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Aeicha @ Word Spelunking

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Trouble With Bella Swan

Anyone who reads, reviews, or writes about YA literature is very aware of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight Saga. Whether you're fan or not, you've probably engaged in some kind of discussion surrounding this series. As a known book lover who majored in English Lit. and Lang. in college, I've often been asked whether or not I would recommend these books and this question has often been asked by parents of tween/teen girls. And my answer is always NO. Now before any Twilight fans get riled up, hear me out. I have read all four books, and while I do not consider myself a fan, I can surely appreciate what Meyer has done and I respect the fandom. However, my opinion still stands. I would most definitely not place a Twilight book in the hands of a tween or teen who has never read them (instead I would gladly loan them my Harry Potter or Percy Jackson or Fablehaven books). But my opinion holds no weight without any sound and logical reasoning behind it of course.

So why wouldn't I recommend these books? Well, I have my issues with Meyer as a writer and I do not consider these to be great books by any means, and I could pinpoint my issues with her dialogue, character development, or word choice but I'll leave that for another day. Besides that isn't my main concern.  For me, the real issue lies with the main character Bella Swan. Bella is the character that readers are going to want to relate to and connect with. Bella is the character that many young (and older) females look up to and try to emulate. And therein lies the problem for me. I do not find Bella to be a good role model for girls. But again, its not simply enough for me to just say this without evidence to back up my opinion. So, I offer the following paper I wrote about a year ago in my Popular Fiction class during my senior year of college. This paper is by no means a work of scholarly brilliance. It is simply the brief and probably boring work of a overly tired college senior who had to re-read Twilight in order to write it...although, I did receive an A on the paper. And note that this paper only covers the first book in the series and I have not changed it in anyway, this is the same paper I turned in more than a year ago, MLA citations and all. If I could, I would hand this paper to every parent who ever wondered if they should allow their daughter to read the Twilight Saga.

**And please note that these are simply my own thoughts and opinions. I am in no way bashing Meyer or Twilight fans in any way, especially those that admire Bella. I know firsthand what its like to be a part of a debated fandom and to love something fiercely that others don't. And I'm also not insulting parents who allow their children to read these own parents allowed my teenage sister to read them...heck I didn't try to stop her from reading them, nor would I ever try to stop anyone from reading something they want to read or love**

The Trouble With Bella

     Teenage girls are bombarded with mixed messages about life, sex, love, values, responsibility, and relationships. These mixed messages come from a myriad of outlets including movies, television, magazines, books, and celebrities. Good role models, who encompass well sought after attributes and personality traits, can offer teenage girls positive life examples from which to learn from and follow. With the lives and roles of teenage girls becoming increasingly complicated and varied it can be hard to find truly positive role models for these girls to look up to. In Twilight, author Stephenie Meyer has created a character, Bella Swan, that many teenage female readers look up to and yet, Bella does not possess the attributes of a good role model. Bella is not a good role model for teenage girls because throughout Twilight she knowingly and willingly places herself in potentially dangerous situations without any thought to consequences, she lies to her parents, and she places the needs and desires of herself and of her boyfriend above all others. By reading and exploring Twilight one can determine that Bella Swan does not allow herself to make smart, rational decisions
            Once in Forks, Washington and at Forks High School, Bella finds herself drawn to Edward Cullen as she observes that “…his glance held some kind of unmet expectation” (22). Bella’s first encounter with Edward in her Biology II class is not a friendly one. Bella recalls that 
“He stared at me again, meeting my eyes with the strangest expression on his face-it was hostile, furious…his eyes were black-coal black…He was glaring down at me again, his black eyes full of revulsion…the bell rang loudly…and he was out of the door before anyone else was out of their seat” (23-25).
 After this first dark encounter with Edward, Bella’s instincts tell her that something is off about him and she should stay away yet, Bella notes that the second day of school “…was worse because Edward Cullen wasn’t in school at all” (30). Despite her instincts and better judgment Bella begins to allow Edward and the mere thought of Edward to define her mood and happiness.
            The catalyst that changes Bella’s life forever is Edward saving her from being crushed by a skidding van. Bella remembers that before the accident “Edward Cullen was standing four cars down from me…” (56) and before the skidding van could crush her she remembers that “Two long, white hands shot out protectively in front of me…the large hands fitting providentially into a deep dent in the side of the van’s body” (56). This is the moment Bella realizes that Edward is different and possibly dangerous but she refuses to stay away from him. Even after Edward refuses to tell Bella the truth she allows her thoughts to be consumed by him. During the next few weeks that follow the accident Edward insist that he and Bella should not be friends and Bella does not listen. Here we have evidence of Bella’s first flaw that makes her a bad role model for teenage girls.
            After the accident Bella and Edward have an important conversation where he asks “‘What if I’m not the superhero? What if I’m the bad guy?’” (92), to which Bella replies “‘Oh,’…’I see’…’You’re dangerous?’” (93). During this conversation, Bella’s internal thoughts are saying “He was dangerous. He’d been trying to tell me that all along” (93). Before Bella even realizes the truth of what Edward is she knows that he is dangerous; he tells her he is dangerous but she continues to pursue the relationship. After this conversation, Bella allows herself to be alone with Edward in his car and even agrees to spend the day with him alone. With each of these careless decisions Bella willingly places herself in the company of danger, inadvertently placing those she loves in danger as well. 
            Bella begins to realize that Edward is a vampire and there is a moment where she questions what this realization means and she decides that she is “…already in too deep” (139) and wants “…nothing more than to be with him right now” (139). Bella’s moment to think rationally and to think about the potential consequences of her continued relationship with Edward passes all too quickly as she notes that she is “…unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him” (195). After this realization, Bella thinks of nothing but Edward; she does not stop to think about her safety or the safety of her father. In the meadow, during their day alone together, Bella witnesses first hand the violence Edward is capable of as “He reached up with one hand and, with a deafening crack, effortlessly ripped a two-foot think branch from the trunk of the spruce…he threw it with blinding speed, shattering it against another huge tree, which shook and trembled at the blow” (264). Even this display of Edward’s dangerous strength does not scare Bella away, though it should.
            After this afternoon together where Bella and Edward declare their love for each other she continues to willingly place herself in dangerous situations just to be with Edward. Her refusal to think of her safety leads Bella to spending the day in a house full of vampires, spending an evening in the woods with these vampires, and ultimately leads Bella to her near death at the hands of the vampire James. Bella chooses her own ill fate the moment she allows herself to be consumed by her feelings for Edward, allowing those feelings to dominate over all other rational thoughts.
            Bella’s obsessive and dominating love for Edward keeps her from making smart, thoughtful, and rational decisions; leading her to lie to both of her parents. Bella’s relationship with her father Charlie is, to some degree, one of mutual understanding. Bella and Charlie respect each other’s preference for being alone and do not meddle in one another’s affairs. However, Charlie is still Bella’s father and he is protective of her, which keeps Bella from telling him that she is spending the day alone with Edward Cullen. This is the first of many reckless lies Bella believes she must tell Charlie. Lying to Charlie about Edward is not only disrespectful to him as her father; it is also a foolish choice for a teenage girl to make. Bella’s lying continues as she must run away to Phoenix to escape James the vampire and the lying continues even further when Bella is almost killed by James and suffers several serious injuries. Injuries, which Charlie and Bella’s mother, Renee, are told are a result of Bella falling down a flight of stairs and through a window.
            One intriguing and evasive lie Bella tells, is to her mother. While Bella is in the hospital in Phoenix, after nearly dying at the hands of James, she and her mother Renee have a conversation about Bella’s relationship with Edward. Renee states “’I think that boy is in love with you …he seems very nice, and, my goodness, he’s incredibly good-looking, but you’re so young, Bella…’” (468). To Renee’s admission Bella replies “’I know that, Mom. Don’t worry about it. It’s just a crush…’” (468). Bella’s love for Edward goes well beyond some crush, she sees him as her soul mate, and yet, she chooses to keep this from her mother. By lying to Charlie and Renee about the intensity and seriousness of her relationship with Edward, Bella is beginning to distance herself from them.
            This distancing herself from her parents reveals Bella’s greatest flaw that keeps her from being a good role model, her selfishness. When Bella is attacked by James he bites her, almost turning her into a vampire, but Edward saves her before she can turn. In the hospital Bella asks Edward “’…Why didn’t you just let the venom spread? By now I would be just like you’” (473). Bella wants to become a vampire, she wants to join the Cullen family, and be with Edward forever; even at the cost of loosing her parents and her parents loosing her. With this last reckless decision, the decision to someday become a vampire, Bella completely ignores this decision’s potential effects on the people who love her. This decision is purely selfish on Bella’s part. Bella places her love for Edward and his love for her above the love her parents have given Bella her whole life.
            Selfishness, lying, and irrational behavior are common flaws that people are bound to become wrapped up in at one point in their lives and the teenage years are often seen as a time where these flaws are abundant. In Bella, these flaws are especially abundant and they seem to cross any line where being a teenager is an adequate enough excuse for them. Bella’s life in Twilight quickly goes from normal to supernaturally complicated and she does not handle the transition in a responsible manner. The moment Bella realizes Edward is dangerous and chooses to pursue the relationship is the moment that starts a trend of irresponsible and irrational decisions and behaviors on her part. With Bella, Stephenie Meyer has created a realistic, accessible, and flawed female character yet, these attributes alone do not make Bella Swan a good role model for teenage girls.

I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions, even and especially if they are different from mine. I promise to respect your opinions if you offer me the same courtesy.


Leahelisabeth said...

I definitely agree with you that she is not a good role model. The biggest thing that bugs me about her, however, is the fact that Bella is really only half a person. Essentially, her life begins the moment she meets Edward and she can never be whole without him. I personally feel that the young women of today need to realize who they are. You need to be able to define yourself by yourself before you define yourself by anyone else. I see so many young women stuck dating jerk after jerk simply because they are uncomfortable in their own skin and don't feel like who they are is enough. Yeah, I know, soap box much? I simply believe that young women need to be reading about women who inspire them to discover their own strengths and to forge their own paths. Why fall back on the empty Bella Swan when you can have the Hermione's, or the Ella of Frell's? Good article, my dear.

Aeicha @ Word Spelunking said...

Leahelisabeth-- Yes, yes, yes! Absolutely! Bella is defined by her relationship with Edward and that is such an unhealthy message to send to young girls. Without Edward, Bella is really quite an under-developed character, with no "life" or essence of her own. What exactly is Meyer saying? A girl can only be whole if she's in a relationship?! I think not!
Thanks for your awesome comments!