In honor of the final Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn 2 movie coming out on Friday, I figured I’d do a case files on the trio from Twilight.
Oh, there are so many things I can say after reading these books, even years later. I read them my junior/senior year of undergrad and I will not lie, I loved the Twilight books. They DO NOT compare to Harry Potter, that’s like comparing Champagne and Barefoot wine, both are suitable for many occasions, but definitely for certain circumstances. Twilight is for mindless reading and emotional sensationalism. Harry Potter is a bit more cerebral and I believe it will endure the times better than Twilight will. To put it blunty, I will be placing the Harry Potter books into the hands of my children and I avoid all instances where my teenage daughter can read Twilight until she’s out of her teens.
Why, you ask, am I so averse to my children reading Twilight? Well, let’s talk about it.
If you don’t know the plot of Twilight, I’m sorry that you have been living under a rock. It may be less cool to read Twilight, but hell, get with the times. This is one of the most popular teen series in forever. I won’t bother to recap what the books are about, that’s just wasting the precious time of my fingers. I will do my best to tease apart some of the more striking things I notice about each of the characters based on their psychological presentations.
Good lord, where do I start? This is probably going to be eerily familiar to many of you who have read anything remotely feminist about Twilight. However, I also want to point something out – Bella is a teenage girl. When was the last time you met (or you remember being) a secure teenage girl? In my own experience, there was probably 1 per every 1000 girls in my teenage years who actually appeared secure and self-assured. As a whole, we’re all just bumbling, emotional, insecure people until we start getting the chance to self-actualize in our 20s.
When I was 16, everything revolved around having a boyfriend. I romanticized that someone would love me in spite of my braces, my position on the golf team, and my horrible clumsiness. I wore chokers I made from my own bead collection and I fretted over wearing converse to school because I didn’t want the cool kids to think I was trying to be cool and steal their Chuck Taylor-wearing thunder. I was a mess and all I wanted was for someone to validate me by loving me (besides my mom). When I finally got a boyfriend, my world did revolve around him to some degree and I’m sure if he was some sexy vampire who was like 100 years old and the most unique, intelligent, and mysterious person I had ever met, I’d do stupid things like follow him into the woods and look up at him dreamily. When you’re 16, your mortality is like the last thing on your mind.
So, I have a ton of empathy for Bella. I think we all do. That’s why we gobble this stuff up like Thanksgiving tofurkey (don’t hate!). Bella is an insecure teenager. It fits. She’s the product of a divorce, with a rotating cast of characters for fathers throughout the years. She watched her mother throw away her own life in varying degrees for her male partnerships, so her pattern makes sense. Plus, her mom is a notorious flake who has struggled to provide Bella with a consistent upbringing since leaving Forks. No wonder Bella finds Edward, with his 100 year existence and his giant family, so appealing. This guy is about as stable as they come in Bella’s world. He’s a grown-ass man.
To her credit, girlfriend slowly grows up and gets a life of her own. Edward does a lot of good things for Bella without doing it intentionally. He leaves her. He forces her to realize that life goes on without that person you love(d) most. We’ve all been there – broken hearted and feeling like the world was over. Then, the world wasn’t over and eventually we were OK. Sure, Bella does dumb stuff like try to drive a motorcycle off a cliff and fall in love with her best friend, but again, she’s 16 and already not doing so hot as far as family situations go. When I was 16, you should have read the stuff I wrote in my diary. If I had a motorcycle, I would have done something stupid in the midst of my first heartbreak, too.
So, she develops a sense of self. She gains enough courage to understand Edward’s love isn’t this tenuous thing and if it is, well screw him, because she loves Jacob, too. That’s what happens when you leave your young girlfriend in the hands of Taylor Lautner in jorts. She falls for him in some way. Edward being a grown-ass man takes it in stride and just puts a ring on it.
This is where everyone loses their marbles over this whole series. They get married! She gets knocked up! She’s what, like 18? I certainly don’t want my 16-year-old daughter reading these books in 20+ years and thinking the answer to all her problems is to get a boy, get a marriage, and have a baby. The books make it sound so perfect and the ribbons tie together so perfectly, if I was in a teenager’s brain, all hyped up with hormones, emotion, and irrational thinking, I might draw the conclusion that I should fall madly in love with the first boy I meet, marry him, and have a baby with him with some stupid name like Renesmee.
Girls, DON’T DO IT! No man is like Edward and if he is, run away. He’s not a vampire, so it’s creepy, not romantic. We are all Bellas, but there are no such thing as Edwards. There are plenty of Jacobs in this world and they are so worth having, trust me.
Anyway, the premise Stephanie Meyer uses to wrap-up her books is not something that I champion. What I do enjoy is that Bella begins to make her own decisions. She decides to keep her baby in spite of Edward. She gives up on her whining about becoming a vampire. She finds purpose in life besides living for Edward – granted it’s living for another human being at first – but eventually, she becomes her own woman. She recognizes she is unique and powerful, much more powerful than anyone could have anticipated, and there’s something beautiful about that conclusion. It says to me, “Girls, we will grow up and we will come into our own. We will be women with our own unique gifts, independent of whom we choose to love.”
Oh, Edward. I loved you so much until I met Jacob Black. Let me explain…
Edward isn’t a real person. This man does not exist. He is Mr. Darcy on crack, which is just appalling to me. Why would you want to amplify Mr. Darcy? The reason he is so great is because he has an understated charm and unexpected soft underbelly. He is Mr. Darcy and he is perfect just the way he is. He is probable and hopefully expected. He could happen in the real world. Mr. Darcy is an accomplished man, who is intelligent, self-assured, and capable. Naturally, he is attracted to his equal who also loves and values herself. It makes sense.
Edward Cullen does not exist. He can’t exist because there are too many contradictions to him to actually be a believeable person. At least Bella makes sense, but Edward… the guy lived an extra 100ish years, matured, learned Latin, played the piano, dated(eh?) Alaskan vampires, and then decided that he had to be with Bella Swan, the most unlikely and unassuming woman of all time. Granted, she is this rare, diamond in the rough and her and Edward are cosmically connected through that whole premise that everyone has “the one” waiting for them out there, but in my experience that’s just crap. In Twilight it makes sense, but when applying it all to real life, it doesn’t. We can’t find Edward Cullen because he doesn’t exist and he shouldn’t. It’s the rule of books – sometimes you just can’t apply that stuff to real life. If so, I’d be a wizard living in Hogwarts, teaching Legilimency (which in itself is improbable in HP world, anyway).
Part of becoming self-actualized is liking who you are and recognizing you exist independently of others. You don’t exist to make someone happy and no one exists to make you happy. Sure, happiness by association can happen incidentally, but hanging your hat on someone as a responsible party for your happiness is not how life works. It’s a recipe for depression and all sorts of other mental health issues. Edward serves as a man who fills our voids we are too scared to fill ourselves. Unfortunately, this man doesn’t exist in the real world because any man of Edward’s caliber would grow so sick of the whiny “fix how I feel!” stuff that he would hit the road to Italy… and never come back.
Anyway, I don’t know much about Edward’s family so I can’t go all case files there, but that’s the main disconnect I see with the idea of Edward Cullen. I’m not really complaining, considering the majority of art in our culture for young women to consume teaches us this lesson about how men will come in, save us, make us feel whole, define why we are alive, and then help us grow into the person we were always supposed to be – whether it’s as a vampire, a mermaid, a prisoner of a mystical Beast, etc. At least Belle got an awesome library out of the deal.
Jacob is the normal one. It’s why he’s so unremarkable in the books. He’s not completely insecure and unstable, he’s an average, decently intelligent, self-assured guy who happened to fall for Bella. Yeah, she was awesome in her own way, but let’s remember how small Forks is/was. She was probably the first girl to ever cross Jake’s path and also give him the time of day. He had to love her.
There’s not much to say about Jake, other than that I think he’s the true romantic hero of the story. Jake stood by Bella every time he could have run. He not only loved her, he was her friend. Even when he couldn’t bear the heartache of her marrying Edward, he stuck by her in the end and came to support her family. Jake always did the right thing. He was reliable, considerate, caring, and thougthful. He wasn’t a grown-ass man like Edward, but he is a real person. He makes sense. I can buy into him actually existing in real life. Jake is a man that is wandering out there in the real world. He is dateable, loveable, and marryable. The problem with Jake is that he is real – he’s not some cooked up ideal of what a man should be. He doesn’t bury letters beneath our floorboards, he doesn’t watch us creepily while we sleep, he doesn’t demand we marry him at 18. He makes us cutesy bracelets with his own hands, he sleeps next to us and keeps us warm, and he is patient. He’s willing to let us figure ourselves out independent of our relationship with him. He gives us room to breathe.
Bella didn’t want that room. She wanted to be eclipsed (get it? heh) by someone else. It’s really a bigger problem among young women then I think we’re all willing to admit.
The Case File
I think I’ve covered most of it, but the biggest take-away from the whole series for me was really a commentary on young women. If the series hadn’t been so wildly popular, I probably wouldn’t be fretting about this so much. I’d just roll my eyes, read another page, and say something like, “That was great, mindless reading!” The plot is so, so, so good and it just sucks you in. If you don’t take it too seriously, the books really are fabulous. They evoke so much emotion and they just make you want to give a damn. I like books like that.
I remember being Bella’s age. I remember how desperately I wanted to be cool, how much I cared about what others thought about me, and how I thought, “If only I had a boyfriend to make me feel loved and signify to everyone else that I’m desirable and deserving.”
It took me years to completely shed that mentality and I could contribute that to popular culture, the way I was raised, or just my own inner workings as a teenage girl. I think it’s a combination of all of it in some ways. If I was being really picky, I’d blame Stephanie Meyer for perpetuating this ideal. Sure, she could have thought long and hard about how the role of women is accepted and portrayed in popular culture, or she could have just written her book and made tons of money. Good for her. She capitalized on a way we all think and made her life better.
Girls like Bella are normal. Boys like Jacob are normal. Men like Edward are not. If you find a man like Edward Cullen, I recommend you run away. He’s not some rare, perfect vampire just for you. He’s a person, which means he has all the trappings of being a regular human being, making all the gifts, the eternal ‘I love yous’ and the rest of it a farce. Edward is passionate love, but he’s not companionate love. Our world of monogamy is based on the latter. We should pick partners that fulfill those needs if we want a long-lasting relationship.