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.” 


  1. In Eddies defense... he is a few hundred years old so he might have residual male dominance issues stemming from past cultures and religions such as paganism that recognized vampires and looked at women as inferior but yet still a vital part of life and fertility. Stephanie Meyers is a housewife with kids so she may be creating a back story from her own personal experiences with insecurity in HS. She probably beefed up the drama to make Bella seem more like prey in a competition between two species of male dominated predators, vampires and werewolves. I think that the audience would have a hard time putting their hearts in to the story if she were more badass than a boy band conglomeration of sparkly, oversize cuspid sporting fans of The Cure, or hairy alpha dog monsters who's survival depends on eating human flesh. I sat through about 5 minutes of the first movie and I needed a hug and then watched professional wrestling to keep from beating myself up for Twilighting alone as a 34 year old dude.

  2. Ha ha. You know, I thought about that, the being from a different era thing. I'm sure it is a factor, and I'm sure Stephenie Meyer's own values on house & home are factors as well. I know her religion plays into things (she is Mormon), but I hate to bring that into it; however, religion and gender roles are often strongly tied.

    I remember reading somewhere that Twilight is "what happens when the fat girl from high school gets her diary turned into a best-selling novel." I do feel she expresses herself a lot through Bella, and I'm sure Bella's high school experiences are a lot of those Stephenie Meyer (wished to have?) had.

    I'm not saying Bella needs to be a total badass, but come on! The girl can't even stand up on her own without someone to save her. Gross! ;-) Thanks for the comment!

  3. When you were younger didn't you ever overact for the attention of a boy? Her character is just making those few instances into a lifestyle. These characters were based on a dream that the author had? Verdad? What better place to showcase your subconscious than a dream turned into a book turned into a movie. Nothing brings out emotion and humility in people more than someone else in total need. What are you drawn more to you a strong 5 year old dog or a helpless widdle puppy with big sad eyes who needs you. Bella totally appeals to guys who love being the hero. I actually love strong willed women but it is fun to be "the man" once in a while. Making campfires, grilling, killing spiders, beating up werewolves... Bella has to be weak to hit those softie buttons in both the male and female audience members. I guarantee there are a ton of little man nerds out there who dream about being bellas hero. I used to light saber train with wiffel ball bats as a kid just so I could rescue princess lea someday. Dammit, I totally have to watch the movie's now. As for the Mormon thing I wonder if there are any mormon undertones similar to how The Chronicles of Narnia hosted some Christian ones.

  4. I don't know...I think that says something in itself: That she has to be weak to appeal to people. I understand the puppy analogy, but Bella is not a puppy. She's a girl! I am a female reader and her passivity and lack of personality do not appeal to me, nor do they make me feel worried or sorry for her; they irritate me. And it's not just Bella- gender stereotyping is present pretty consistently throughout the characters (male and female, but more misogynistic in tone) in all the books.

    I think the Christian undertones in Narnia are more of a purposeful, intentional symbolism thing than a simple reflection of the author's values; that is, I think Narnia did it better. But in Twilight, the "abstinence porn" is fairly straightforward as a reflection of a religious value, so that is more constructed than a lot of the gender roles, for instance. Perhaps that's why I just roll my eyes at it than am actively bothered by it, as I am at the sexism (just wait 'til book 4).

    The movies actually portray Bella in a better light, I think. She is still "prey" and requiring constant protection, but she has a little bit of spunk and personality; she seems more real than her book character. Like I mentioned earlier, leaving her book character devoid of strong, defining character does make her a blank screen for readers to project themselves onto. It's a very appealing quality in a character, to be able to adopt her completely and "live" her experiences, because her thought patterns and emotional responses surrounding them are so vague that they could very well be happening to you.

    What about an average girl, with average quirks, with an average degree of neediness/confidence balance, but ends up needing/wanting a hero in her life anyway? Is that not appealing too, or do men need a helpless waif to feel like a hero? I don't think that's true!

    Bella is just SO needy that it's alarming that so many girls idealize her. They live in real life, and are not characters in books. They don't need to be weak or helpless to be loved, and they don't need heroes, they need real-life experiences- but they can still make a boy feel like a hero, I am sure of it. =)

  5. Also: I forgot to address- I did feel melodramatic about boys...more in middle school than at age eighteen, but whatever. I did not, however, tolerate the kinds of offensive, excessively rude, or even scary behavior that Edward exhibits toward Bella. He later becomes possessive to an insane degree, which is not normal (in real life- suspending reality, yes, he is a vampire and worries about human frailty, I know). For vulnerable readers, I just worry that the lines between fictional relationships and what is acceptable in real-life relationships versus fantasy novels may become blurred.

  6. I'll have to take your word for the bad behavior. Still haven't seen the movie. I'm totally on your side with it though. I've always been the nice guy. Worse though is that that behavior is accepted and actually sought out by so many women and young girls because of relationship history, early childhood trauma, abuse... It's too bad you can't take someone out of a situation and just push a reset button and they're all better with a clean slate and all their good memories in tact like a computer. Worse than the fiction of this movie is the reality shows that lead young people to believe that they're not scripted and that behavior is acceptable. At least in twilight the characters are portrayed as vampires and werewolves not real boys like the jersey shores "The Situation". But where do we go from here? Censorship? For every negative representation of human behavior do we have to make a movie to counter it? I say we should get rid of shows like Jerry Springer, and Maury before we attack the silver screen and hope that parents use discretion and talk about the things their children see on screen, read in print, and most importantly experience in real life. I can't imagine having to explain something like Antoine Dodsons rapist song to some young kid who didn't understand why it was so horrible yet so damn funny. I digest... Did you know that Snookie is dating some guy who put a gun to his ex girlfriends head? That's soooo much worse than twilight. What would Edward and Bella's celeb couple name be? Bellward or Edla. Either way it sounds like old people. Ladies and gentlemen of stowaway retirement home let me introduce you to Class of 1963's senior (citizen) prom queen... Mz. Edla Bellward.

  7. HAHA- I like Edla Bellward.

    And no, I am pretty leftist- I wouldn't condone censorship. I *would* condone pretty much exactly what's going on now: Discussion on issues we feel are important. Media messages aren't dangerous unless nobody dissents.