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Twilight word vomit: Twilight

Monday, 13 April, 2009

I know I've already dealt with Twilight, but I figured that it's worth doing a quick plot recap. Twilight is the first book of the quartet, and it introduces us to Bella Swan, who has just moved from Phoenix, Arizona, to Forks, Washington, to live with her father. Straight away, we find out that Bella is a child of divorce. Caitlin Flanagan points out that,

[P]ick up a novel written for adolescents in which the main character is a child of divorce, and you're in very different waters. Divorce in a young-adult novel means what being orphaned meant in a fairy tale: vulnerability, danger, unwanted independence. It also means that the protagonists must confront the sexuality of their parents at the moment they least want to think about such realities. It introduces into a household the adult passions and jealousies that have long gone to ground in most middle-aged parents, a state of affairs that is particularly difficult for girls, who have a more complicated attitude toward their own emerging sexuality than do boys, and who are far more rooted in the domestic routines and traditions of their families, which constitute the vital link between the sweet cocooning of childhood and their impending departure from it.

(Read a bit more of Flanagan's review to where she talks about relocation as a metaphor for change in a young girl's life; fascinating stuff!)

Bella has moved to Forks to live with her dad because her mother just remarried. Her stepfather Phil is a minor league baseball player who is often on tour, and even though Bella's mother would like to travel with him, she stays home for Bella's sake. This should make us pity Bella (but we don't. Well, I didn't. Not much anyway.)

Bella's father is Charlie, sheriff of Forks. He's spent so much time living on his own, he doesn't really know how to be a father. He doesn't even really know how to cook! But he tries to care for Bella in his own way. He gives her a car—a beat-up truck that used to belong to an old friend of his—and that gives her some degree of mobility. Even so, their relationship is more mutual cohabitation than true family. (This becomes a bit more important later.)

But the real story of Twilight is less about Bella learning to adjust to her new life with her estranged father and dealing with the impact of her parents' divorce, and more about her encounters with Edward, the 17-year-old vegetarian vampire she meets at school. Meyer has stated that she based Twilight on Austen's Pride and Prejudice, but the resemblance is scant; I think what she means is that she's just taken the trope of her two leads hating one another and then eventually falling in love, because there is little in Twilight about wisdom in love, appropriate matchmaking, equality in intellect, etc. (and certainly there's no way Bella can compare to Lizzie Bennett as a heroine!)

Bella

I just realised that in my last post, I didn't talk about how much I hated Bella when I was reading Twilight. She seriously annoyed me, and I should have been empathetic towards her as she is more like me than, say, Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, or Anna Foster in Chasing Liberty (George knows just how much I hate the latter movie!) How is she like me? Well, she's bookish, quiet, smart, her parents are divorced and she has low self-esteem. Perhaps she grated on me because she is similar, but I don't think that's it. She grated on me because she's so incredibly selfish. Take when she started at her new school: all the kids knew who she was because Forks is a small town, and they went out of her way to be nice to her and make friends with her. Okay, that behaviour could be partly explained by the fact that she's supposedly beautiful (as Edward says later, “You don't see yourself very clearly, you know. I'll admit you're dead-one about the bad things ... but you didn't hear what every human male in the school was thinking on your first day.” [Twilight, Little Brown, New York, 2005, p. 210]). But still, her human friends Jess and Angela are quite nice to her in the beginning. Yet, as her obsession with Edward grows, she doesn't pay much attention to them. She's not even a very good friend to them. Consider this:

When I saw Jessica in Trig, she was bubbling with enthusiasm. She, Angela, and Lauren were going to Port Angeles tonight to go dress shopping for the dance, and she wanted me to come, too, even though I didn't need one. I was indecisive. It would be nice to get out of town with some girlfriends, but Lauren would be there. And who knew what I could be doing tonight ...

So I gave her a maybe, telling her I'd have to talk with Charlie [her father] first.

She talked of nothing but the dance on the way to Spanish, continuing as if without an interruption when the class finally ended, five minutes late, and were on our way to lunch. I was far too lost in my own frenzy of anticipation to notice much of what she said. I was painfully eager to see not just him but all the Cullens—to compare them with the new suspicions that plagued my mind. As I crossed the threshold of the cafeteria, I felt the first true tingle of fear slither down my spine and settle in my stomach. Would they be able to know what I was thinking? And then a different feeling jolted through me—would Edward be waiting to sit with me again?

As was my routine, I glanced first toward the Cullens' table. A shiver of panic trembled in my stomach as I realized it was empty. With dwindling hope, my eyes scoured the rest of the cafeteria, hoping to find him alone, waiting for me. The place was nearly filled—Spanish had made us late—but there was no sign of Edward or any of his family. Desolation hit me with crippling strength.

I shambled along behind Jessica, not bothering to pretend to listen anymore. (p. 144-45)

Aside from the appalling writing where “tell” is used far more than “show” (remember, the Twilight saga is best skimmed, not read), notice Bella's self-absorption, obsessiveness about Edward and her total lack of concern for her friend and what Jessica might have been saying to her—even if it had been inane. She had only been “pretending” to listen anyway. And her decision about whether or not to go to Port Angeles for dress shopping was governed more by whether it would be comfortable for her, instead of whether it would be helpful for them. (Yes, in teen girlhood, having your peers around when you go dress shopping is a must! wink Again, to insert another Cady Heron quote,

Gretchen: “I mean, you wouldn't buy a skirt without asking your friends first if it looks good on you.”


Cady: “I wouldn't?”


Gretchen: “Right.”

But seriously, given girls' skewed perception of their own self-image, it always helps to have a second opinion!)

So, yes, firstly, Bella is incredibly self-centred, not other-person-centred. She thinks of people more in terms of what they can do for her (consider the way she uses Jessica in New Moon just to get Charlie off her back), instead of what she can do for them.

Secondly, Bella is seriously stupid. For a girl who does quite well academically, she really is thick. Didn't she ever get taught it's not wise to walk by herself down the street in a strange place in late at night?! That's just basic safety awareness. She worries too much about things she doesn't have to worry about (e.g. worrying that the vampires or the werewolves will get hurt when they go into battle), or she rushes headlong into a course of action without thinking about it (any idiot could see that James was probably bluffing when he said he had her mother captive). In the later books, even Jacob gets fed up with how thick Bella is: “Give it a rest, Bella” (Eclipse, Little Brown, New York, 2007, p. 510). I can't even believe that she didn't see through Edward's ruse in New Moon when he told her he was leaving her because he didn't want her anymore; surely she, like the rest of the audience, should have known that he was just doing it to protect her!

Thirdly, she really is so clumsy, she's “almost disabled” (Twilight, p. 210). In a way, I do like that she's awkward and gangly because, for some girls, adolescence is like that; to stereotype, girls generally are less spatially aware than boys, and therefore have trouble reading maps, etc. (For the record, I'm quite good with maps! But I still have troubles spatially. Ben wrote to me once in a card, “You are beautiful and graceful and bump into things in such a cute way” [shouldn't the “graceful” bit cancel out the latter?] Sometimes I find bruises on myself and I can't remember how they got there, but I know they were usually the result of me banging into something.) It's just Bella takes it to the extreme and doesn't even try. I guess it's just a good excuse to have Edward (or Jacob) step in and rescue her.

The rest of the plot

Sorry, I realise I didn't finish outlining the plot; I got bored! The major plot points are:

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Other comments

I find it interesting that you picked up on Bella’s complete rejection of her human peers as companions in favour of Edward. That was the one thing my husband couldn’t understand in the movie, either. (We watched the movie before reading the book.)

However, I find this to be one of the most real aspects of the book. How many times do I remember friends complaining about how as soon as a love interest was developing, the friendship would go by the wayside in favour of the romance? This is stock and standard teenage experience.

So too is the immense selfishness of teenagers. Much as we might desire that they should think of others before themselves, they generally don’t. Bella, with her obsession with the developing relationship with Edward and the mystery over his otherness, seems quite realistic to me when I think about the teenage girl I was and the teenage girls I know now. Frankly, I don’t know any teenage girls who actually do ask others for their opinion on clothes - they are all far too self conscious to risk getting a negative response. But they sure spend a lot of time worrying and fretting over how they look in the eyes of others - just as Bella does.

And the book also makes it clear that from the very first, Jessica will be jealous of Bella for her growing relationship with Edward, because Jessica had tried to win him and failed. “He’s gorgeous, of course, but don’t waste your time. He doesn’t date. Apparently none of the girls here are good-looking enough for him. She sniffed, a clear case of sour grapes. I wondered when he’d turned her down. (p19) So Bella’s reluctance to develop a friendship with Jessica can hardly be criticised. It is Jessica’s jealousy that prevents the relationship from developing, unlike Bella’s friendship with Angela, who harbours none of these negative emotions.

~ Sharon



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