Twilight Summary: In Chapter 12, Edward and Bella spend the weekend alone together in the woods.
Twilight, Chapter 12: Balancing
Let's wrap up Chapter 12 today; I know you're all anxious to get to the sparkle-scene in Chapter 13.
I locked the door behind me while he walked to the truck. He waited by the passenger door with a martyred expression that was easy to understand.
“We made a deal,” I reminded him smugly, climbing into the driver’s seat, and reaching over to unlock his door.
“Where to?” I asked.
“Put your seat belt on — I’m nervous already.”
I gave him a dirty look as I complied.
“Where to?” I repeated with a sigh.
“Take the one-oh-one north,” he ordered.
It was surprisingly difficult to concentrate on the road while feeling his gaze on my face. I compensated by driving more carefully than usual through the still-sleeping town.
“Were you planning to make it out of Forks before nightfall?”
“This truck is old enough to be your car’s grandfather — have some respect,” I retorted.
We were soon out of the town limits, despite his negativity.
I may have mentioned this before on this blog, but Edward Cullen is an asshole. Bella has maybe one thing in her life, besides Edward, that brings her pleasure and happiness: her beautiful bright red vintage truck, restored lovingly by Jacob Black and gifted to her from her father Charlie.
And this is important. Bella's cheery cherry-colored truck is the one spot of color in her life now that she's moved to dreary S.A.D.-inducing Forks. It's the one link she has to the people around her who care about her, the thing that reminds her that her father loves her and that she has friends outside of the Mike-and-Jessica clique at school. And it's a possession that provides her with agency: having her own vehicle means that Bella doesn't need to rely on a father or boyfriend to ferry her wherever she needs to go. Her truck provides her with agency, independence, and mobility.
So naturally Edward never misses an opportunity to complain about it.
Edward's complaint here takes the form of a safety lecture -- with his "nervous" reaction and his exhortation to Bella to put on her seat belt -- but we already know that Edward is cavalier about car safety since he had to be grudgingly brought to admit that maybe he shouldn't drive at ridiculously fatal speeds when he has a mortal passenger in his car. A few sentences later, Edward drops the safety facade here and shows his real issue with Bella's car: the car is too slow and Bella drives too slow. Not according to any objective measure, mind you, but according to Edward's "Drive Like A Cullen" personal preferences.
We've already noted the peculiar preference of our protagonists to relate to each other with very prickly dialogue: conversations between Edward and Bella often sound more like sparring matches than the utterings of True Love. I harbor a suspicion that this is an attempt to mimic classic literature like Austen's Pride and Prejudice, but I can't help but feel that a good deal has been lost in the translation. It's been a long time since I read a version of Pride and Prejudice that didn't have zombies in it, but I'm pretty sure that the snippy dialogue cleared up once Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy acknowledged their mutual attraction and formed a formal romantic relationship. And I'm pretty sure that the reason for this is that the blush of new love usually isn't characterized by constant verbal sparring.
Here Edward is snarking at Bella because she's not driving fast enough to their destination. But their "destination" is a woodland meadow where they plan to spend the day lounging romantically in each other's arms and teasingly tantalizing the other with purity games and blood lust. In other words, they don't have a deadline to meet here. I'm pretty sure the woodland meadow doesn't stop taking tickets at the door once the show starts. So we have the curious situation where Edward and Bella have arranged a day to privately enjoy each other's company and Edward is furious because Bella won't hurry up and get there. As opposed to, you know, sitting back in the gently-swaying truck and just ... enjoying her company.
Call me crumpets, but that attitude doesn't strike me as particularly romantic. It might be realistic -- we've probably all had that one road-trip with that one person who wants to hurry up and get there come hell or high water and bathroom breaks are considered a sign of disloyalty -- but this sort of attitude doesn't, in my mind, mesh well with the flutterings of new (and indeed, first) love.
Anyway. Last time, we noted that Bella had an unwelcome surprise for Edward; this time it's Edward's turn to have an unwelcome surprise for her.
“Now we drive until the pavement ends.”
I could hear a smile in his voice, but I was too afraid of driving off the road and proving him right to look over and be sure.
“And what’s there, at the pavement’s end?” I wondered.
“We’re hiking?” Thank goodness I’d worn tennis shoes.
“Is that a problem?” He sounded as if he’d expected as much.
“No.” I tried to make the lie sound confident. But if he thought my truck was slow . . .
“Don’t worry, it’s only five miles or so, and we’re in no hurry.”
Five miles. I didn’t answer, so that he wouldn’t hear my voice crack in panic. Five miles of treacherous roots and loose stones, trying to twist my ankles or otherwise incapacitate me. This was going to be humiliating.
We drove in silence for a while as I contemplated the coming horror. [...]
He stared at me, bewildered by my tortured expression.
“Do you want to go home?” he said quietly, a different pain than mine saturating his voice.
“No.” I walked forward till I was close beside him, anxious not to waste one second of whatever time I might have with him.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, his voice gentle.
“I’m not a good hiker,” I answered dully. “You’ll have to be very patient.”
“I can be patient — if I make a great effort.” He smiled, holding my glance, trying to lift me out of my sudden, unexplained dejection.
And there it is again. Edward has to make an effort -- a great effort -- in order to patiently wait up for his inconveniently slow-moving True Love. That's not true love to me; that's basic decency. And do please note: if you are impatient with someone who has a movement disability and you somehow manage to rope in that impatience so that it doesn't show with every thought, word, and deed, you are not actually worthy of cookies for that. You are just practicing basic decency at that point. Or, if I may quote George MacDonald:
'But, please, ma'am--I don't mean to be rude or to contradict you,' said Curdie, 'but if a body was never to do anything but what he knew to be good, he would have to live half his time doing nothing.'
'There you are much mistaken,' said the old quavering voice. 'How little you must have thought! Why, you don't seem even to know the good of the things you are constantly doing. Now don't mistake me. I don't mean you are good for doing them. It is a good thing to eat your breakfast, but you don't fancy it's very good of you to do it. The thing is good, not you.'
And there I've gone and called Bella's disability a disability again, even though it's more complicated than that. And that is what I want to talk about today.
I've been writing about Twilight since the autumn of 2010. The first post on this Blogger site marked as "deconstruction (twilight)" went up on 12-31-2010, and I'd been doing the series elsewhere on an earlier incarnation of my board for several weeks before that. So by a rough estimation, I've been talking about Bella Swan on a nearly-weekly basis for two years. And her problem with tipping over has been a major part of that discourse because her problem with tipping over is a major part of Twilight. One of my first dedicated posts to the subject went up last November -- "Sound Effects Added To Lessen Tragedy" -- where I said this:
And now we come to the issue of Bella's clumsiness.
When I started reading Twilight, I was actually surprised at how many references to Bella's clumsiness are jammed into the first few pages. I mean, we're not 40 pages in and she's already beaned people in the head at volleyball and fallen over several times and been tacitly acknowledged by the entire school after one week that she's a klutz beyond all possible imagining. And it's only going to get worse from here.
At first I thought it was a sort of Every Teen characterization: many teens feel awkward as their bodies change and develop, so it seemed like this fit the pattern of Bella-the-Reader-Insert. But then the characterization started getting more and more in your face to the point where Edward will actually claim that Bella can't walk in a straight line across a level room without falling on her face. And I don't think we're meant to read that as an exaggeration. I figured S. Meyer was being heavy handed and didn't know when to reign Bella's One Defining Character Trait in a little to more subdued, realistic levels.
By the end of the novel, however, my cynicism had kicked in full force and I now firmly believe that Bella is a Walking Disaster Area merely so that beefy wolfmen and shiny vampires can have an excuse to pick her up and carry her everywhere like a handbag. Plus, it's great comedy for the whole family! [...]
The thing is, Bella doesn't actually have a chronic condition of falling down, because no one takes it seriously. It's the tree falling in a forest issue -- if Bella fell down all the time, someone would take it seriously. Maybe not everyone. Maybe not her neglectful parents or her narcissist boyfriend or her self-absorbed friends or her overworked teachers. But Bella would notice. Bella would have to notice, because Bella would be in pain constantly. Bella would take the falling seriously, and therefore the narration would take the falling seriously.
People who are in pain constantly think about their pain. They think about minimizing it as much as possible. Their thoughts will be occupied by their surroundings, their own actions, the actions of others, they way they stand, the way they walk, the way they carry things. There will be a constant internal battle for control and management and prevention of the pain. They may never be able to prevent falling with these mental exercises, but they'll still try because that's how humans are wired -- we want to minimize pain, cuts, bruises, and twisted and broken limbs.
Bella doesn't do this, ever. Her constant tumbles in Twilight are as serious to her as they are to a court jester. Whoops! There goes Bella! Oops! Bella falls again! It's slapstick comedy, over and over and over again. Haha! Bella beaned someone in the head with a volleyball! Will she never learn? Hahaha.
To someone with chronic pain, this is insulting. S.Meyer is taking something that many people have to live with and she's shining it up into a lovable and amusing character trait. Bella's trips and tumbles aren't serious things that cause serious harm; they're just a cutesy characteristic to make her seem flawed and lovable. It's the equivalent of making a character who is supposedly suffering from cancer and then discarding all the icky cancer bits to talk about her adorable bald head and oh she gets cold at night so she needs a fluffy-wuffy werewolf to warm her up and isn't that adorwuble? Oh, but that's different because falling doesn't kill people, right? Well, not quite.
Beyond the issue of pain and privilege, though, Bella's not-really-chronic condition is troubling for what it represents. If the issue was isolated to sloppy characterization (She's clumsy!) and slapstick (...and it's funny!), without ever having consequences then it would merely be insensitive. However, it's worth noting that Bella does in fact hurt herself, and there are in fact consequences to her tumbles. The issue here, though, those "consequences" are actually presented as wonderful benefits.
When Bella seriously hurts herself for plot-convenient reasons, her pain isn't a source of sorrow but rather a source of joy because it becomes an excuse for her to be coddled, loved, carried, babied, and protected. Edward will at one point literally carry Bella because he doesn't trust her to walk without hurting herself. This isn't presented as a bad thing, as a chronic condition like this would most certainly be, but rather something advantageous. And because we have so few women in the Twilight novel, Bella enlarges to a sort of Every Woman in the narrative. Since her romance with Edward is supposed to be a pure example of True Love, a platonic ideal for the rest of us to aspire to, her actions and attributes become more than descriptive -- they become (intentionally or not) prescriptive.
Bella's clumsiness becomes not something to lament and avoid, but rather something to envy and emulate. Just think, girls! You, too, could fall at the drop of a hat and then you could have your very own strong Edward to sweep you up, kiss your (very tiny! and not really painful at all!) bruises and carry you away into HappyLand. And all you had to do was pretend to have a serious condition that kills people yearly!
I still believe what I said, but over the past year since I said that, I have been focusing more on the disability side of things because there have been a lot of passages with people forgetting Bella's disability. Mike, Charlie, and even Edward only really remember Bella's condition when it's convenient for them to do so. And while this selective memory ties in with the fact that Bella's disability is extremely situational (and therefore not really a disability, as far as the author appears to be concerned, but rather a plot device), it also ties in neatly with the fact that this selective memory is something that People With Disabilities have to face on a near-daily basis, and I've wanted to talk about that, so I have.
Furthermore, I call Bella's habitual falling-over a "disability" because effectively that is what it is. But! That does not mean that I think S.Meyer intended Bella's disability to be an actual disability, or that she thought she was writing a disabled character. Nor am I trying to convey that Bella is a successfully-portrayed disabled character, nor am I trying to erase all the many other problems with Bella's falling-over beyond plain old disability appropriation. No, I call Bella's falling-over a "disability" because we must use words in order to communicate, and that seems to me to be the best way to characterize her habitual falling-over and plot-convenient clumsiness.
Still! By popular request, today we will again talk about Bella's disability not just from a disability appropriation perspective, but also from a trope-perspective. More specifically, we will discuss the fact, as outlined above, that Bella's disability is presented in text as something desirable because (a) it makes her both approachable as a "flawed" character and (b) it means that all the sexy man-beef in Forks has ample opportunity to sling her around like a sack of flour at a moment's notice.
Falling As Flaw
Last year, reader Justin sent me this Cracked.com article:
But if you make your lady character too perfect, nobody in the audience can identify with her. You can't compromise on the looks or the weight, obviously. You can't compromise by giving her a realistic job. She can't be a jerk, or the audience won't root for her. If you're doing one of those career vs. personal life plots, then her flaw is that she loves her career too much, so you got that cut out for you. Any other plot, the only option you've got left is to make her clumsy.
That's why pretty much all romantic comedy women are clumsy. Like Jessica Alba in Good Luck Chuck, Amy Adams in Leap Year, Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality... oh hell here's a montage.
In my article from last year, I wrote:
The clumsy thing? The she-falls-over-and-it's-hilarious thing? The informed flaw that lets Edward and Co. pick Bella up and carry her around like a toy doggie and additionally acts up to put her in implausible danger as needed? This thing is a trope.
It's a perfect-pretty-women-need-something-wrong-with-them trope. It's a trope to make them less perfect, more flawed, more accessible. It's a trope to make them more likeable by the women in the audience and more attainable by the men. It's a trope to make them less competent, less frightening, less intimidating.
Let me just repeat that. In order for a woman to be more likeable and less intimidating, she has to hurt herself a lot. She has to nearly die because of her clumsiness, as with Jennifer Lopez and the shoe and Random Actress I Don't Recognize in the tree. The on-screen shorthand for "approachable woman" is someone who falls over frequently to the point of seriously injuring herself or even dying.
It's important to realize, though, that this "flaw" isn't really a flaw. I don't mean that in the sense than having a disability isn't a flaw (though I would argue strenuously that it is not), but rather I mean that this "flaw" is actually a stealthily desirable trait in many fictional women because the "flaw" makes her more approachable, more relatable, and more desirable to the men in her fictional world and to the audience watching her. Since the "flaw" in this case actually improves the character (according to her audiences, both fictional and otherwise), it becomes a non-flaw, and a mandatory feature on the road to perfection.
Bella herself notes that her "flaw" actually contributes to her desirability, believing that her "crippling clumsiness" is endearing and casts her in the role of a damsel in distress. She's not wrong; the men in her life over the course of this series will frequently leap at the chance to carry poor-little-Bella any time that the situation even remotely warrants it. (I was actually surprised to see that in the hiking passage above, Edward doesn't carry her yet. But he will soon enough.)
There are tremendous problems with casting a disability -- particularly a movement disability -- as sexy and desirable in itself. Certainly people with movement disabilities can be sexy and desirable, but they are not sexy and desirable because they have a movement disability. Yet that is what this trope does: it takes an attractive woman, layers over a disability, and *poof* now she is even more perfect and desirable. Not because of who she is, but because she has a weakness -- and, more specifically, she has a weakness that means she must rely on the men in her life in order to even move.
In this worldview, the most attractive woman is the one who physically cannot leave a man, and who cannot accomplish the most basic of tasks without his help. Helplessness becomes sexualized, and agency is treated as something undesirable and unattractive. And because this mentality is pushed so hard, from so many directions, we in the audience are in danger of internalizing what Erma Bombeck called "the helpless routine":
I was silent a moment, then I pulled my chair closer. "Let me tell you a secret. I have always resented the helpless female. I resent her because I am secretly jealous of her ability to train grown men to 'heel' and sick and tired of having her feel my flexed muscles at parties.
"If I had it to do all over again,I would be one of those helpless females who faints at the sight of antifreeze. But I was the big mouth who, early in marriage, watched my husband try to start the power mower and said, 'If you are trying to start that power mower, Duckey, you had better attach the spark plug, open the gas line so you can get fuel to the distributor, and pull the choke all the way over. Also, if you don't stand on the other side of the mower, you'd better lean against that tree for balance because you are going to lose your right foot.'"
"How masterful," she said, dabbing her forehead with a lace handkerchief.
"Not so masterful," I said. "From that day forward I was awarded custody of the mower. I also had to repair spoutings, clean out the dryer vent, repair the clothesline, build the rock garden, drain and store the antifreeze, and wash the car."
"My goodness," she whispered, "I'm so addle-brained about cars I scarcely know how to turn on those little globes in the front...the..."
"Lights," I prompted. "Incidentally, what's that pet name your husband calls you?"
"You mean, 'Satin Pussy Cat'?"
"That's the one. My husband calls me 'Army,' after a pack mule he had in Korea. You're the one who's got it made. I'll bet you never fertilized a lawn, changed a fuse, plunged a sink, hosed out a garbage can, or hung curtain brackets."
She threw back her head, revealing her slim, white throat, and laughed. "Why I get lightheaded whenever I step up on a curb."
"Take today. I've got this clogged-up washer. I can either ring for Rube Goldberg and his wonder-wrenches, or I can try to fix the thing myself."
She smiled slyly. "I'll bet it's your turbo pump that's clogged. All you have to do is remove the back panel, take out the pulsator, disconnect the thermoschnook, and use a spreckentube to force out the glunk. Then put on a new cyclocylinder, using a No. four pneusonic wrerrch, and you're back in the laundry business."
"Why you helpless little broad-er fraud! you could run General Motor from a phone booth. You're faking it, aren't you? That helpless routine is all show. And what does it get you? Nothing but dinner rings, vacations out of season, small fur jackets, and a husband standing breathless at your elbow. Do you know the last time my husband siood breathless at my elbow I had a chicken bone caught in my throat? Is it too late for me? Do you suppose a woman over thirty-five could learn to be helpless?"
Erma Bombeck was making a point with humor, but it's a point that Twilight is trying to make in all seriousness: Helplessness is sexy, and independence is not. So if you want to catch your very own Edward Cullen or Jacob Black, you'd better get cracking on that whole helplessness thing. If you're not falling over at the drop of a hat, or fainting because you deliberately forgot to eat today, or daintily dropping your books for the gallants to pick up for you, then you're not going to get very far on the marriage market. That's the lesson that Twilight teaches.
Twilight is a purity text with a strong fetishization for virginity. Something like 80% of the tension in the series will be over whether or not Bella and Edward will have sex. And I'm pretty sure that the other 20% is largely over whether or not they'll have sex a second time. Most of you have already seen this virginity fetishization approach before, if you've been following Fred Clark's Left Behind deconstructions and the chaste romance between Buck Williams and Chloe Steele. Of the couple's epic struggle to reach "the hand-holding stage", Fred says:
[Buck] also needs to stop obsessing over the propriety of premarital hand-holding. This fixation on sexual morality winds up hypersexualizing everything. Holding hands is not sex. It's not even sex-ual. But in the RTC moral code that Buck magically internalized upon conversion, all affection is sexual. For Buck and the authors and the formal and informal censors at Tyndale House publishers, holding hands is lascivious.
That's perverse. Or, at best, immature. There's something junior-high-ish about Buck's apparent notion that hand-holding constitutes first base (second base: holding hands with fingers interlaced). And if that seems like naive innocence to you, then you don't know what it means to be a boy in junior high.
There's a difference, I think, between writing a novel that simply happens to be about some virgins, versus writing a novel for an audience that considers virginity to be a moral imperative. In the former case, the characters will simply be virgins until they're not. (And how they chose to define that "not", may or may not be a big deal to those characters.) They may consider the new things they experience fun and interesting and noteworthy, but they're probably not going to mentally turn every single touch into something hyper-sexualized unless they've been specifically taught to do so. After all, people who just happen to be virgins don't automatically also have a history of never touching, kissing, hand-holding, or otherwise having physical contact with other people.
But people who have been taught to hyper-sexualize all contact by the virginity fetish crowd very possibly do have backgrounds entirely void of any physical contact with others. And the people in charge of the virginity fetishization movement absolutely expect fictional characters to align to this untouched and untouching ideal, and the characters in Twilight most certainly do conform. The sexual revolution has not undone Edward's victorian principles, and his over-powering blood-lust prevents him and Bella from having anything more than the most incidental contact. So in a book where the characters must remain virgins and abstain from any kind of sustained kissing or other contact that might lead to sex, what's an author to do in order to maintain the sexual interest of the reader? Why, have him carry her everywhere, of course!
|Willoughby @ janitesonthejames.blogspot.com|
|Colonel Brandon @ czarnyma.tumblr.com|
There's even a vote for those pictures, on which man carried Marianne in "the most romantic way". And I want to be clear: there's nothing wrong with finding the act of being carried (or the act of carrying) as pleasurable and sexually exciting. I myself wouldn't mind being carried by Colonel-Brandon-as-played-by-Alan-Rickman, were the offer on the table. I certainly don't fault Bella for enjoying being lugged around in the arms of Edward and/or Jacob as the series progresses.
But the problem here arises when being carried is the only allowable form of physical contact between our protagonist virgins and that carrying can only come about as a direct result of Bella's disability. So we have here a Bella who isn't carried because she wants to be carried, or because she likes being carried, because expressing desire and receiving what she wants would be problematic for the virginity fetishization crowd. If a woman is allowed to say I want you to carry me because it gives me sexual pleasure and then that thing actually happens, then we've just allowed a woman to voice her desires and use her agency to bring herself pleasure, and we can't have that!
So instead the carrying must be something that is forced upon Bella by circumstances: she's not being carried because she wants it, but rather because she needs it. Any sexual pleasure she gets from the utilitarian act of lugging her around in order to save her from tripping over her own ankles is purely secondary. And now the "helpless routine" message is layered down even worse: not only do you have to be helpless in order to get your man, but you also have to be helpless in order to receive sexual gratification. You can't have kisses, because those have to be saved for your wedding night, but you can have close physical contact ... if you cultivate a disability such that a man must carry you in order to prevent you from hurting yourself when trying to walk.
There are many reasons why Bella's falling-over is one of the most upsetting aspects of Twilight for me.
It's appropriative, by using a serious disability that many people struggle with as a substitute for a well-rounded personality and a convenient plot device.
It's dismissive, by reinforcing that the forgetting of disabilities (by family, friends, and lovers) is something less than legitimately upsetting, and something more akin to love and romance.
It's infantilizing, in suggesting that the most desirable women are ones who lack the agency and mobility to move their own bodies, and by severely restricting Bella's movement capabilities.
It's fetishizing, by incorporating immobility into virginity fetishization, and suggesting that pre-marital physical contact should be restricted to rendering needed aid instead of desired touching.
And even having said all that, I feel we've still only just scratched the surface of how utterly fucked-up the use of Bella's disability is in Twilight. Because there is so, so much wrongness in writing an informed-yet-deadly flaw into a female protagonist in order that the people around her can ignore her suffering when convenient, can belittle her when they want to feel superior, can be attracted to her for her weakness, and can haul her around in their sexy arms whenever the narrative can justify it.
There is a wrongness in it that goes beyond telling young women they need to be weak in order to be attractive, or that the only physical contact they can have without guilt is the contact required to offset that weakness. There is an awfulness that goes beyond the appropriation and infantilization of people with genuine disabilities. And there is a badness that is the result of so much more than just taking an unfortunate trope and dialing it up to eleven.
I don't know if there are enough years left in my life to discuss all the many ways in which the Twilight series is horribly wrong in its treatment of Bella's disability. But we're going to find out, one way or another. Stay tuned.