness to be personally distressing. "I don't know and I don't care -- I love you," is sweet and understandable and, yes, I have been guilty of saying (and meaning) just that, but it's not healthy. (And, no, I'm not demanding that Twilight be healthy, I'm just talking out loud here.) Jacob has told Bella that the Cullens don't hunt humans -- which is good -- but the ethical and moral dilemmas don't end there.
For instance, later we will learn that the Cullens stand by and let the Volturi kill people on their watch because they aren't powerful enough to oppose them. Alright, it is what it is, but that's the sort of thing that -- going into a relationship -- I would need to know about.
I flinched. "Well, Jacob said something about that." [...] "He said you weren't supposed to be dangerous. But the Quileutes still didn't want you on their land, just in case." [...]
"The Quileutes have a long memory," he whispered.
THEY ARE NATIVE AMERICANS SO WE WILL SPEAK OF THEM IN STILTED DIALOGUE AND REFER TO THEM AS A SINGLE HIVE-MIND.
"We try," he explained slowly. "We're usually very good at what we do. Sometimes we make mistakes. Me, for example, allowing myself to be alone with you." "This is a mistake?" I heard the sadness in my voice, but I didn't know if he could as well.
"A very dangerous one," he murmured. [...]
"Tell me more," I asked desperately, not caring what he said, just so I could hear his voice again.
He looked at me quickly, startled by the change in my tone. "What more do you want to know?"
"Tell me why you hunt animals instead of people," I suggested, my voice still tinged with desperation. I realized my eyes were wet, and I fought against the grief that was trying to overpower me.
I have a confession to make.
The first time I read Twilight, this was when I started screaming incoherently at the book.
"Tell me why you hunt animals instead of people"??? REALLY. Gee, Bella, why the heck do you eat animals instead of people, hmm? Well, did you even think that maybe -- just maybe -- he might have the exact same reasons?? And for being all "it doesn't matter what you are, love conquers all, hold me" five minutes ago, apparently you really do believe that biology equals destiny and that it's somehow weird, unnatural, or heroic of Edward to make a choice to not murder people.
Deep breaths. I realize now that this probably isn't the spirit intended in the text. Bella is crying and afraid that Edward is going to go back to shunning her and she thinks that her feelings will matter for nothing in this decision and she feels helpless. She's trying to draw him out, to keep him talking, to prevent him from descending into a brood and making up his mind on something that neither of them really wants at this stage. I get that. I do.
But gods help me, it's a really poor wording, that question.
Because if you strip that subtext away, if you pull away the theory that Bella doesn't mean it like that, she's just trying to keep him talking, if that is gone, then Bella is a terrible person. She's a person who is so accepting of the whole vampire biological drive concept that she thinks it's exceptional to not want to eat people. Because this isn't a "how" question, as in "tell me how this works"; it's a "why" question, and I would think -- I would hope -- that the "why" would be blatantly obvious.
A vampire is a human who woke up one night and wasn't human any more. Depending on the mythos, they may not have any physical or mental changes besides the desire and/or need for a liquid diet of blood. There's no reason to assume that an ex-human will suddenly cast aside all the considerations for life and bodily autonomy and choice and consent and not-being-a-cannibal to suddenly not even want to not prey on humans. Not be able to, that's one thing, that's a "how" question; not want to, that's a "why", a motivation.
"I don't want to be a monster." His voice was very low.
Edward doesn't want to eat humans for the same reason that Bella (presumably) doesn't want to eat humans. And if Bella doesn't understand that, I'm not sure she should be a vampire.