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.

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