Twilight: Dancing Through Life

[Content Note: Twilight references to murder and rape; Narnia references to genocide]

[[Title Drop: Reference to song from Wicked. Lyrics here. Note that the song is sung by a privileged fop who then spends the rest of the musical realizing that there actually are important things in life that are Serious Business. This isn't intended as a needle against people who are genuinely fun and carefree, but rather as a commentary on privileged people who wield their privilege as a shield in order to avoid noticing that Caspian I The Wizard of Oz is gathering up all the Talking Animals for a combination genocide and barbeque.]] 

Twilight Summary: In Chapter 14, Edward and Bella spend the night together.

Twilight, Chapter 14: Mind Over Matter

Before we continue chapter 14 today, we need to talk about what some of you wonderful readers brought up in the comments last time, which is that apparently it's canon that Edward can't read Charlie's mind too well and that presumably this is where Bella got her shielding ability from.

I can't decide if this feels like a retcon (i.e., something added in later which just happens to loosely fit with Bella's rhetorical "as if Edward can't read Charlie better than me, lulz" comment in this chapter) or if it was something intended all along with this being some subtle foreshadowing, but either way this detail makes me want to tear my hair out because (a) it makes no damn sense and (b) here is yet another opportunity for Edward to be interesting which was torn out with pruning shears to make room for more abstinence porn.

Let me elucidate. According to the text, the Cullens are desperately trying to blend in with the Forks community as much and for as long as possible. This is why more than half of them are masquerading as high schoolers, because the younger they can pass, the longer they can live in the area. (Because a 17-year-old who doesn't physically change for 20 years is more believable than a 21-year-old who doesn't physically change for 20 years. Science!) That they are terribly bad at their masquerade is supposed to be something they are unaware of; the point is that they are earnestly trying. The biggest moment of angst in the book thus far has been that if Edward screws things up with Bella (either by killing her or by her exposing them), they might have to leave their home for a decade or two. The Cullens want to stay and blend in. Fact.

In order to accomplish this, there have been hints that the Cullens have deliberately cultivated a friendly relationship with Charlie, presumably because he's the face of the law in this sleepy town. Charlie doesn't know the kids by name (later he will think Bella is dating Emmett instead of Edward), but earlier he waxed passionate about how well-behaved the kids are and how people who don't accept the Cullens are backwards assholes and we know that he has almost estranged a long-standing friendship with Billy Black over the fact that Billy dislikes Carlisle so strongly that he refuses to visit his hospital. All of that points to a situation where the Cullens have taken great care to understand and cater to Charlie in order to entrench their social roots in the community. Fact.

The two people who would necessarily be most involved in the wooing of Charlie Swan would be Alice and Edward, by virtue of their future-seeing and mind-reading talents. Now, apparently the hand-wave for why Edward never noticed that he can't read Charlie's mind very easily is that Edward just thought the man was unusually mentally quiet and/or possibly not very bright. That assumption works for casual contact, but it should have been completely exposed as wrong during any concentrated attempt to get to know Charlie and make him comfortable with the Cullens. Because that assumption would have underlined all the Cullens' dealings with Charlie, and it would have swiftly been proven wrong. But let's hand-wave that and say maybe they muddled along somehow by relying more on Alice than on Edward.

Then Bella comes to town. Edward is fascinated by her because she is the first mind he can't read, but then he has to flee town because she also happens to be his personal brand of Axe body spray. He spends a whole week in Alaska, torn from his family and utterly miserable, and trying to work out what makes Bella Swan tick so that he can return home and stay safe around her. At this point in the story, when Edward is puzzling over someone he barely knows, his mind should have turned to the one link in her life that he does know -- her father -- and it should have occurred to him that he has never really been able to read Charlie all that well either. But I'm going to go ahead and give Edward a pass on the week in Alaska, because I'm about to nail him for good on the Van Incident.

@ Brian Clevinger's 8-Bit Theater
Edward uses his supernatural powers to save Bella and then immediately has to seriously fret over whether Bella will not only tell someone, but might tell the person in town best suited to ask questions and generally raise a fuss, i.e., Sheriff Charlie McSwanyhead. And even though Bella has promised not to tell anyone, Edward can't read her mind to verify if that's true; instead he has to ransack the minds of everyone she knows at school to see if it's true. And then he starts spending every night standing in her bedroom watching her sleep. At some point in all this, he was standing in her room, listening with one ear for movement from downstairs in case Charlie were to come in and check on Bella, while thinking that he really ought to check Charlie's brain to see if Bella confided in him about the van incident, and at NO POINT in this did Edward notice that, huh, he can't read Charlie's mind very well and isn't that a strange coincidence and you don't think that's related do you...?

Here you are possibly saying to yourself, "But, Ana, the text doesn't say Edward doesn't put all this together, so why are you assuming that he doesn't?" But that's the thing: If Edward does put all this together, then he's both a terrible person AND unutterably boring. Because, (a) Bella has already confided how she feels like a weirdo and a freak for being the one person whose mind Edward can't read, so now would be a good time to mention that, hey, it turns out that he can't read everyone's minds equally well, and in fact he can't read Charlie very well at all, and he always just assumed that Charlie wasn't thinking much, but now he knows better, but the larger point is that there could be hundreds or thousands of people like Bella and Edward just didn't notice because he assumed they weren't thinking anything. And therefore she's not a weirdo freak, which is something that (supposedly) Bella worries about an awful lot.

(I say "supposedly" because a lot of this comes off as disingenuous. "Oh, I'm such a weirdo to be perfect for Edward in every possible way!" *swoon* But wev, the point is that she's stated being worried about X and Edward could alleviate that worry and doesn't.)

And (b), if Edward does have an epiphany in between all this angsting and just doesn't tell Bella, then he's insufferably boring because here was an option for serious character development. Edward has been VERY VERY WRONG about his powers for 100 years. He thought he could read everyone, and read them accurately; he was shocked when Bella waltzed in with her impenetrable mind-shield. And this is the power that Edward has been using for good in order to keep his family safe and for evil in order to hunt human prey when the mood takes him. He should have all kinds of conflicted feelings about the revelation that he's been wrong about his powers for as long as he's had them.

If Bella + Unknown Quantity of Others are varying stages of inaccessible to Edward, what has he missed that might make the Cullens unsafe? Worse, if Bella + Unknown Quantity of Others are varying stages of inaccessible, is it possible that there are others which are varying stages of garbled-in-translation? What if some of those would-be rapists that Edward murdered in order to nom on were actually not intending to rape at all? (Insert the Minority Report problem.) Edward can't have it both ways: he can't moon about his soul and how turning Bella into a vampire might make her an evil tainted murderer like he is and woe betide alas, and then be all meh, whatcanyoudo when confronted with evidence that he might be an even worse murderer than previously imagined. And yet he's trying to do just that.

And, in a more meta-sense, the book itself is trying to have its cake and eat it too. Bella is the most super-special-unique-snowflake of them all: she's the one mind untouched by Edward, the one scent who torments him so specially, and owns the one ovary which Jacob is destined to imprint upon, but *cough* also-her-dad-is-a-mind-shield-too-just-not-as-good-and-no-one-ever-noticed *cough*. And if anyone bothers to notice this off-text, it's not going to affect their actions in any realistic way. Edward isn't going to become more introspective about his murders, nor is he going to reassure Bella that she's not unique-in-a-way-she-doesn't-wish-to-be after all. And the Cullens aren't going to suffer a crisis of confidence at the revelation that 50% of their masquerade defenses (i.e., Edward's mind-reading abilities) have suddenly been proven to be unreliable in difficult to diagnose ways. (Can Edward tell the difference between a semi-shielded Charlie Swan versus a hypothetical and genuinely thoughtless Barlie Zwan?)

For all that the Cullens and Edward supposedly care about blending in and being moral and following (rather than establishing) a strict moral and social code, the longer we live with Twilight the more it becomes clear that they're the worst kind of privileged hypocrites, living unexamined lives because examination would make it harder for them to claim that they're following a code that they very clearly aren't. And beyond the fact that this is Bad Writing, I think it also has problematic parallels to religious and social hypocrisy in our own society.


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