Twilight: Watching Her Leave

[Twilight Content Note: Murder, Abusive Relationships, Winning At Patriarchy.]

Twilight Summary: In Chapter 19, Bella flees town.

Twilight, Chapter 19: Goodbyes

I'm not going to lie; I've been dreading this chapter for the last couple of weeks. Every time I sit down to try to write about it, all these conflicting feelings come up, and I'm going to try to work through those here.

When I started this series, I wanted to deconstruct Twilight as an admitted non-fan who didn't like or agree with the books but didn't "hate" them. I'd seen plenty of "omg how awful is this" stuff online, and as much as I found a lot of it very funny and amusing to read, I didn't want to necessarily go in that direction. I wanted to sit down and talk about things that worried me in these books, ideologically-speaking, and what I thought it said about our larger society that these tropes weren't simply acceptable in a mainstream novel but arguably necessary for a novel to become as wildly successful as Twilight did.

For example: Edward Cullen is an abusive boyfriend by any objective metric I know to apply to him. But his popularity as a cultural icon in spite of (or because of) that fact doesn't lead me to believe that all girls want abusive boyfriends. It does, however, lead me to some very unpleasant observations about how we as a culture view female gaze and desire, female sexuality, acceptable male-on-female forms of attention, and so forth. In short, I wanted to Do Feminism, but using Twilight as a sounding board (or, as I privately prefer for reasons of amusement, a flannelgraph) to demonstrate that these things are real things that actually exists all around us.

Chapter 19 is where the feminism relationship stuff gets a little fiddly because now, finally, after chapters and chapters and chapters of relationshipping, there is real plot and action occurring. And it's not... well, I don't want to say it's "good" because it's not good--you have to ignore or forget huge swaths of established character and plot in order for this chapter to make much sense. And that's on top of the fact that the entire "problem" being solved here is a problem that the Cullens made themselves by being as determinedly dense as they possibly could be.

But if you ignore the 18 chapters that have come before, this chapter is at least competently written. I fully believe this is the chapter that they pitched to the publishers, back when this was first making the rounds. And all that makes it a little harder to gnaw on this chapter in a feministy way because (a) there's less relationship stuff to feminist at and (b) I want to again underscore that if you like this sort of thing, it's totally okay. I, for example, like shitty novelizations of shitty movies that are themselves adaptations of shitty video games. I do not, and never will, want this series to ever turn into hating on people (primarily women) for liking a novel with a female protagonist written by a woman author just because sneer-sneer-snerk it's not a (¯`·.¸¸.·´¯`·.¸¸.-> masterpiece <-.¸¸.·´¯`·.¸¸.·´¯) of high literature like that stuff the men write. None of that.

So for various reasons involving the flow of this chapter and the placement of the feministy bits, instead of going through line-by-line like I usually do, I'm gonna try to summarize the chapter instead and then slice it up by topics. So, Chapter 19 summary: Bella goes home, informs Charlie that she's leaving Forks 4evah!!, and heads back to the Cullens' house to change clothes and play misdirection with James the Trackerjacker.

    CHARLIE WAS WAITING UP FOR ME. ALL THE HOUSE lights were on. My mind was blank as I tried to think of a way to make him let me go. This wasn’t going to be pleasant.
    [...] Emmett reached over to help me get out of the harness. “Don’t worry, Bella,” he said in a low but cheerful voice, “we’ll take care of things here quickly.”
    I felt moisture filling up my eyes as I looked at Emmett. I barely knew him, and yet, somehow, not knowing when I would see him again after tonight was anguishing. I knew this was just a faint taste of the goodbyes I would have to survive in the next hour, and the thought made the tears begin to spill.

So. Okay. Sigh. First hurdle here.

On the one hand, and really trying very hard to be fair: I get this. This thing? Is a thing that I do. I attach very quickly to people sometimes, and have been known to get misty-eyed over a co-worker leaving for a new job all of a week after I first met them. I additionally don't handle abrupt change very well, so I can fully understand feeling overwhelmed at the flood of emotions that accompany "I'll never see this again, I'll never do that again, I'll never speak to him again" when dealing with a hurried escape plan like this. And I also recognize that dealing with the sorrow over never seeing Designated Complete Stranger #3 is more manageable than dealing with the much deeper and more complex sorrow of never seeing a beloved parent again.

But. However. Bella is misting up over never seeing Emmett again. Not her father. Not Jessica. Not her mother. Not a single friend or loved one that she's known in her pre-Forks life or since then. Not even Jacob. She's missing a guy she barely knows who has exchanged maybe a dozen words with her and whose most notable interaction with her has been forcing her hands away from trying to escape her own harness. So obviously that's got all kinds of oof written all over that. And even that is side-stepping the logistical problem that Bella's "I'll never see him again wah" concerns are... completely wrong? The whole plan in Chapter 18--and apparently this is not the plan anymore and no one bothered to bring us up to speed so whatever it's not like the reader needed to know--was that:

1. Bella will flee Forks on her own so that James doesn't kill her family and Charlie doesn't suspect the Cullens.
2. Bella will hang out in Arizona with Alice and Jasper while Edward plays misdirection with James.
3. Edward will come to Arizona to collect Bella and they'll go on the lam for the rest of her life and/or until James is killed.

This plan probably means that she will never see her human friends and family again since, even if James is killed, it might be tricky to satisfactorily explain an absence of, say, a decade or two. But I see no reason to jump to the conclusion that Bella will never see Emmett again. Even if James isn't killed, the Cullens may well manage to give him the slip and go join Edward and Bella somewhere--I find it difficult to believe that James could track the Cullens after 40 back-to-back plane trips, and they certainly have the money and time on their hands to arrange such a thing. And I see zero reason to believe that James even has money. He's wandering around the forest in ripped jeans, so I'm dubious about him having laid the necessary foundation to suddenly mainstream for a global game of cat-and-mouse. Is there any reason, realistically, that the Cullens can't just buy another island and call it a century rest-break?

So all this boils down to Bella looking at the strange man who just assaulted her for her own good (yeech) and missing him because she might not see him for a few days. While simultaneously having no such anxieties about leaving the admittedly imperfect father (who she does however seem to genuinely love) for the rest of both their lives. I'm not a big fan of the juxtaposition of all those feels.

    CHARLIE WAS WAITING UP FOR ME. ALL THE HOUSE lights were on. My mind was blank as I tried to think of a way to make him let me go. This wasn’t going to be pleasant.
   [...] “I can do this.” I sniffled. My tears had given me an inspiration.
   I stopped on the porch and took hold of his face in my hands. I looked fiercely into his eyes.
   “I love you,” I said in a low, intense voice. “I will always love you, no matter what happens now.”
   “Nothing is going to happen to you, Bella,” he said just as fiercely.
   “Just follow the plan, okay? Keep Charlie safe for me. He’s not going to like me very much after this, and I want to have the chance to apologize later.”
   “Get inside, Bella. We have to hurry.” His voice was urgent.
   “One more thing,” I whispered passionately. “Don’t listen to another word I say tonight!” He was leaning in, and so all I had to do was stretch up on my toes to kiss his surprised, frozen lips with as much force as I was capable of. Then I turned and kicked the door open.
    “Go away, Edward!” I yelled at him, running inside and slamming the door shut in his still-shocked face.
    “Bella?” Charlie had been hovering in the living room, and he was already on his feet.

What? No. NO.

Why would Bella have "the chance to apologize later"? Why would she even think that might be an option at this point? The entire plan is for her to go on the run for the rest of her life. The best case scenario is that James gets killed at some point before she does, but there's no reason to expect that to be soon. And as long as James is alive, she can't maintain contact with her family--she must cut them off entirely, just in case James uses them as bait to flush her out. (Sure, he might not do that, he might think it would cut into the challenge, but she'd be betting their lives on that guess.)

We've basically changed the entire plan from "what made sense [to Bella and the Cullens if not to the reader]" to "what will actually happen in the book even though the characters have no way to anticipate that" and expected the reader to just keep up. That's terribly unfair to us. But having now accepted that, I have very grave doubts about this "I'm breaking up with Edward" plan. If the goal is to fool Charlie into thinking that Bella's disappearance off the grid is unconnected with the Cullens, then having her go missing immediately after a messy breakup with her boyfriend is not the best way to do that. It's... it's like the Twilight-verse has no concept of intimate partner violence; the only men who hurt women are the low-class hooligans in Port Angeles. I can't even with that.

Beyond the issues with that, we have just waved a huge red flag at James saying Shenanigans Are Happening! because I'm pretty sure he's not going to be fooled by this breakup cover story. Now maybe that's entirely immaterial and he doesn't need to be fooled, but I feel like we at least should have tried. So while it might be emotionally satisfying to have a huge emotional "omg I have to breakup with him while I love him so much and he's helping me pack" scene, I'm dubious when it seems to hurt both the reasons for this plan (fool James, fool Charlie) while actively referencing resolution options that should not be available right now (apologize to Charlie later).

   “Bella?” Charlie had been hovering in the living room, and he was already on his feet.
   “Leave me alone!” I screamed at him through my tears, which were flowing relentlessly now.
   [...] Charlie was pounding on my door.
   “Bella, are you okay? What’s going on?” His voice was frightened.
   “I’m going home,” I shouted, my voice breaking in the perfect spot.
   “Did he hurt you?” His tone edged toward anger.
   “No!” I shrieked a few octaves higher.
   [...] “Did he break up with you?” Charlie was perplexed.
   “No!” I yelled, slightly more breathless as I shoved everything into the bag.
   [...] He caught my elbow in the kitchen. Though he was still bewildered, his grip was firm.He spun me around to look at him, and I could see in his face that he had no intention of letting me leave.
   [...] “I do like him — that’s the problem. I can’t do this anymore! I can’t put down any more roots here! I don’t want to end up trapped in this stupid, boring town like Mom! I’m not going to make the same dumb mistake she did. I hate it — I can’t stay here another minute!”
   His hand dropped from my arm like I’d electrocuted him. I turned away from his shocked, wounded face and headed for the door.
   “Bells, you can’t leave now. It’s nighttime,” he whispered behind me.
   I didn’t turn around. “I’ll sleep in the truck if I get tired.”
   “Just wait another week,” he pled, still shell-shocked.
   [...] “Just let me go, Charlie.” I repeated my mother’s last words as she’d walked out this same door so many years ago. I said them as angrily as I could manage, and I threw the door open. “It didn’t work out, okay? I really, really hate Forks!”
   My cruel words did their job — Charlie stayed frozen on the doorstep, stunned, while I ran into the night.

Okay. Phew. I don't know precisely where to start with this.

Ya'll know that I'm not a huge Charlie fan. He's pushy with Bella and polices her sexuality in really inappropriate and worrisome ways. He sabotages her truck at night to make sure she doesn't drive off to kiss boys. He checks her room for errant boys while she sleeps. He pressures her to attend dances with Mike and then pressures her to not hang out with Edward and sometimes he loses his temper and yells because he thinks Edward is Emmett and dating a fellow junior in high school is one thing but dating a senior is just beyond the pale. Charlie, in short, hits all my Patriarchal Father buttons and I don't care for him in that role because I think it is a truly toxic role.

But whether you like Charlie or not, and however you read him in this chapter, he is clearly very interested in Bella's relationships. He stayed up for her to come home (though I didn't get the impression that the hour was very late yet), and he was on his feet in a minute and after her up the stairs to pound (yeech) on her door. He reacted with responses and emotions that may not have been entirely helpful (ymmv), but which at least indicate some level of reasonable concern for Bella and why she might be upset and crying. He got handsy with her in ways that I don't much care for, but which could be chalked up to a genuinely bewildered and concerned parent not being given a lot of options in a difficult moment. And he talked a degree of basic sense and tried to convince--rather than threaten or order--his daughter to make another choice.

And then he stood there and did nothing while she drove away.

I'm not going to argue whether or not he should have let her do so, because I don't think this is something that can have a hard or fast rule. There are times when you let someone drive away even when you think it's a terrible idea, even when they're distraught and crying and possibly a danger to themselves or others, not because you think this is a crackerjack idea, but because the situation (for whatever reason) demands that you don't interfere. And there are times when you do interfere. So I'm not really going to argue that one way or the other.

What I am going to point out is that this is entirely out of character for Charlie. Charlie has, for better or worse, spent the entire novel trying to leverage his privilege over Bella--his privilege as her father, his privilege as the owner of the house she lives in, his social privilege, etc--trying to get her to live her life according to his standards and desires. He has done this even knowing that they don't have the kind of relationship where this interference is welcomed or appropriate, that their blood-bond doesn't mean he's magically someone who understands his daughter well or is someone she trusts or confides in. Full speed ahead, damn the torpedoes has been Charlie's approach to interfering in Bella's life and choices.

Now he's suddenly standing by and watching her drive off into the night in a manner that almost certainly carries some threat of danger to herself. She's planning to drive from Forks, Washington to Arizona, while crying, in the middle of the night, and to sleep on the way there. I mean, does she even have the gas money for this? Because I remember gas money was a concern when considering whether to drive to Seattle. Does it take less gas to travel a route which I'm told by Google Maps takes 24 hours and covers 1,600 miles?

And the thing is, Charlie isn't just some small town dad who has patriarchal views about raising his only daughter. He is a small town dad etc. who is also the town chief of police. He can have an APB or a BOLO or whatever (haha, yes, I can watch Law and Order with the best of them!) on Bella's truck within minutes. If I understand the established backstory correctly, his cruiser comes home with him--it is presumably parked in the driveway right next to Bella's truck. Chief of Police Charlie Swan has a speed limit of whatever he wants, and he has friends to back him up in that.

I'm not suggesting Charlie should hop in his cruiser and race Bella down while yelling for backup. I'm saying that the fact that he doesn't do something like this doesn't fit with anything we've seen of his character so far. Men who sabotage their daughter's truck batteries don't usually come over all hands-off when she actually is driving somewhere you don't want her to go. And this is... kind of frustrating to me because while I don't actually want more patriarchal violence in the novels I read, it tends to defang the patriarchal violence that came before its notable absence.

We're back to the problem that Edward Cullen is an abusive boyfriend and Charlie Swan is an abusive father, but they are abusive in "little" ways that earn a pass while shying away at the last moment from being abusive in more obvious "bigger" ways that wouldn't key as acceptable to the surrounding society. And while some abusers do fit that pattern, that doesn't make the abuse any less real to the victim. Persistent emotional abuse in a toxic relationship isn't somehow better or healthier just because the abuser didn't do X, where X is something we "all agree" (except society never does, not really) is crossing a line.

And I think we'll draw a line there and pick up more of Chapter 19 next time.


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