[Content Note: Suicidal Impulses, Cancer, Depression, Addiction]
Twilight Summary: In Chapter 13, Edward and Bella spend the weekend alone together in the woods.
Twilight, Chapter 13: Confessions
When we last left our star-crossed lovers, Edward was apologizing for losing his shit over the awesome smell that is Bella Swan.
“I am so very sorry.” He hesitated. “Would you understand what I meant if I said I was only human?”
I nodded once, not quite able to smile at his joke. Adrenaline pulsed through my veins as the realization of danger slowly sank in. He could smell that from where he sat. His smile turned mocking.
You could be forgiven for assuming that Edward's mocking smile is directed at Bella since his last eleventy-billion mocking smiles were directed at her, but for once that is not the case: he is actually mocking himself, and this is that self-loathing that Robert Pattinson picked up from the text and carried into the movies with him as Edward's actor. But before we delve into Edward's self-loathing, I want to highlight something I like about this passage: Bella is scared.
She's not super-scared, since Twilight never really seems to want to move from the cozy to the dangerous, but she's at least unsettled. And she's unsettled enough to not be able to -- or, even better, to not bother to -- try to hide it from Edward. For once, she's sorting through her own shit right now and isn't constantly self-editing every little facial expression and gesture in order to reassure Edward that no, really, it's okay. And I consider that to be a good thing; Bella should be taking stock of the situation as it pertains to her, and not so much as it pertains to Edward's feelings.
What is even more valuable about this passage is that it's seemingly a rare instance where Bella is concerned for herself and her own safety over the vital importance of being with Edward. And I approve of this. It's nice to see Bella trying to stay safe and alive instead of hurling herself into danger in an attempt to force Edward to stay with her (to protect her) or in order to see Edward in her mind (as a result of an adrenaline rush). It's additionally nice to see her wanting, at least for the moment, to stay alive and human rather than asking Edward to turn her -- a process that, in its own way, ends her life, even if her existence continues.
Anyway, let's set aside Bella's unexpected-but-not-unwelcome self-preservation and dive into Edward's self-loathing.
“I’m the world’s best predator, aren’t I? Everything about me invites you in — my voice, my face, even my smell. As if I need any of that!” Unexpectedly, he was on his feet, bounding away, instantly out of sight, only to appear beneath the same tree as before, having circled the meadow in half a second.
“As if you could outrun me,” he laughed bitterly.
He reached up with one hand and, with a deafening crack, effortlessly ripped a two-foot-thick branch from the trunk of the spruce. He balanced it in that hand for a moment, and then threw it with blinding speed, shattering it against another huge tree, which shook and trembled at the blow.
And he was in front of me again, standing two feet away, still as a stone.
“As if you could fight me off,” he said gently.
This doesn't really make a lot of sense -- humans aren't attracted to shiny things because we're not magpies, and also in this very same chapter Edward will note that humans usually instinctively avoid vampires -- but I'm not sure it's supposed to be a canon statement on vampire evolution. The more I read it, the more I think Pattinson may be on to something with the self-loathing assessment: this seems to be more of an emotional outburst stemming from Edward's vampire angst than anything else. I think we're supposed to read this as regret and anger directed at the self: Yes, I'm pretty, but I'm also inherently awful. Isn't that rough?
And, the thing is, I imagine that would be kind of tough at times, but with a few obvious caveats. We can all roll our eyes knowingly at the Mary Sue who tells us that it is Just So Awful to be the prettiest girl in school and to have everyone love her without reservation because no one really knows the real her, and also it's a huge effort to get to her locker every morning when she has to wade through hundreds of mix-tapes that her admirers left the night before, but we do so not because having Pretty Privilege doesn't come with drawbacks (it most certainly does) but because we expect privileged people to at least know and understand that they are privileged. And, ideally if they are able, to take even the most token steps to help the less fortunate.
In Edward's case, yes, he has it kind of rough. He does have all the obvious advantages of perfect beauty, effective immortality, vast wealth, supernatural telepathy, and a close-knit family who loves him unconditionally. In the drawbacks column, however, he constantly thirsts for blood and is never truly satisfied unless he crosses a moral line and murders human beings. And, of course, the one girl he's been attracted to and intrigued by in the last hundred years has a scent that drives him to distraction with the overwhelming desire to kill her -- and that desire quite naturally horrifies him.
But! However! A huge empathy roadblock that I have for the Cullens revolves around the fact that for all their woobie-woe-is-me focus, they rarely seem to acknowledge their privilege except to revel in it. Alice's telepathy is apparently so strong that they can drip diamonds from their ears, wear Dolce & Gabbana from head to toe, and drive the luxuriest of luxury cars without ever needing to budget a penny. But what else are they doing with all that money?
There's never any indication in Twilight (that I can see) that the Cullens are giving to charities or using their money to help feed the hungry and cloth the naked. They could certainly do so without exposing their cover; nearly every charity worth its salt allows for anonymous donations. And in a novel that seems to celebrate Mormon values like abstinence from sex and caffeine, this would seem to be a rather glaring omission. A few thousand towards a food bank would hardly qualify as a widow's mite for the cash-flush Cullens, but it would mean something to the people in need.
And that's just the most obvious charitable contribution that the Cullens could engage in. Edward can read minds, Alice can see the future, and Jasper can control emotions. The three of them should be able to form a super-star tag-team that could save lives, prevent crime, and aid in the care and treatment of any number of diseases. There's really no reason that Carlisle -- he of the compassionate doctoryness -- couldn't set up shop and employ those three in the back room to help him diagnose patients left and right. Imagine how many lives you could save if you could detect tumors through Alice's future-vision, and if you could treat depression through talk-therapy with Edward and mood-therapy with Jasper. Sure, they'd have to bounce around a bit in order to make their cover work, but they're already doing that.
Time and time again, we see the Cullens angsting about their very hard lives and the horrible burdens they lug around with them every day, and yet none of them really do anything to help others or to provide any value to society. Rosalie is tormented by her childlessness, but she doesn't adopt an orphan (or twelve) or volunteer as a Big Sister. Jasper struggles with his thirst impulses, but he doesn't consider charity work that would allow him to make a difference from afar. Edward prevented rapes when he was preying on rapists, but now that he's reformed, he doesn't feel any particular need to prowl the streets preventing-but-not-preying-on the other predators. Esme may have a boundless capacity for love, but as far as I can tell she doesn't do anything all day while Carlisle is at work and the kids are at school except dust the house for the umpteenth time.
The Cullens are an embodiment of privilege that is so stark I'm not even certain what to compare it to. They collect infinite money so that they can spend it on luxury goods. They live immortal lives in order to spent all their time graduating high school a dozen times over and collecting college degrees like they're Pokemon cards. Edward Cullen trains to be a doctor at least twice over and for possibly a full quarter of his lifespan yet doesn't care a single whit about saving lives. Apparently, the study of medicine is, for him, entirely academic; certainly, he doesn't seem to feel any kind of calling to use his vast knowledge to help others. The Cullens, as far as I can tell and with the possible exception of Carlisle, aren't interested in helping anyone. At all. Ever.
As with the Mary Sue example above, I would have a lot more sympathy for Edward's obvious disadvantages in his life if he also acknowledged in all honesty the massive amount of privilege he has. Yes, it is rough to be a vampire, but I am also immortal, beautiful, and obscenely wealthy, and I realize those are privileges that not everyone else has. And I would have a lot more respect for Edward as a person if he was making even the most token attempt to make the world a better place for the people around him.
Later in the series, Edward will reveal that he still feels guilt over the lives he took when he was newly turned. Yet as far as I can tell, he never makes an effort to track down the families of his victims. He doesn't provide anonymously for the women whose husbands he killed, or for the mothers whose sons died because of Edward. He never attempts to own his wrong-doing by making restitution and amends for the harm he has caused.
In this very same chapter, Edward will compare his desire for Bella's blood to an alcohol addict being faced with the temptation offered by a fine glass of brandy. Yet despite having understood that alcohol addiction is not entirely unlike blood addiction, Edward has apparently never heard of the idea of a Twelve Step program or any similar methodologies for coping with his thirst. If he had, he would know that making amends for his errors is a vital part of recovery. And if he cared as much about morality as he pretends to later (when he slut-shames Bella out of concern for her immortal soul), then he would know that most religions in the world have more in common than Thou Shalt Not Kill: they also pretty universally call on the powerful to help the helpless.