[Twilight Content Note: Murder, Abusive Relationships, Winning At Patriarchy.
Extra Content Note: Relationship Abuse.]
Twilight Summary: In Chapter 15, Bella gets to meet the Cullens.
Twilight, Chapter 15: The Cullens
I think I mentioned some eleventy times that I liked Chapter 14 a lot; for all that it was still problematic, it seemed problematic in realistic, common, not-totally-abusive-unsalvageable ways. Like how Bella wanted Edward to spend the night and NEVER LEAVE because TRUE LOVE and okay, that's probably not the best way to start a first relationship but I've been there and I get it.
Chapter 15, on the other hand, is basically full of Bella being awesome, to which Edward is either an asshole or an angst-bucket, and then Bella backs down from awesome because WE CAN'T HAVE THAT, etc. Also: This is that chapter I kept alluding to when I talked about Charlie sabotaging Bella's car and how Edward is basically a ramped up version of that. Yikes. So let's dive in.
THE MUTED LIGHT OF YET ANOTHER CLOUDY DAY eventually woke me. I lay with my arm across my eyes, groggy and dazed. Something, a dream trying to be remembered, struggled to break into my consciousness. I moaned and rolled on my side, hoping more sleep would come. And then the previous day flooded back into my awareness.
“Oh!” I sat up so fast it made my head spin.
There's a lot of stuff with Bella throwing herself into Edward's arms and his lap and it's kinda sweet (if you like the whole Immortal Vampire Watching You Sleep From A Rocking Chair In The Corner thing, which YOU ARE TOTALLY FREE to not like that or find it sweet, and I'll completely understand) except that Edward's first words to her are an insult dressed up as a compliment (about her hair looking like a haystack but still meeting with his approval) and then he insults her by saying that she couldn't have dreamed up his visit because she's "not that creative".
Which, in addition to being an insult, is also WRONG because she's already dreamed about vampires and werewolves before she knew they were real (based purely on Jacob's "scary stories") -- so either she's creative enough to come up with that on her own or we add future-telling to her innate abilities and MOVE OVER ALICE -- and what's more is that Edward knows she dreams about him because she says his name in her sleep. The fact that, unbeknownst to her, she's right about all this stuff doesn't mean she's not still coming with with it in a creative fashion.
So basically, Edward Cullen likes to insult the love of his life, I guess because all the cool kids do it. (Edward! Don't try to make your romance emulate a TV sitcom! Those are dysfunctional out of a desire to horrify the audience! They're not templates for real life!)
Anyway, then we get the Charlie thing:
“Charlie!” I remembered, thoughtlessly jumping up again and heading to the door. “He left an hour ago — after reattaching your battery cables, I might add. I have to admit I was disappointed. Is that really all it would take to stop you, if you were determined to go?”
So, true story: back when I was younger and innocent-er, I flat-out didn't understand this passage. I clearly remember going to Husband, who knows slightly more about cars than me and oodles more about cold weather than me, and asking him if this was some kind of winter thing. I thought this passage was about Charlie unhooking the cables For Winter Safety (maybe car cables can freeze like water pipes can freeze??) and putting them back on in the morning, and Edward was asking if Bella couldn't get to school if Charlie hadn't done that for her.
But while this theory was vaguely plausible, it didn't seem to fit the tone of Edward's question. And Husband patiently explained that Charlie was unhooking the cables to keep Bella from driving off at night to meet a boy. And that this was supposed to make sense because she'd been acting 'suspicious' the night before. And then I had to pry my jaw off the ground because while I've seen and had-done-to-me the overprotective patriarch thing, this seemed like a whole 'nother level.*
* This wasn't, in retrospect and strictly-speaking, entirely true. When you grow up in a community where no one dares disobey a parent, battery cables aren't unhooked because they don't need to be. That doesn't mean that the community was necessarily any less abusive -- it can, in fact, take a lot of abuse to get certain children to the point where they dare not even try. But I digress.
Bella doesn't answer him, which is probably an indication that she either doesn't know how she would handle a sabotaged car (and therefore doesn't have an answer to give) or would indeed be defeated (and therefore doesn't want to admit the answer). I feel like I know Bella well enough at this point to hazard the guess that she'd stubbornly walk to wherever she was going, despite her can't-walk-without-falling disability, and would need to be rescued ten feet into the forest line.
I deliberated where I stood, wanting to return to him badly, but afraid I might have morning breath.
“You’re not usually this confused in the morning,” he noted. He held his arms open for me to return. A nearly irresistible invitation.
“I need another human minute,” I admitted.
So... this. I have sort of conflicted feelings about all the "human minutes" that keep cropping up in Chapter 14 and 15. On the one hand, Bella does have needs that Edward doesn't have. She needs to eat a certain kind of food that's been prepared (as opposed to fresh from the neck of a bear or whatever) and she needs to brush her teeth and she needs to shower and pee and poop and whatnot. And I think it's valid to explore that in a human/vampire romance: that each party would have needs that the other would have to make space for and accommodate.
On the other hand, there's an undercurrent with a lot of Bella's "human needs" that feels sort of... shameful, or dirty, or unwelcome. She doesn't like having to eat so often, which has a lot of problematic ties to dieting and self-starvation in an attempt to conform to social beauty standards. Her cleaning rituals of showering her hair and brushing her teeth tend to emphasize that she's unclean and not as perfect as Edward -- certainly not as desirable, given that his breath literally smells like roses. (Or whatever it was. I seem to recall roses, but don't care enough to double-check.)
And then, these aren't really "human" needs. Edward must need to shower -- he may not be human, but he exists in reality. His feet must get dirty from walking in the woods, his hair must get mucky from the rain, his skin must get stained with blood when he's bear-hunting. Surely he brushes his teeth, or they'd be stained red from his diet? And we've talked before about how Edward needs to eat, his entire existence is one of hunger, and as such it doesn't make sense for him to forget so often that Bella must be kept fed.
It's almost like Edward, as written, isn't a vampire at all but is instead some kind of ethereal fairy-angel that doesn't quite exist in this reality and can't be touched by grime and grit. Which wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing (because this isn't really about nitpicking on the world-building details), except that it does tie into purity culture insistence that girls are the dirty ones (whose bodies need to be controlled and constrained and cleaned out) and into beauty culture insistence that girls need to be always freshly showered, always freshly made up, and eating as rarely and as little as possible.
That Bella strives to embody that -- and that the girl vampires in the series have already achieved it -- strikes me as worrisome.
Bella visits the bathroom and then comes back:
“Welcome back,” he murmured, taking me into his arms. He rocked me for a while in silence, until I noticed that his clothes were changed, his hair smooth.
“You left?” I accused, touching the collar of his fresh shirt.
“I could hardly leave in the clothes I came in — what would the neighbors think?”
And, I mean, there. Right there! He could have taken time to go home and shower and change while she showered and changed, and that would have been seen as both of them having healthy private time to collect themselves rather than "human time" versus "paused my surveillance of you to grab a new shirt time". Even if they couldn't do their own things at the same time (because of The Neighbors seeing Edward after sun-up), there's no reason why Edward couldn't have pointed out here that he needs time too, and it's not just Being Human that makes Bella need to brush her hair out every so often.
“Breakfast time,” he said eventually, casually — to prove, I’m sure, that he remembered all my human frailties. So I clutched my throat with both hands and stared at him with wide eyes. Shock crossed his face.
“Kidding!” I snickered. “And you said I couldn’t act!”
He frowned in disgust. “That wasn’t funny.”
“It was very funny, and you know it.” But I examined his gold eyes carefully, to make sure that I was forgiven. Apparently, I was.
“Shall I rephrase?” he asked. “Breakfast time for the human.”
He threw me over his stone shoulder, gently, but with a swiftness that left me breathless. I protested as he carried me easily down the stairs, but he ignored me. He sat me right side up on a chair.
This is what I mean by Bella being awesome. This bit seriously cracks me up.
It's interesting to me that a common complaint about the Twilight series is that Bella is bland and lacks a personality. I think that's a really arguable point, and I'd like to start by pointing out that something like this -- joking about your own death in order to shock and embarrass and discomfit your vampire lover who has been treating you like you're a delicate porcelain doll -- is evidence of a distinct personality. But it's not a personality that seems to be sustained over the course of the series.
Even here and now, Bella immediately backs down from Edward in order to "examine" him and make sure that he's not too upset or offended. To a certain extent, there's nothing wrong with this act; caring that you haven't upset someone with your joke is a big difference between jokes and pranks, in my mind. But we've already seen that Bella is worryingly anxious to conform herself (at least in part) to a lot of Edward's preferences, even if it means her own personality is something that has to be discarded along the way.
Literally right after she upsets him, Edward demonstrates his physical power over her by picking her up and holding onto her against her will and over her protests. This isn't even necessary in a "protecting Bella" sense, like Edward hauling her backwards across the parking lot was supposedly 'necessary' in order to keep her from driving-while-dizzy. She's already agreed to eat breakfast. But he still behaves in a way which makes her feel unhappy and helpless.
Maybe he would have done this anyway. Because, you know, he's Edward.
But it's just as likely that he did this because of Bella's joke. And because humans like to look for cause-and-effect patterns, it's likely that she will perceive that he did this because of her joke. And the lesson to take away from all this is that if she doesn't want to be manhandled against her will, she shouldn't make Edward uncomfortable by joking about her death. A joke that was (in my opinion) genuinely cheeky and funny, and a joke which may have been a pressure-valve for her, given all the stuff she has on her emotional plate from dating a guy whose every waking moment (which is to say, ALL THE MOMENTS) is a struggle not to kill her.
I'd need to joke about that. But when Bella does exactly that, she gets handled in a way that she doesn't like and which could realistically be construed as punishment. And she doesn't, to my recollection, make a joke like that again in this book. It's maybe a little detail, but it's something that pops into my mind when I hear about Bella's famously bland personality -- her personality would appear to be bland at-least-in-part-because an abuser entrained her to be so. That's a huge problem, and not least because the thing to complain about in that construct is that "Twilight abusively strips the protagonist's personality from her" and not "Twilight has a boring protagonist". Like, it kind of startles me to realize that the one complaint is vastly more common than the other.
(And, you know, as a cross-deconstruction point: The Hunger Games is a series that abusively strips the protagonist's personality from her. But it's not presented as an ideal situation. It's presented as basically the worst thing you can do to a person. And that's a contextual difference.)
((Also-also, The Host -- which I would like to deconstruct when we finish Twilight someday and which was also written by Stephenie Meyer -- also has a romance which abusively strips the protagonist's personality from her. But I find it vastly more palatable because again (a) it's presented as actual abuse and not as an ideal courtship, and (b) it's presented in a context of complicated science-fiction warfare where power differentials are not what they are in Twilight. So that matters, too.))
Normally I'd stop here, but I want to finish out a piece to get to the right starting point for next time, so:
“What’s for breakfast?” I asked pleasantly. That threw him for a minute.
“Er, I’m not sure. What would you like?” His marble brow puckered.
I grinned, hopping up.
“That’s all right, I fend for myself pretty well. Watch me hunt.”
I found a bowl and a box of cereal. I could feel his eyes on me as I poured the milk and grabbed a spoon. I sat my food on the table, and then paused.
“Can I get you anything?” I asked, not wanting to be rude.
He rolled his eyes. “Just eat, Bella.”
Ambivalent feels: Bella reverting to "pleasant" after being brought down the stairs in a way she didn't like, which could be evidence that it didn't bother her that much, but could also just as easily be supporting evidence for abusive training and a desire to not upset Edward further by dwelling on his bad behavior. Speaking as a survivor of abusive relationships, I am very familiar with this dynamic. And, of course, this could be another example of the narrative insisting that we not view that-which-appears-abusive as actually abusive by bustling around the pages and insisting that NO REALLY everything is fine.
I'm also not sure how I feel about Edward having no idea what to make (or how to make it?) and Bella taking care of it for him (and her). On the one hand, I'm glad she can feed herself. On the other hand, this is more evidence of Men Not Cooking (see also: Charlie Swan) and more evidence that despite Edward's 100-year masquerade (including getting several college degrees and living on his own for multiple stretches of time), he apparently has no idea what humans eat or how to make convincing human food. Which is even more evidence of how thoroughly the Cullens have segregated themselves from humanity (despite claiming to want to be with humans) because it takes a LOT of privileged to be that unaware of the marginalized humans around them.