Monday, May 11, 2015

Why Bella Swan is the worst role model ever. (AKA, my review of Twilight by Stephanie Meyer)

 About three things I was absolutely positive. First, Edward was a vampire. Second, there was a part of him—and I didn't know how potent that part might be—that thirsted for my blood. And third, I was unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him.
(Excuse me while I go throw up)

(This is the second review for my 2015 Reading Challenge.)

Summary: Isabella—excuse me, Bella—Swan moves to Forks, Washington to live with her father after her mother remarries. She's not too optimistic about her new situation, but then she meets Edward Cullen—the mysterious and extremely handsome Edward Cullen, who just happens to be a vampire. When a trio of strange vampires come to Forks, one of them chooses Bella to be his next meal; the Cullens family must protect Bella.

My rating: 5/10 stars.

Plot: Romance plotlines where the lovers are faced with insurmountable obstacles which keep them apart or romance plotlines where the lovers hate each other at first and fall in love later are fine. Unfortunately, neither of these plots show up in Twilight. There is slight conflict because Edward is a vampire and oh-no-he-might-eat-Bella, but Bella's unconditional and irrevocable love for him and his reciprocation aren't enough to create a full-fledged plot. I feel like Stephanie Meyer realized this 3/4ths of the way through the book and decided she had better add a real plot to the book. Hence, three random vampires (who are not vegetarian vampires like the Cullens family, who only drink animal blood) show up and one of them decides to track Bella until he can catch her and eat her. He knows that Edward and his family are going to protect Bella so hunting Bella turns into a game for him. The last 1/4th of the book is action-packed compared to the first 3/4ths. James, the tracker vampire, lures Bella away from her guards (Edward's siblings) and, before attempting to kill her, tortures her for a bit (giving Edward and family enough time to attempt a not-really daring escape). Bella is in so much pain that she doesn't know what's going on and eventually passes out. Later, she wakes up in the hospital and has to be told what happened. So, even when something exciting happens, we don't get to see it.
While there is little plot to speak of, I must (hesitantly) say that I (sort of?) enjoyed Twilight. At the very least, it was entertaining. While I repeatedly facepalmed at Bella's idiocy, I did want to find out what would happen to her and Edward. There is something alluring about a romance story... will they get together or won't they? Will it be a happily ever like Cinderella, or will it end horribly like Romeo and Juliet?

Characters: Confession time! I wrote in the margins of this book. I underlined things. I dogeared pages. I wanted to have quotes to go along with this blog post; that's why I did it. Of course, most of my notes ended up looking the same... observe:



And all my notes are about the same person: Bella Swan. Bella Swan must be the worst role model for girls EVER. Examine:

My stomach  did frightened little flips at the thought of sitting next to [Edward] again. pg. 42.
Bella is afraid of Edward. That is not a good sign. Two pages later, however, her infatuation begins...
"Ladies first, partner?" Edward asked. I looked up to see him smiling a crooked smile so beautiful that I could only stare at him like an idiot. pg. 44.
And... I was in danger of being distracted by his livid, glorious face. It was like trying to stare dwn a destroying angel. pg. 65.

Edward continually warns her that she should stay away from him.
"I'm warning you now that I'm not a good friend for you." Behind his smile, the warning was real. pg. 88.

And Bella knows that her fixation with Edward is unhealthy.
I threw down a quick bowl of cereal and some orange juice from the carton. I felt excited to go to school, and that scared me. I knew it wasn't the stimulating learning environment I was anticipating, or seeing my new set of friends. If I was being honest with myself, I knew I was eager to get to school because I would see Edward Cullen. And that was very, very stupid. pg. 54.
I was consumed by the mystery Edward presented. And more than a little obsessed by Edward himself. Stupid, stupid, stupid. pg. 67.
I couldn't believe the rush of emotion pulsing through me—just because he'd happened to look at me for the first time in a half-dozen weeks. I couldn't allow him to have this level of influence over me. It was pathetic. More than pathetic, it was unhealthy. pg. 74.

Yet, even though Bella knows her obsession is unhealthy, she continues to obsess. Bella analyzes his every word and his every movement. It starts to distract from everything else in her life.
When she first comes to Forks, she expects to be ignored like she was in Arizona. When she is, instead, accepted and loved, she doesn't revel in her new friendships. Instead, she wishes she were ignored, so that she could spend more time with Edward.
Because when I thought of him, his voice, his hypnotic eyes, the magnetic force of his personality, I wanted nothing more than to be with him right now. pg. 139.

When Edward isn't in school, when they're apart, Bella becomes depressed.
And I couldn't stop the gloom that engulfed me as I realized I didn't know how long I would have to wait before I saw him again. pg. 111.
I realized I'd been holding on to a last shred of hope when I entered Biology, saw his empty seat, and felt a new wave of disappointment. The rest of the day passed slowly, dismally. pg. 146.
I was wrestling with despair. I was trying so hard not to think of him. pg. 156.
"What time will I see you tomorrow?" I asked, already depressed by the thought of him leaving now. pg. 243.

Not only is it extremely unhealthy to depend on one person for your happiness (so much so that when he or she goes away, you become depressed), but it is dangerous also. Because Bella is so consumed with Edward, she does things that she normally would not do. She does not even recognize herself:
I skipped to the bathroom, my emotions unrecognizable. I didn't know myself, inside or out. The face in the mirror was practically a stranger—eyes too bright, hectic spots of red across my cheekbones. pg. 313.
She flirts with Jacob to get information (about, you guessed it, Edward). "So you're, what sixteen?" I asked, trying not to look like an idiot as I fluttered my eyelids the way I'd seen girls do on TV.
She lies, to multiple people. Her friends. Her father. Even though, earlier in the book, she says she doesn't like lying.
She starts doing dangerous things... "Will go with me to Seattle?" he asked, still intense. I couldn't speak yet, so I just nodded. pg. 84. This is after Edward tells Bella that he's dangerous and that she shouldn't be around him. For all she could know, he could be some sort of creep. Girls, never agree to go on a road trip with a guy you just met, especially if that guy told you that you should stay away because he's dangerous. I don't care how gorgeous he is. Stay away!
She takes drugs to help her sleep the night before going out with Edward. I knew I was far too stressed to sleep, so I did something I'd never done before. I deliberately took unnecessary cold medicine—the kind that knocked me out for a good eight hours. pg. 251.

It's bad enough that Bella finds her identity in Edward (Besides, since I'd come to Forks, it really seemed like my life was about him. pg. 251), but it's even worse that her personality changes because she's with him. This book is a huge warning sign for dysfunctional, unhealthy relationships.

Yet, because Twilight is fiction, Bella and Edward's relationship isn't dysfunctional. Why? Because, even though Bella is in an extremely unhealthy relationship, Edward is a perfect man so, therefore, everything works out fine.
Edward is gorgeous. Edward is smart. Edward is a gentleman. Edward even has great taste in music (he listens to Claude Debussy!). Also, Edward is completely devoted to Bella. And I'm not sure why. Look what he says about her:
"Bella, it's not my fault if you are exceptionally unobservant." pg. 81.
"Bella, you are utterly absurd," he said, his low voice cold. pg. 82.
He doesn't think she's smart. In fact, Bella isn't all that smart. People have complained that Bella is a hollow shell of a character. She is. I think this is a ploy: every girl wants a handsome, devoted boyfriend like Edward; because Bella is a shell, every girl can project herself into Bella.
"I love you," I whispered.
"You are my life now," he answered simply. pg. 314.
What girl wouldn't want that kind of devotion from the man she's obsessed with?
The truth is, however, that the perfect man does not exist, except in fiction. No man can live up to the standard of perfection that girls see in Edward and other fictional men. If a girl places her identity in who she perceives to be the perfect man, she's going to be disappointed and hurt. In turn, the man will be hurt because he feels like he's doing something wrong. Eventually, the relationship will break apart.

It's a pity that Twilight wasn't a story about the Cullens family and Bella's dad Charlie, because they rock. The book would work so much better if Bella wasn't in it.


Even more the pity because Stephanie Meyer is a talented writer. Maybe you couldn't tell it from all the goopy romantic quotes that I copied above... but Stephanie Meyer is a talented writer. Her books would be pretty epic if they weren't filled with so much romance.

To close, I have to share a hilarious quote from Bella's first day of school in Forks:

I can do this, I lied to myself feebly. No one was going to bite me. pg. 14.

7 comments:

  1. A pretty fair sounding review. I'm curious about why Edward was even in high school to begin with. Isn't he immortal? Or is he really only 16?

    Your review reminded me of an article I read back when the movies came out. I think it referenced events from the first 2 movies so it may not all be reflected perfectly in the books, but the essential gist of the article is similar to what you highlighted: how terrible of an example this fictional character is for women.

    http://www.wired.com/2009/11/twilight-lessons-girls-learn/

    Thanks for the thoughtful review.

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    1. Edward is immortal... he died when he was 17, so he's forever stuck at that age. Since none of the Cullens' age, they have to relocate a lot and I guess it's easier to start the "kids" in highschool so they have more time in one place.
      Great article! I enjoyed that. Thanks for sharing. :)

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    2. *Died/made into a Vampire at age 17.

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  2. Wow, Abbey, this is an excellent review. It is balanced and fair; the quotes certainly prove each point you make. I appreciate your succinct summary and thoughtful critique of the characters.

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  3. Yep. This is a sign of codependency in a relationship, which is very unhealthy. That's not love. That's idolization.

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