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.