Twilight: My Touchstone

by chris the cynic, a writer, a classicist and mathematician studying at the University of Southern Maine, author of Stealing Commas.

There is a saying about missing the forest for the trees, the point being that you can get so caught up in the minutia that you miss the bigger picture. It somewhat bothers me that people don't talk about missing the trees for the forest because an attempt to focus exclusively on the bigger picture tends to make you miss a lot.

The person who looks at the forest will see a grove of giant deciduous trees, someone who looks at the trees will tap the first person on the shoulder and say, "You do realize that Dutch elm disease is endemic here and unless we do something this grove is not going to stay on this earth much longer," well before the person looking at the forest notices something is wrong.

Deconstructions are things where we look at the trees. We take it a little at a time and see what others would have breezed by. In so doing we collect points of data that can be put together into a beautiful line that will allow us to understand the whole better than someone who didn't stop to look at the trees.

The down side is that it's slow. When Edward completely contradicts what he said ten pages ago we might not remember, it was how many weeks ago? And so we do run the risk of failing to see how things fit together, of missing the forest while we examine the trees and wonder how the forest can be unchanging when there's a freshly fallen tree right fracking there. (And if you have any idea what I'm talking about, good memory. That was over a year ago.)

The point here is that the entire dichotomy between forest and trees is one that doesn't work well. You need both. You need to be able to see the specific while still remembering the context.

There are multiple ways to do this. In classics, where reading in the original language (Latin or ancient Greek) often forces people into a deconstruction-like pace, a solution often employed is to have a translation in your native tongue on hand so that you can use it to get context before diving into the specifics again. The equivalent thing here would be to reread a large chunk of Twilight before reading the latest installment in the deconstruction series. That's probably not going to happen.

Another thing to do is to have a touchstone. Something you can go back to to remind you what the bigger picture is. And this has all been a roundabout way to introduce the fact that I'm about to take you back to the parking lot scene.

For context this is just after Edward talks Bella into pretending to be sick when she's not in order to skip gym. How much is she not sick? This much:

I was still fine. [...] I walked out into the cold fine mist that had just begun to fall. It felt nice -- the first time I enjoyed the constant moisture falling out of the sky

She is very specifically fine, but she's actually better than fine. She's feeling so good that she's taking joy in things she's spent the entire book, in fact her entire life, hating. She is up, and anyone with a passing familiarity with Bella Swan knows that this is extremely unusual for her. The next chapter is the one where the sun pokes out and she'll get a shot of joy out of that, meaning that this is the absolute best we've seen her in the book so far.

By Bella standards she's stellar.

Keep that in mind.

We were near the parking lot now. I veered left, toward my truck. Something caught my jacket, yanking me back.

On a personal note this is an important passage for me because if she'd veered right the Tardis Truck might never have come into being. But on a touchstone-to-remind-you-what-Twilight-is-about level what's important here is "yanking me back." Bella doesn't even know that Edward has a hold of her yet and he's already yanking. Not a less loaded word like pulling, instead a word that denotes a fast, violent motion. And he's not just yanking her to a standstill, he's pulling on her hard enough to pull her back.

Why is he doing this? We don't know. Seriously, this is what we get by way of explanation:

   "Where do you think you're going?" he asked, outraged. He was gripping a fistful of my jacket in one hand.
    I was confused. "I'm going home."
   "Didn't you hear me promise to take you safely home? Do you think I'm going to let you drive in your condition?" His voice was still indignant.
    "What condition?"

I've cut Bella off in the middle of a quote because there's a need for emphasis, also the rest of it is just logistics of getting her truck home. Anyway, emphasis. "What condition?" indeed. Bella is currently the best we've ever seen her. She's fine, she was happy until someone grabbed hold of her and started yanking on her with enough force to reverse her direction. But more than that Edward knows she's fine. Edward is the one who faked her condition in the first place. It was his idea to have her pretend to be sick when she wasn't in order to get out of gym class and he did most of the work.

He absolutely positively knows that she has no condition and she is fully capable of driving herself safely home. Whatever his reason for overpowering her and forcing her into his car, it isn't what he said it is. He's lying to her.

He's lying to her, he's violating her space and her person (and her jacket), he's handling her dangerously roughly, and yet he's the one who is outraged and indignant. Bella, for her part, is merely "complaining". You'll have to take my word for that because I'm not going to quote every single word and that's in the middle of the truck logistics.

Also note the use of "fistful" instead of "handful." This is written in such a way to make sure there is no mistaking that what we're being told about is violent action.

So what does he do after grabbing the fistful, yanking her and lying to her?

He was towing me toward his car now, pulling me by my jacket. It was all I could do to keep from falling backward. He'd probably just drag me along anyway if I did.

Once again, note the word choice. Towing. He's not guiding or bringing or anything that could possibly have positive connotations. He's doing something that indicates he is in total control and Bella has none. Towing is something you do to wagons, boats to be tugged, broken down cars, and people whose consent and self determination you don't give a damn about.

Dragging is a step down from that because it still leaves Edward with all the control and Bella with none but it is uncomfortable and likely damaging. This scene takes place in the parking lot and on the sidewalk. Neither is something you really want abrading your skin, even if it is through clothing as it probably would be in Bella's case. Edward will later confirm that he is perfectly willing to drag Bella.

And there's still more to unpack from those three sentences. I skipped the middle one. Bella is still traveling backward. She can't see her destination, can't see where she's putting her feet. She hasn't just lost complete control over her own body, she's lost any illusion of control. If he had grabbed her by the arm and pulled her forward she could at least tell herself that she was willingly going along with him because the position wouldn't be that different than if she were. It's a largely meaningless lie, but when you've got nothing, as Bella does in this situation, you take what you can get.

But she can't even get that. She hasn't just been stripped of anything resembling bodily autonomy, she's been stripped of any way to maintain the illusion she still has some control. Instead all she has left to do is to make sure things don't get worse. If Bella the perpetually clumsy can keep her feet under her as she is forced backward toward Edward's car she can at least save herself the pain, injury, and indignity of being dragged across the ground. That's all she has control over. Whether or not she falls over backward. Everything else has been stripped away.

"Let go!" I insisted. He ignored me.

In case there was any doubt, Bella emphatically does not consent to this treatment and Edward emphatically doesn't give a damn.

Bella does manage to improve her situation somewhat. Instead of going backwards the whole way she manages to "stagger along sideways" which tells us a couple of things. One is that even though she tries to turn to face her destination Edward doesn't let her. There's no reason he couldn't. With his vampire speed (faster than a falling van) he could release her and grab on to a different part of her jacket before she had time to respond to being released. Even without his vampire speed he could have adjusted his position and mode of forcing Bella toward his car. A fistful of jacket can be used to push as well as pull.

He chooses not to do these things. Even as Bella is trying to spin to face her destination he's making it impossible.

The second thing it tells us is that Edward is pulling Bella faster than she can safely go. She isn't walking along sideways, she's staggering. This is decidedly not a safe thing to be doing for an extended period and it's not comfortable. Edward is demonstrating beyond a shadow of a doubt that he doesn't care about Bella's safety or comfort.

Then he finally freed me -- I stumbled against the passenger door.

The exact details of how he freed her are not given. He couldn't have simply let her go, then her momentum would carry her into him, not the car. The implication is that he turned pull to push at the last moment so that she would end up at the passenger door without him needing to preform the physically impossible feat of walking through the car while dragging.

Regardless, she's not stable. First it was all she could do to stop from falling backwards, then she staggered sideways, now she's stumbling. She's being forced beyond her limits by Edward in ways that are clearly unsafe. His powers, it should be noted, are useless here. Alice might be able to tell that forcing Bella beyond her limits won't result in her getting hurt, but mind reading, even if Bella didn't have a mental shield, isn't up to the task.

His admission, in the form of a threat, that he has no problem dragging her is coming up. That tells us all we need to know about how much he cares about Bella's safety (not in the least) but the truth is we don't need to skip ahead to get that. The only thing that could possibly make Bella safe in this ordeal is if he was going to use his vampire reflexes to steady her if she appeared to be about to fall. She stumbled against the passenger door. Edward can't see the future, Edward can't sense her feelings, Edward can't read her mind. He doesn't know if that stumble will end in a fall or not. He doesn't know whether she's relieved she caught herself or in total panic because she's about to fall.

If Edward were planning on doing anything to keep Bella from falling he would do it now. This is where he would steady her, or catch her, or something her. He doesn't do anything until she speaks, which is to ignore her statement and tell her the door is unlocked. If he were concerned about her safety he wouldn't, he couldn't, wait that long to act. As she stumbled against the door there was a point where it would be unclear whether she'd stand or fall. Edward did nothing in this time.

I can't quote a line in the text because there's no line there. It goes straight from, "I stumbled against the passenger door," to Bella speaking which given her words ("You are so pushy") she wouldn't have done until she was sure she was stable. So the entire time from letting her go, through her stumbling, until she was steady enough to start talking about things other than, "Oh, crap! I'm falling!" Edward did nothing at all.

I cannot emphasize this enough: He does not care about Bella's safety.

   "Get in, Bella."
   I didn't answer. I was mentally calculating my chances of reaching the truck before he could catch me. I had to admit, they weren't good.
  "I'll just drag you back," he threatened. Guessing my plan.

Some people consider the way that Edward acted sexy, Bella Swan is not one of those people. She wants to get away. She's trying to work out if she can. If she breaks into a sprint can she make it to safety before Edward runs her down. Magic 8 Ball says, "My sources say no." She's plotting her escape, she realizes she doesn't stand much of a chance.

She isn't turned on, she's afraid. She wants to run away but is worried that he'll catch her if she does.

And she's right to be afraid.

Edward says he will drag her back. Drag. The thing she'd been worried about when being towed. Dragged across the asphalt of the parking lot from her truck to his Volvo. He's already done violence to her, but violence that didn't cause physical harm. Now he's threatening more violence and the kind he's threatening will hurt her. She will be injured. Almost certainly not huge injuries, but being dragged across a parking lot, especially at the pace Edward seems to prefer, will damage a person. That's the threat. "I've already mistreated you, get in the car or I'll injure you."

This is not part of an established relationship, it must be remembered. They don't have one of those until Port Angles at the earliest. That's three chapters away. An argument can be made for it not really starting for another five chapters. That's as much book as there has been up to this point.

This is how Edward treats Bella when they're just schoolmates and nothing more. He has no special permission to do things to her, he has no claim that he's somehow exempt from normal standards of how you treat others in her case because that would require some established relationship with ground rules outside of the norm. There's nothing wrong with those but they don't have one.

Edward and Bella are almost strangers. Whenever she's tried to learn about him he's been evasive, he's even tried to gaslight her. Only earlier in this same day did Edward end his campaign of shunning her. It was at lunch that he floated the idea of taking her from her friends never to have her return. It was mere minutes ago that he discussed her death (thinking Mike had killed her) and the murder he'd commit as a result (because he'd "have to avenge [her] murder.")

All that Bella knows about Edward is that he saved her once, he seems to regret doing so, he's quick to talk about kidnapping her and her death, and he's really, really mean to her.

That's the context for the above.

And that, for me, places Twilight in context. That's the foundation on which the relationship is eventually (three or five or more chapters from now depending on where you place its start) built, that's the beginning from which they start. After the incident with the van Edward lied to Bella, tried to gaslight her, and then went dark. This is the day he started talking to her again. This is where they start to interact. And the above is that interaction.

This tells you what you need to know about how Edward treats Bella and how much he cares about her (not a lot.)

If you find yourself so deep in the details that you've forgotten what the story is about, remember this scene. It's told with unusual detail, it's exceptionally vivid, and it shows you what the relationship is like right from the moment it started. Edward has been talking to Bella for less than one full school day at this point.

It's not the best for telling you who Bella is. I'm not sure there's a good "This is Bella" scene to keep in mind because I don't think she has a clear idea on who she is. What it is very good at is reminding you who Edward is and what the relationship between Bella and him is like. The book is about the relationship. This is the bigger picture, encapsulated in one scene.


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