Monday, November 29, 2010

Book 1, Chapter 4:

          Chapter four begins with Bella describing a dream from which she has awoken, in which Edward (who will soon become a repeat leading man in her dreams) is walking away from her in the dark, and no matter how loudly she calls to him, he does not react, neither can she catch up with him no matter how fast she runs. This sets up a thematic neurosis for Bella, whose hyper-vigilant focus on and attachment to Edward intensifies, and she begins fearing his abandonment nearly constantly. After indicating this upon waking from her dream, Bella goes on to describe the atmosphere at school following her close call with the van.
          Logically, Bella becomes a focal point of concern and gossip. Uncomfortable in the spotlight, Bella attempts to redirect her peers’ attention to Edward, her self-described “hero,” but this effort is futile. All of Forks High School remains attuned to Bella, now more than ever, as they have been since her arrival only a month or so ago. Bella decides that not only is this attention embarrassing, but the other students’ lack of interest in Edward’s participation in the van incident is somehow indicative of a character flaw on Bella’s part: That she’s too attentive to him, that “nobody watched him the way she did.” She chides herself as “pitiful” for this fixation on Edward, and then melodramatically and sluggishly pieces together elements of plot action via self-deprecating prattle surrounding the internal discord she experiences as she attempts to re-normalize her daily interactions with her peers, while unfalteringly vying for Edward’s attention.
          Edward is immediately cold to Bella, sitting as far away as possible from her in their assigned seats in biology class, refusing eye contact or verbal recompense of any kind as Bella silently spirals into panic. Her school days begin to parallel her nightly dreams of Edward, with him always proximally present, but just out of Bella’s reach. This fusion of reality and para-reality cause Bella to become entirely socially non-functional. She refuses to engage in widely accepted “normal” rites of passage (such as committing to an upcoming dance), and she avoids social contact with her friends. Bella goes so far as to advise Jessica to ask Mike to the aforementioned dance in an effort to keep him from asking Bella, which would put her in the difficult position of hurting someone’s feelings by saying “no,” playing the martyr and being miserable and saying “yes,” or moreover, hurting Jessica, who is romantically interested in Mike, while simultaneously forcing Bella out of her Edward-fueled neurosis (this appears to be the propelling force in Bella’s encouragement of Jessica to invite Mike to the dance herself). Bella quickly becomes alarmed as she notices strangeness between Jessica and Mike, and Bella begins to worry that Mike had refused Jessica’s invitation.
          During biology class, Mike reveals to Bella that, of course, he had told Jessica he “had to think about it,” leaving her hanging and probably as neurotic about him as Bella is about Edward, and wanting to make sure Bella hadn’t planned on inviting him herself. Bella assures Mike that she will not be going to the dance at all, that she plans to go out of town that weekend, and that he should accept Jessica’s invitation. He grudgingly agrees, and slumps off to delight Jessica with his sudden willingness to tolerate spending the dance with his runner-up.
          Meanwhile, Edward is apparently eavesdropping on the conversation from across the room, but manages to spit out a correct answer when called upon by the teacher, despite his inattentiveness. He then looks at Bella and this time, does not drop his gaze. Bella is frazzled and unable to tolerate his stare, and she shields her face with her hair as she silently calls herself “pathetic” yet another half-dozen times. After class, Edward approaches Bella and apologizes for being rude, but insists that it’s “the best thing” for both of them. His cryptic pseudo-apology somehow leads Bella to believe that he is regretful for saving her life, and they become angry with one another and engage in a brief verbal spat, typical of what is to be expected during a high school passing period. Bella ends up tripping and dropping her books, and although she and Edward are still clearly angry with one another, he comes to her rescue once more by retrieving, organizing, and handing Bella her scattered schoolbooks. Bella then goes to gym, consumed with anger and a myriad of angst-driven inner monologue, and fails miserably at all sports attempted. Caught off-guard during class, she is asked to the upcoming dance by yet another of her male friends, Eric. She politely declines, offering him the same out-of-town excuse she gave Mike. Eric is devastated, but Bella remains consumed by thoughts of Edward, who passes by, snickering to himself, as Bella rejects Eric’s invitation.
          As Bella prepares to leave school that afternoon, she finds herself furious with Edward. She sees him in his car, pulling out from his parking space near hers, and is tempted to ram her truck into the rear of his car as he pulls in front of her (thankfully, despite all that angst and egocentrism, Bella retains a degree of rationality). Toward the end of the chapter, Bella is startled by a knock at her truck’s passenger window. Lo and behold, it’s Tyler, the boy who nearly killed her during the icy parking lot van incident, and he has come to invite Bella to the dance as well (it is interesting that so many boys are inviting Bella to a dance that is classified as a “ladies’ choice” event); rather, they are asking Bella to invite them, nullifying the entire concept of a ladies’ choice event. Bella becomes irritated, but remains polite, even as Tyler arrogantly announces, “Oh well, there’s always prom,” and returning to his vehicle. Bella notices Edward watching her in his rearview mirror, appearing to be laughing at her, and she is once more tempted to total his car with hers, and choosing once more to remain civilized and refrain from committing a felony. Bella spends her night cooking dinner for her father and obsessing (fuming) over Edward. She endures one more intrusive question about the school dance when her father asks if she is attending. She reminds him of how uncoordinated and incapable of dancing she is, and he mutters a one-word response and leaves her to her thoughts.
          The next morning at school, Bella stumbles out of her truck and into the parking lot, dropping her car keys into a puddle. Edward appears out of nowhere, and when Bella questions him about his preternaturally sudden appearances and physical movements, he dismisses her assessment and blames her “exaggerated” perceptions of his abilities on her being “exceptionally unobservant.” Despite the fact that Edward is being offensive, Bella loses herself in his eyes, and requires a moment to compose herself before confronting him about his attitude the previous day. Bella becomes furious when Edward tells her he had deliberately dawdled in the parking lot in order to allow Tyler the opportunity to ask her to the dance. Again, Edward and Bella have a spat, and Bella walks away. Edward catches up to her, apologizes, and asks her if she would like a ride to Seattle on the day of the dance, since she had been telling the multitudes of boys from whom she had refused invitations to the dance that she was going to Seattle. Bella describes the manner in which Edward speaks to her as, “if he were talking to someone mentally handicapped,” when she takes a moment to process his question. Edward declares that he doubts her truck can make it to Seattle, at least on one tank of gas the way his pricey Volvo can, and masks his attempt to get her to ride with him behind an obnoxious faux-concern for “the wasting of finite [environmental] resources.” Bella becomes internally ecstatic as she nods in acceptance to Edward’s invitation. Yet, before he turns to leave for class, Edward calls to a dumb-struck Bella, “You really should stay away from me.” This is describes as being stated in a warning tone, and follows a series of roundabout, non-committal dialogue about whether Edward had said he wanted to be friends or didn’t, or whether it was a good idea or bad idea or whatnot. Having secured Bella’s company for the weekend and also having warned her that it was best to stay away from him, Edward turned wordlessly and walked to class, leaving Bella alone in the rain.

Reaction: Aside from the overtly antifeminist recurrence of Bella's disempowerment as boys repeatedly approach her in an effort to win her as their date for a "ladies' choice" dance, a more ominous developing issue lies in Edward, who is becoming increasingly frightening in his treatment of Bella. Edward has firmly established himself as a manipulator by this point in the novel, with his role clearly established as Bella's personal emotional roller coaster (and it’s only chapter four). Throughout the chapter, most scenes are internal reflections from Bella’s perspective, circulating around Edward’s odd behavior, his consistent and deliberate “just-out-of-reach” proximity to Bella, and his socially inappropriate destruction of boundaries surrounding Bella’s interactions with the boys who had asked her to the dance. Edward is within earshot (that’s all the reader understands about Edward’s ability to “hear,” at this point, anyway) of every conversation Bella has, particularly with male peers, and without fail, offers a condescending, cruel, or mocking response after each outcome. He clearly understands his effect on Bella, appearing to relish the frustration she displays when he interferes with social life and/or daily interactions in general. He knows it upsets her when he avoids her in class; at the end of the chapter, he acknowledges that calling her “absurd” was rude of him; surely, he understands that alternating between avoiding her altogether and interjecting himself into her social transactions (during which he behaves like a sociopath) is entirely inappropriate. Likewise, feigning aloofness and casually dangling himself in front of Bella, then repeatedly disappearing (knowing he remains a constant in her thoughts) is emotionally abusive and beyond “rude” or any other adjective Edward uses to excuse his behavior during this chapter.
          Yet, like a beaten dog, Bella shines in the attention she ultimately receives from Edward at the close of the chapter, in his bizarrely-veiled warning disguised as an invitation to drive to Seattle with him. Despite the blatant disrespect he had only moments before admitted to heaping upon her the previous day (when he placed her in the uncomfortable situation with Tyler for his own amusement), Edward is able to appeal to Bella at such an emotional level that she is not even able to verbalize a confirmation to his invitation for Seattle. Rather, she nods, half-listening, half understanding as he tells her he just “can’t stay away” anymore, but she “really should” stay away from him.
          So far this novel, particularly in this and the previous chapter, Bella has been dragged through an emotional wringer by Edward, who is entirely aware of his emotional impact on the girl. However, as is commonly referenced, it does “take two to tango,” and Bella once again loyally positions herself to be wrenched all over the dance floor by a self-interested, manipulative, controlling man who cannot reconcile his feelings for Bella and the reality of Bella’s safety. At this point, the reader is unaware of Edward’s age, supernatural status, etc., and true, some of his rather asinine behaviors are simply exemplary of adolescent melodrama. Many of Bella’s behaviors are equally obnoxious. The difference lies in to whom and how such actions are influential. Bella’s incessant brooding and refusal to attend a school dance upset a few boys and confuse a few friends, but these behaviors do not extend beyond the scope of age-appropriate, socially appropriate negativity. Edward, however, is a different kind of monster entirely. His attitude toward Bella, as evidenced by his disregard for boundaries, his manipulative behaviors, and his conveyance to her (both verbally and nonverbally) that she is unintelligent or of lesser intelligence than he clearly deviate from teenage normalcy to the antisocial or narcissistic end of the behavioral spectrum. Therein lie the behaviors of an abuser, manifested in Edward Cullen not only in the fourth chapter of this first book, but throughout the Twilight saga.

Monday, October 11, 2010

MIA- sorry!

I just moved from Chicago to the suburbs. It was a nice move- I miss the atmosphere and freedom of the city, but I love the openness and ability to breathe (mentally and physically, I suppose!) of the suburbs. However, my updating on this blog needs to improve! My internet access is shoddy; we haven't set up any extras at home yet (cable, internet, etc.), so I either have to go to a coffee shop or Panera to use the internet, or I use it at work, which limits my availability to blogging, social networking sites, posting pics...fun stuff. =) Sometimes I'm able to steal WiFi from a neighbor, but it's a really weak signal, if it's there at all, so...yeah. Not so helpful. When I get internet back at home, I should be less MIA and more productive. I've definitely got a lot written, but I need to post it! One chapter at a time, one day at a time. If anyone's still following this blog...soon, my dears, soon. =)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Happy birthday, fictional Bella!

Sorry I haven't posted in awhile, but I've just been so distracted by Bella's birthday! Actually, I haven't been; I've just been busy. But while I was checking my email just now, Yahoo! alerted me, via it's "trending now" feed off to the side of the page, that "Bella Swan birthday" was the #3 searched item for the moment. I Googled it to see why, because that's a weird thing to be "trending," and according to the Twilight series, Bella's birthday is, in fact, September 13, 1987. Her "vampire birthday" (when she is turned into a vampire) is September 10, 2006 .

Just FYI. Oh, and the movie industry is re-releasing Eclipse into theaters for a limited time "to celebrate Bella's birthday."

Happy birthday, Bella. I hope nobody tries to kill you on this one.


Saturday, September 4, 2010

Book 1, Chapter 3:

               The third chapter of Twilight begins with Bella awakening to a light dusting of snow outside, and immediately fretting about not only the cold, but her questionable ability to remain upright while maneuvering across the snowy ground throughout the day. This reaction isn’t entirely surprising from someone who grew up in a desert climate, but her mention of having “enough trouble not falling down when the ground was dry” serves to remind the reader of what a klutz Bella is, and sets a tone for potential catastrophe when Bella meets snow for the first time, in addition to foreshadowing significant events later in the chapter.
            Bella begins her day by heading downstairs to make herself some breakfast and immediately begins introspectively berating herself for viewing Edward as motivation to hurry to school, as well as for being socially incompetent and a poor conversationalist with him the day before. She reminds herself that Edward is out of her league, and proceeds to leave the house, concentrating very hard on not falling down as she walks to her truck, where she slips on the ice and does fall, but catches herself on the side mirror and concludes that she is going to have a horrible day.
Driving to school, Bella finally acknowledges the response she elicits in her new male peers. She considers possible reasons for this, among them that these new boys had missed her awkward early adolescent phase, but more notably, she suggests, “Possibly my crippling clumsiness was seen as endearing rather than pathetic, casting me as a damsel in distress.” She moves on to professing her discomfort with the attention, stating that being ignored by males may be preferable to conjuring alien and uncomfortable social transactions with them.
Once safely at school, Bella notices that her father has placed chains on her tires to ensure her safety on the slick roads, which is why she was so able to successfully transport herself to school. As she stands outside her truck considering the her father’s thoughtfulness, Bella notices Edward across the parking lot, staring at her in horror. She hears squealing tires, and looks up to see her friend Tyler at the wheel of a completely out-of-control van, skidding toward her, ready to violently sandwich her between her truck and the van. Suddenly, she is on the ground. She has hit her head, but does not appear to be seriously injured. She notices that she is pinned there, and sees “two long white hands, shooting protectively” in front of her, pushing the skidding van away as it collides with her truck bed. It is, of course, Edward Cullen, and he lies on top of Bella on the pavement, using one hand to hold her down, and one hand to wrangle the renegade van safely away from her. She attempts to sit up, but he holds her down, warning her to be careful. He informs her that she has hit her head, alluding to his plan to negate his participation in her miraculous death defeat by implying that she suffers from blunt force trauma-induced delusions. When Bella asks Edward how he got to her side so quickly, he insists that he was next to her the whole time, despite the fact that she had clearly seen him on the other side of the parking lot moments earlier. Onlookers begin panicking, and Edward releases Bella, allowing her to sit up. When she tries to stand, he continues holding her to the ground. They again begin a brief conversation about his being on the other side of the parking lot as the van spun out of control. He continues to deny this, and Bella continues to insist that she knows what she saw. Edward becomes snappish, and noncommittally agrees to explain the incident to her later if she corroborates the fictitious story he is about to offer the EMT and hospital staff.
At the hospital, Bella’s father is waiting frantically, bumbling around for information in a manner reminiscent of Barney Fife, lending to the “Charlie is aloof and well-intentioned, but clearly at the lower end of the male character hierarchy” motif. The EMTs advise Charlie of his daughter's heavy blow to the head and possible concussion, as reported by Edward. Bella is treated accordingly by Edward’s father, Dr. Carlisle Cullen, who happens to be on staff at the hospital. Bella denies feeling pain, claims to be “fine” several times, and asks if she can go back to school. Dr. Cullen insists that she go home with her father to rest. Bella notices Edward smiling at her patronizingly, which is unusual and a little unsettling to the critical reader. Bella climbs down from the hospital bed, stumbles and nearly falls (out of sheer non-coordination, not head trauma symptomology, as Dr. Cullen appears to suspect as he catches her mid-collapse), and storms to Edward, politely demanding to speak to him alone. He becomes subtly hostile, glaring at Bella and speaking through clenched teeth. Initially, he directs her to join her waiting father. As she presses him, however, he rigidly and wordlessly concedes, turning his back to her and stalking to a private area.
Bella is caught off-guard by Edward’s coldness toward her. She is unable to invoke the stern tone of voice she’d intended. Instead, she meekly asks Edward for an explanation, to which he replies that he saved her life and owes her nothing. He then reminds her that she hit her head and has no idea what she’s talking about. Bella becomes angry, exhibiting a rare boldness, and insists that her head is not injured and she knows what she saw. Edward becomes irate and spews a slew of commentary questioning her sanity (although he obviously understands that she is quite sane). Bella refuses to budge on the issue, and Edward shuts down emotionally, speaking cryptically, not quite admitting or refuting that he has defied the laws of physics by stopping a half-ton van in its tracks in order to save Bella's life. In response to Bella's theory, Edward flippantly replies that “nobody will believe that.” Bella insists that she doesn’t care; she just wants to know the truth. Edward refuses to confirm or deny her suspicions, and the two engage in a scowl-off. Bella, of course, becomes distracted from her anger by Edward’s “glorious face.” When she asks why he bothered to help her, he cruelly replies, “I don’t know,” and walks away, leaving Bella alone with her anger and unanswered questions. She goes home with her father, who watches her like a hawk all night, unconvinced that she is undamaged. Rather than spending time with her father, exhibiting any acute traumatic stress responses, or considering the implications of her frightening face-to-face with death, Bella ruminates on Edward Cullen, dreaming about him even, despite his antagonism, derision, and callousness at the hospital.

Reaction: While the “damsel in distress” scenario is prevalent in multitudes of classic and popular media, this chapter takes it a step beyond "savior in a strong and mysterious male" to a place of discomfort. After unwillingly playing the part of the hero, Edward flat-out tells Bella, “I saved your life; I don’t owe you anything.” Likewise, he calls her very worth into question by replying, “I don’t know,” when Bella questions why he bothered to save her life at all. Edward vacillates between appearing a strong, unbreakable, life-saving hero to embodying a detached, begrudging drudge who simply performed an irritating and obligatory task. Edward is easy to dislike at this point in the novel, though he is more often pitied and sympathized with as a misanthropic martyr, putting himself and his family at risk for the life of a gawkish, obtuse, and inconvenient girl. Certainly, readers later understand the risk Edward poses for himself and his family by performing a public feat of the supernatural. However, this absolutely does not excuse his disdainful and hostile treatment of Bella. Edward’s decision to save Bella from the skidding van is his own. His resentment is unjustified at best, and reprehensibly manipulative and abusive at worst. Attempting to guilt or shame a person who has very nearly been killed in an accident for “forcing” herself to be saved is deplorable. Yes, Edward carries the heavy burden of an unimaginable secret. In a microsecond, Edward decides that saving Bella’s life is more important than defending his family’s secret. If this decision causes him anxiety or self-loathing, a mature and appropriate response would be to leave the hospital, or the scene of the accident before the arrival of the ambulance, for that matter, to avoid uncomfortable questions. In reality, he wants Bella, and resents her for the intense attraction he feels, rather than accepting responsibility for his feelings and hashing them out either internally or with the help of family or other confidants. Edward's allows his cognitive dissonance to manifest as hostility, and sadly, Bella accepts this negative attention with open arms, more than ever allowing Edward consume her world. 
               At least he saved her life, one might suggest. Yes, this is undeniable. It was literally the very least he could do, aside from watching her get splattered all over the high school parking lot. Is Edward a hero? In the rawest sense of the word, I suppose he could be called that in this instance, in that he prevented Bella’s death. “Hero,” though, carries connotations far beyond physical acts. Not often do you see the knight in shining armor chiding the damsel in distress for requiring his intervention, much less telling her he “doesn’t know” why he bothered to save her life. Inciting shame and humiliation in Bella by rashly dismissing her request for answers and questioning her sanity is flat-out abusive. Were this a real-life relationship between two human beings, I would be quite concerned for the girl. Again, suspension of reality allows me to not hate Edward (though it doesn't prevent me from disliking him), as I understand the multi-layer rationale surrounding his behavior. I am an adult reader, though, and am concerned for younger or more impressionable readers, who may be less inclined to perceive the dark nuances beginning to develop in the Bella-Edward relationship.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

In lieu of an actual post:

Today was a super-long teacher inservice day at my job, so I didn't get any time to post here (I should probably be sleeping now, but I became engaged in some striking conversation on the topic of my blog so figured I should at least add something for the moment). In the meantime, here are some interesting readings similar to what I'm doing on this site:

-Remarkably Unremarkable
-Datingish
-Popehat
-Elizabeth Esther
-Seduced by Twilight
-Sad Robots (love the snark here- scroll down a bit for the misogyny stuff- very witty)

And of course, the ultimate re-write of the Twilight script. Grab some beers and some friends and take your shot at acting! It could be your fifteen minutes of fame! In fact, I will consider posting the top 3 interpretations here on this blog. Ripping good time. Anyway, go here:

-If Twilight was 10 Times Shorter and 100 Times More Honest

And finally, with all the words in this and the above listed blogs and satire sites, we must also remember that a picture is worth 1,000 words. Here are a few movie stills and advertisements that present some...interesting images of potential sexism and/or misogyny in the Twilight saga:


Fun fact: The average person has a comfortable sense of "personal space" ranging from 1.5 to 3 feet. Uninvited invasion of this space is instinctively interpreted as aggression.


Edward throwing a tree in trunk in an outburst of temper at his "situation," reminding Bella, "As if you could fight me off!" I would run. like. hell, even if my human boyfriend acted this way.

"Just close your eyes, depend on me to keep you safe in this hundred-foot tree, even though we've only just met and you have no reason at all to trust me. Just hang there...good girl!"

"What do you mean, 'did I get contacts,' you dumb bitch?"

I wish all new people I met greeted me by glowering at me disgustedly and covering their nose and mouth.

You can't dance? That's okay. Stand on my feet and I'll do all the work, as usual.

A choke hold is the sincerest form of flattery.

Now she has TWO severe looking big, strong men looking out for her. She'd better stay back there- she is a helpless "lamb," after all. For shit's sake.

Hey, remember that thing about personal space? I'm willing to bet it's compounded when you're alone with someone in a creepy, isolated forest and they keep asking if you're afraid of them as they tower over you and use proximity and body language to corner you.

AHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!! It's like a twisted domestic violence shelter flier.

"You can't dance? It's okay. I can 'always just make you.' I discount your personal preferences on frequent occasions, and physically control you in other ways, so dancing should be a non-issue."

That's all I've got for now- goodnight! I hope you had a good laugh, but still...I mean, really Bella? *I* want to beat you up, and I am a feminist.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Book 1, Chapter 2:

             This chapter opens with Bella recounting her second day at Forks High School. She is tired and, and is mortified by giving a wrong answer in trigonometry class and being forced to play volleyball in gym class. Luckily, Mike is there to protect her from the ball when it comes toward her.  Her day is ruined, though, because Edward is not in school. She spends a great deal of time thinking about him, imagining what she will say when she plans to confront him and ask why he had been rude to her in biology class the previous day. She then berates herself, deciding that she probably doesn’t even have the guts to do it, as she “makes the Cowardly Lion look like the Terminator.” Bella receives a great deal of attention from several boys who appear to be competing for her attention. She discounts them, of course, thinking only of Edward in his absence.
            When she gets home from school, Bella begins preparing dinner for herself and her father because, just as he fits with strict masculine stereotypes in general, Charlie cannot cook. Like a competent male provider, however, he does leave a jar labeled “FOOD MONEY” on the kitchen counter, so Bella rushes to the grocery store, purchasing ingredients for and preparing a nice home-cooked meal for herself and the man of the house after his hard day’s work.
            After starting dinner, Bella goes to her room to begin her homework. She has received an email from her eccentric mother stating that she has lost her blouse, and asks if Bella knows where it might be. Apparently, Bella’s concerns about her mother’s functioning without her were warranted. Bella rifles through a few more emails from her mother, mostly one-liners (indicative of her mother’s fleeting train of thought and overall scatterbrained-ness). Bella writes her mother back, informing her that the blouse is at the dry cleaners, and begins to fill her mother in with details of her new life in Forks.
            Bella joins her father for dinner. Before it had been done cooking, he had asked Bella what is was, because, as Bella states, her “mother had been an imaginative cook, and her experiments weren’t always edible.” Apparently her mother simply didn’t fit the gender role assigned her in this respect either. Perhaps this was why she was out of her first marriage and onto a new, unconventional relationship, radiating with unsteadiness and impulsivity, resulting in her daughter’s self-sacrificing decision to move to a town she hates in order to allow her mother happiness. Lucky for Charlie, Bella has made steak and potatoes for dinner tonight, so all is well.
Unable to get Edward off her mind, Bella discusses Edward’s family with her father over dinner. Charlie praises Dr. Carlisle Cullen, Edward’s father, for adopting “all those teenagers.” He says Forks is “lucky to have Dr. Cullen, lucky his wife wanted to live in small town.” I found the specifc mention of his wife’s preference for a small town unusual, perhaps as though Dr. Carlisle Cullen, a prestigious and talented clinician, wouldn’t be practicing within the confines of rural America if not bound there by a woman (we later learn that this is not the case, but even small details like this contribute to the overall message of a text). Of course, the topic of Carlisle cannot escape conversation having simply had philanthropy and choice of hometown discussed: Charlie tells Bella, “You should see the doctor…It’s a good thing he’s happily married. A lot of the nurses have a hard time concentrating on their work with him around.” How like women (and we are under the assumption that all the nurses are women): Put an attractive man in front of them, and productivity goes to hell. After dinner, Charlie disappears to watch television, leaving Bella to wash the dishes before retreating to her room to complete her homework. Bella notes that she can “feel a tradition in the making.”
The next day at school, Bella begins to mesh a bit better with the pattern of her days. She is no longer passed the volleyball in gym class, and mentions that others on her team intervene if the opposing team attempts to “take advantage of her weakness” by aiming the volleyball toward her. This revisits not only the repeated helplessness Bella displays, but the issue of her constantly needing to be (and allowing herself to be) “saved.”
Edward is not in school again, and Bella expresses anxiety at this situation. She is “unable to relax” until she gets to the cafeteria for lunch to determine whether or not he is present. Only then can she engage in conversation with her peers. She acknowledges that she fears she is responsible for his excessive absence from school, as though any issue a complete stranger may have even theoretically had with her that kept him avoiding school would be entirely his own issue, not Bella’s. Being the self-deprecating martyr, though, Bella assumes responsibility where there is none for her to rationally assume. It being Friday, Bella finishes her school day and immediately falls into her home/caretaker routine. Alone in the house while her father works all weekend, Bella keeps herself busy all with homework, housework and cleaning.
The following Monday, Bella wakes to light snow outside and has a minor, internal temper tantrum. She hates the cold, blah blah, and this is the first we have heard of her having strong preference or distaste for anything. Upon entering school, Bella nearly loses independent functioning and freezes in her tracks when she realizes Edward is back in school today. She feels self-conscious, and attempts to persuade herself (to no avail, of course) that she has no reason to feel this way. Bella lies to her friends when they express concern at her sudden change in behavior, telling them she feels sick. The boys continue to fawn all over her, but she assures them she is fine, despite feeling horrendously anxious and upset about Edward’s reappearance and how to handle later interactions with him.  Jessica notices Bella staring at Edward, and mentions to Bella that Edward is staring at her. Bella asks if he looks angry. Confused, Jessica says no (after all, there would be no logical reason, especially to an outsider, for Edward to be angry with Bella; the entirety of the confrontation and the hate had been internal for Bella, and she had built it up to a point where she felt unnecessary shame and guilt, all over interpretations of a stranger’s behavior and absolutely no conversation).  Bella decides that since Edward does not appear angry, she “can” go to biology. Thank goodness Bella had someone to confirm for her that no, Edward did not look angry, or Bella may have made an entirely irrational decision to skip class, put her grades at risk, and demonstrated submission to this rude stranger who had no right making her feel threatened or uncomfortable or that she could not attend class. This represents the beginning of Bella basing her decisions around Edward. From here, it snowballs into complete enmeshment later in the text, and throughout the series.
In class, Edward says hello to Bella. She is shocked to hear him speaking to her, as well as shocked that he is no longer being unacceptably rude and frightening. She immediately comments on his appearance, using words like “dazzling” and flawless.” She remains silent, staring as he continues introducing himself. He neglects to apologize for his offensive behavior, simply stating, “My name is Edward Cullen. I didn’t have a chance to introduce myself last week.” Bella begins to second guess herself, wondering if she had imagined Edward’s previous attitude and behavior. She continues sputtering words at him in an attempt at conversation, calling herself an “utter moron,” and describing her mannerisms as “awkward.” Edward offers to let her use the microscope first for the assigned onion cell analysis, and in response, Bella “stares at him like an idiot.” After a moment, Edward offers to use it first instead, and Bella assumes that he is wondering “if she is mentally competent.” In the end, Bella does take the microscope and  correctly identify the image on the slide. Edward requests to double check, which can be interpreted as offensive, as they are working as a team, and he clearly has no qualms suggesting that his intellect is superior to hers, that her academic conclusions require his confirmation. Bella is correct, but mentions that she had performed this experiment in her previous school. This leaves the reader to consider whether she would have gotten it correct if it were her first time. Sadly, Bella’s character is still fairly flat at this point, so no real consideration can be made.
They complete the experiment, with snarky back-and-forth remarks and smirks from Edward. Bella notices Edward staring at her, and she realizes that his eyes, which had been pitch black and hateful the last time she had looked into them, were now “butterscotch” in color, and contained frustration, but not hate. She asks if he had gotten contacts, describing what she saw in his eyes. He failed to respond, merely shrugging and looking away. Bella immediately assumes that she is “crazy, in the literal sense of the word.” The idea that his eye color may actually have changed does not persist in her mind, and all it takes to shake her self-assurance is a nonverbal, apathetic and inconclusive response from Edward.
The topic of conversation changes to Bella. He asks her inappropriately personal questions for a first conversation, using a demanding tone of voice, and Bella answers them without retort. She admits that she is unhappy in Forks, but she has come there to ensure her mother’s happiness. Edward responds to this information brazenly, informing Bella that while she “puts on a good show,” she must be suffering more than she lets on. Of course, Bella has no reply, and no inclination to tell him that this is none of his business, or even to change the subject to salvage her own comfort. Rather, she finishes her conversation with Edward, once again mentions his “beautiful white teeth,” and wonders how she could have shared these things with this “bizarre, beautiful boy.” By the end of class, Edward is again leaning away from Bella in what appears to be revulsion, and he rushes from the room before anyone else when class is dismissed.
The chapter ends with more disastrous volleyball, with Mike’s first hints at jealousy of Bella and Edward’s strange intensity together, and with Edward, lurking in the parking lot, watching Bella pull out of her parking spot, and laughing at her as she nearly backs into an oncoming car.

Reaction:  Throughout the chapter, Bella’s gender role is clarified in the home, as she becomes grocery shopper/cook/housecleaner for her father. Her role as the damsel in distress begins to develop as Mike saves her from onslaughts of volleyballs in gym class, and the boys at the lunch table fret about her well-being when she freaks out upon seeing Edward and claims to “feel sick.” Finally, her martyrdom makes her the ideal female in many contexts: No matter how she is feeling, those around her are happy; that is her priority. No matter how she is feeling about a conversation, even with someone who mistreated her a week before, she makes sure to be polite and forthcoming with him. When she feels uncomfortable that Mike or other male students are making romantic passes at her, she smiles and shyly avoids the issue, rather than assert herself and risk hurting someone’s feelings. Bella has set herself up for unhappiness in her new surroundings, despite having the necessary social, emotional, familial, and tangible supports generally required for healthy functioning. We have come to learn that she is an intelligent girl: She does well in class and gets ahead on her homework. However, she suppresses this intelligence in favor of gaining favor from a volatile male whom she finds intriguing. Edward has begun to exhibit characteristics that in reality, would be red flags of an abuser: He has vacillated from entirely appalling, rude, and -Bella said it – frightening behavior, to charming, interested, and moderately chivalrous (i.e. Asking, “Ladies first?” before offering her the microscope in class). However, his intensity, his inappropriately personal questions, his brooding assessment of her character during their first conversation, and his sudden reversion to his previous unusual behavior of physically distancing himself from and ignoring her questions to him place Bella in a chaotic frame of mind. We have already learned that she is an anxious girl, and that even minor social encounters evolve in her mind to something monumental. In the brief time he spends talking with her in class, Edward has set Bella up to be even more emotionally dependent on him than previously. Bella’s level of concern for Edward’s regard for her is already unhealthy, and this is their second time being in the same place for more than twenty minutes. Edward has officially gained control of Bella, whether intentionally or not, and she has submitted easily to this. Again, the take-away for readers is that it can be “okay” for males to be brooding, intense, ignorant of females’ feelings, and to drag them up and down on an emotional trampoline. We know Edward is a vampire. Girls reading this understand the rationale behind his quirks (if you call borderline abusive behavior “quirks,” but at this point, “quirks” is probably still appropriate). However, will readers translate this knowldge to reality? Or will they, four months into an abusive relationship, recall, “Bella was patient for Edward. I need to prove my love the way she did, and I will earn the unconditional love I seek. Bella suffered in silence; I can do the same. I love him. Him controlling or [insert additional laundry list of classic Edward behaviors here] me just proves how much he loves me, too.” 

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Book 1, Chapter 1:

           In the first chapter of Twilight, the novel’s protagonist, Isabella (Bella) Swan describes her move to Phoenix, AZ, to a tiny, gloomy town in coastal Washington state called Forks. Reinforcing her martyrdom role indicated in the preface, Bella explains that she is moving to Forks to spend time with her father so that her mother can travel with her new husband for his job with a minor league baseball team. She self-describes this decision as “exiling herself” to Forks, sacrificing her own happiness for her mother’s.
In a momentary fit of internal panic at the airport, during parting conversation with her mother, Bella chides herself for leaving, asking, “How could I leave my loving, erratic, harebrained mother to fend for herself?” An absurd idea, this thought suggests, leaving a grown woman to handle daily responsibilities efficiently. Quickly though, Bella qualifies this with an afterthought: “Of course, she had Phil now, so the bills would probably get paid, there would be food in the refrigerator, gas in her car, and someone to call when she got lost, but still…”

So, with her thoughts reconciled, her mother with a man to take care of her, and self-sacrifice established as her modus operandi, Bella gets on the plane and flies to Forks.

Upon arriving in Forks, Bella is greeted by her father, the police chief of Forks, Charlie Swan. Added quickly to Bella’s list of consistent character attributes clumsiness, as she stumbles off the plane unsteadily and is caught by Charlie, who prevents her from falling. This is the first of many times Bella is “saved” by a male character. Bella calls Charlie by his first name, and assumes a caretaking role within his home. Charlie is promptly attributed stereotypical gender traits: He is gruff, quiet, has difficulty discussing emotion, and requires female intervention with trying tasks such as cooking, cleaning, and home d├ęcor.
Bella had intended to buy a car upon arriving in Forks, but luckily, her father and his mechanically-inclined friend have patched up a classic Chevy truck just for Bella. Of course, Charlie becomes embarrassed at Bella’s display of gratitude, and their interactions for the chapter end at this point. Now Bella has nothing to worry about in the home, aside from cooking, cleaning, waking Charlie up from the couch when he falls asleep watching sports. Bella spends her first night in Forks staring out the window thinking about how miserable she will be for the foreseeable future, but deciding to stop herself from crying. She would “save that for bedtime.” This is the second time she suppresses tears, the first being in the car on the way home from the airport with Charlie, where she noted that while her happiness was an impossibility in her new home, he “didn’t need to suffer with her.”
During this segment of the chapter, we learn that Bella views herself as a misfit, which makes her immediately sympathetic to readers. She describes herself as “a freak,” as she will not fit the stereotype of a girl from Phoenix. She is pale, not at all tan, despite constant desert sun. She is poor at sports, uncoordinated, and bad at relating to her peers, and perhaps even people in general (this is an instance of foreshadowing). Bella complains goes on to list a myriad of other faults with her appearance that society would generally appreciate (for instance, she is naturally slender, but with a “softness” that would prevent anyone from assuming her an athlete; her skin is clear and smooth, and,she admits, “could be pretty,” but negates this by explaining that the lack of natural light in Forks makes her “translucent” skin appear sallow, and unhealthy). Thus, Bella is established as the quiet, misfit, pretty, waifish martyr with humility to such a degree that she does not recognize her own (more than likely stunning) beauty, and is about to begin a new life. Readers want to identify with these traits, and here they begin to lose themselves in Bella’s narration. Her story becomes their story. From here on, what happens to Bella has serious implications for Twilight readers.
Of course, Bella is instantly popular at school. Boys pine after her (she, of course, being blind to her breathtaking allure cannot understand why, and hardly notices the attention). She is befriended by a small clique of established friends, led  by a jock-ish boy named Mike, who becomes smitten with Bella, and a bubbly, vapid, insecure girl named Jessica, who is interested in Mike. Despite the unlikely acquisition of an immediate friend group on her first day at a new high school in the middle of the semester, Bella appears bored and dissatisfied at lunchtime, and focuses her attention on a group of students at a table across the cafeteria. These students, the “only ones in the room not gawking” at Bella, immediately grab her attention. Now that she has a reason to initiate conversation, Bella asks her new friends about the mysterious students at the remote table. Jessica babbles that they are essentially a family of adopted weirdoes named the Cullens, living with the kindly town doctor and his wife. Within the group “siblings” are two couples (to Jessica’s aversion: Jasper and Alice, and Emmett and Rosalie. All of them are “perfect” looking, according to Bella. Jasper is honey-blond and lean, and Alice is tiny, “pixie-like,” and graceful, with “lithe dancer’s steps.” Emmett is large and muscular, and Rosalie is blonde, statuesque, and has “a beautiful figure, the kind you see on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issues.” Here we have socially-reinforced perfection embodied in four characters, but much more description is given to the female characters. Within the text, it is noted that the girls are physical opposites, but between the two of them, contain every element of feminine beauty that is socially reinforced. Without these elements carefully outlined, it would be more difficult for the reader to understand what Bella means when she describes them as “perfect.” The reader joins Bella in envying and wanting to learn more about these strangers. The only Cullen at the table without a mate, Bella learns, is Edward Cullen, the most beautiful boy of them all. Tritely, he looks up and catches her eye briefly, then looks away again. We are nearing the end of the chapter, and the reader is silently screaming at Edward to look up again. With his preternatural good looks, and his gender, it has somehow become understood that Edward will do the initiating when it comes to social transactions with Bella. The reader, suspending reality (or not), forfeits her own individuality in accepting this, and adheres to gender roles established in the text.
By some enormously unexpected twist of fate, Bella and Edward cross paths again, in the very next class! Bella is seated next to Edward at the discretion of the teacher, and their first interactions begin. The reader is shocked to read how rudely Edward reacts to Bella. He refuses to speak to her, moves his chair as far away from her as possible, and keeps his fists clenched. While Edward’s fists are clenched, Bella notes how “hard and muscular” his forearms are, which is unusual, in that clenched fists are generally a sign of aggression, not an opportunity for a girl to evaluate masculine physical prowess. Additionally, this is yet another reference to a male as muscular, reinforcing the male role as physically strong. Despite her obvious attraction to Edward’s appearance, Bella is aware that Edward seems averse to her. She sniffs her hair, immediately assuming some odor or fault of her own is revolting him. She then decides it must not be her, because “he didn’t know [her] from Eve.” Calling Bella Eve was either a remarkable coincidence (to not know someone from Adam/Eve is a common metaphor) or a clever symbolic reference by the author. Regardless, Bella as the temptress (albeit the aloof temptress) is revisited, though masked by Edward’s adverse reaction to her. After several pages of Bella wondering what was wrong with her/what was bothering Edward, and Edward treating Bella like a used diaper or vat of rancid meat, the class ends. Bella goes to gym, moping all the way at Edward’s attitude. She refuses to participate in gym class, again referring to her past experiences with sports (including “injuries  sustained and inflicted”), and then goes to the office to see the secretary. Edward is there speaking to her already, trying to switch out of the biology class he shares with Bella. His voice is describes as “velvet,” and he is “absurdly handsome,” but Bella notes his “hate-filled eyes.” She becomes afraid of him, developing goosebumps in response to his glowering. Bella meekly does her business with the secretary and leaves school for the day, Edward Cullen consuming her thoughts.

Reaction: Throughout the chapter, Bella demonstrates several passive qualities, making her a bit endearing, but more than anything else, making her appear helpless. This is intentional, as is evident later in the novel. However, endearing qualities aside, Bella’s helplessness can be quickly interpreted as unhealthy. She remains externally quiet and stoic when upset, even when asked about her feelings and needs, opting to please others. Clearly, pleasing others can be socially-appropriate in moderation, but Bella surpasses normal compromise and delves into complete self-sacrifice. She internalizes negative social responses from others, relies heavily on the opinions of others to define her self-worth, and though it’s merely the first chapter, shows evidence of physically relying on males for her literal stability (her father steadying her as she stumbles off the plane being the prime example this chapter, a fact that could be overlooked if it did not precede a pattern of behavior permeating not only the novel, but the saga). Equally alarming is Bella’s response to Edward. He glares at her, appearing disgusted with her, throughout biology class, but, rather than being alarmed at his clenched fists, “raised tendons,” and near-tangible tension, she assesses his muscularity. Edward causes Bella a physical fear response in the secretary’s office when he glares at her with “hate-filled eyes.” Yet, her thoughts remain with him. As she leaves school, teary-eyed, upset, and hurt. And why? Edward, a stranger who had not said a word to her, but was beautiful and strong and otherwise-desirable, had been mean to her. She had not said a word in defense, nor had she questioned his rude behavior. Bella paints herself as a potential punching bag in this chapter. The reader has already been drawn into the story, into Bella’s mind, seeing things from Bella’s viewpoint. “Yes,” the reader thinks. “What am [I] doing wrong for Edward to react like this?” The reader eagerly flips to the next chapter to figure out how she/Bella can appease the situation. It is interesting to read a story from the viewpoint of another, especially when one can become so engrossed in a character that they see/think things as though she feels she is that character. However, it is important to be able to remove that suspension of disbelief when closing the book for the day. Retaining values of characters, especially feeble, controlled, helpless Bella Swan, can be dangerous, particularly to impressionable readers, such the target audience of the Twilight saga: Adolescent girls. Hopefully, such readers are able to distinguish between a flawed character’s narrative and expectations in real life.

Book 1 (Twilight): Preface

It is important to mention that before Stephenie Meyer’s preface to Twilight, she quotes a verse from the Bible’s Book of Genesis, immediately making reference to Original Sin and setting a theme of temptation for the entire saga:

“But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” –Genesis 2:17

Everyone knows what happened from there: A woman destroyed paradise by eating an apple from that forbidden tree and tricking a man into doing the same.  Thus, we begin the several-thousand page journey of the Twilight saga, in which Bella spends a majority of the plot tempting Edward, who (ironically, as he is the “damned” of the two) repeatedly resists Bella’s temptations, insisting that to give into them would hurt or kill her. Edward presents a paradox: A vampire, self-professed soulless and damned, but self-loathing and vastly concerned with the safety and virtue of a human girl.  He is what the serpent in the Garden would have been had it fallen in love with Eve. Bella is simply Eve, minus the ability to convince Edward to eat the apple. In fact, she pretty much lacks the ability to do much of anything without the assistance of a man, but we’ll get to that soon enough.

The book's preface itself describes a scene from the end of the book, where Bella silently affirms that dying in the place of someone she loves seems to be "a good way to die," and "ought to count for something." It's as though she senses that she is innately "bad" and somehow martyrdom will undo her sinful [unwritten: female] nature. It is strange that Bella mentions a "noble" death "counting for something," because later in the series she states outright that she doesn't believe in souls, implying that she doesn't believe in God. Regardless, the preface to Twilight sets Bella as the saga's martyr, a part she plays well, as well as the fallible Eve figure, which she plays awkwardly and inefficiently. 

Friday, August 20, 2010

Welcome.

Hello! My name is Shannon Beck. I'm a 28 year-old school social worker in the Chicago suburbs. I became aware of the Twilight phenomenon over the last two years when students (largely adolescent female students) at my school began showing up to school toting Twilight books, t-shirts, pull-out posters, water bottles, etc. Naturally, I was interested in what seemed to be the second coming of Harry Potter, appealing to a more specific fan base in a more cult-following way. Several teachers and other colleagues had also begun delving into the books, and I was lent copies of all four of them in order to get a sense of the hype surrounding these books. At surface value, I could see the appeal: They are all easy reads, appealing to the same sort of fairy tale prince idealism of Disney or medieval knights. I had fun reading the first book, despite finding Bella's character unfortunately plain, but that leaves plenty of room for a wider variety of readers to read themselves into her, a major selling point for these books.

However, as I progressed through the books, I began to see something sinister there. Aside from the obvious fact that the protagonist's love interest, Edward Cullen, is a vampire- a creature mythically notorious for ending life (sucking blood, murdering, being in cahoots with the devil, whatever)- he displays startling and consistent character traits of an abuser in a real-life relationship. Likewise, Bella is portrayed as bumbling, awkward, passive, and hardly able to stand on her own two feet without the assistance of a male- be it a vampire boyfriend, pining werewolf friend, or her own father.

Don't get me wrong. I am not a fringe extremist intent on destroying the Twilight empire. I own the books and the movies, and generally consider them "just for fun." At the same time, I feel it's important to address issues that may be overlooked by specific subgroups of readers who are more vulnerable and impressionable, and whose take-aways from the text may be undesirable. Note: For other twenty-somethings like me who have a love/hate relationship with Twilight, please see the blog Twitarded. It's hilarious, and helps appease the cognitive dissonance of being in your twenties and being sucked into teen/tween fad fiction.

The purpose of this blog is to hash out some of my notes on the Twilight texts, expand on my frustrations with the message that is there to be potentially interpreted by young girls, the books' target audience, and to offer room for comment by readers as to varying opinion on my ideas, as well as varying interpretation of text excerpts upon which I may comment. Please feel free to follow this blog, comment on this blog, and contact me if you like, but recognize that I am writing this for the personal experience of organizing my thoughts and offering my ideas in writing, for my own and others' review. All irrelevant and/or personally derogatory comments will be removed. Constructive criticism and/or alternate viewpoints are entirely welcome.

Cheers!

*Shannon