Ever since Twilight first hit bookshelves in 2005, it soon manifested into a mass-marketing, best-selling, and heart-capturing phenomenon for teenage girls to flock to. Twilight blew up the charts of popular, young-adult literature, and was soon compared to Harry Potter in terms of its popularity and the influence its characters had on its readers. Twilight was the new bandwagon that many did not want to miss. Millions of teenage girls believe the book is simply the best romance ever invented. What makes Twilight so popular, and will it help foster the next generation of piteously submissive females?
Twilight’s plot is simple and straightforward. 17-year-old Bella declines her mom’s invitation to move to Florida. Instead, she reluctantly opts to move into her dad’s cabin in the dreary, rain-soaked town of Forks, Washington. She soon becomes intrigued with Edward Cullen, a distant, stylish, and disarmingly handsome senior, who is also a vampire, with no mustache or love of rap. When Edward reveals that his specific clan hunts wildlife instead of humans, Bella deduces that she is safe from his blood-sucking instincts and free to fall hopelessly in love with him. The feeling is mutual, and the resulting romance smolders as they attempt to hide Edward’s identity from her family and the rest of the school.
To some, Twilight may seem like the average teen romance featuring a strong, intelligent, female protagonist. However, there are dozens of examples demonstrating Bella Swan to be a clichéd damsel in distress. While living every masochist’s dream of being a helpless victim, she creates the aching and endless romance many crave. Playing the attractive victim, Bella inspires many women to psychologically transform themselves into her clones. There is no clearly defined character, so readers are even more susceptible to placing themselves within the role. With no personality for comparison and a similar desire to be victimized in such an epic way, they believe themselves to be “just they like her.”
Despite what readers glimpse on the surface, there is that bittersweet apple many readers have yet to taste. Bella is not the role model of the independent and courageous female one could hope for the next generation. A hero is supposed to be a character readers can connect with in a positive way. The hero also has a defining quality that they can often rely on to aid them in rough situations. Such a character is strong, independent, and vibrant, and even good looking.
Bella is not independent. Edward rescues her from mortal danger at every twist and turn. She also is obedient to his every command, without question or hesitation. Edward talks and acts like an obsessively controlling adult male. Edward frequently refers to or treats Bella as a child even though she is a 17-year-old. Speaking of when they first met, Edward tells Bella he considered her “an insignificant little girl” (Twilight p. 271). He also calls her “little coward” (Twilight p. 279) and “Silly Bella” (Twilight p. 281).
How Edward physically handles her is like a mere child. Bella says, “Edward had scooped me up in his arms, as easily as if I weighed ten pounds instead of a hundred and ten” (Twilight p. 97) and, later, “[Edward] reached out with his long arms to pick me up, gripping the tops of my arms like I was a toddler. He sat me on the bed beside him” (Twilight p. 297).
Early on in the book, when two possible rapists in a dark alley follow Bella, Edward drives up near the end of the alley and tells her to get in the car. After she does, instead of asking if she is okay, he says “prattle about something unimportant until I calm down” (Twilight p. 169) without even asking if she is okay. Bella, completely overlooking this lack of interest in her well-being, is gleeful that he rescues her. After she manages to calm Edward down, he takes her to a restaurant, where he orders her to eat and drink, his voice “low, but full of authority” (Twilight p. 166). In response, Bella “sipped at [her] soda obediently” (Twilight p. 169).
Bella’s reactions to such treatment do not prove that she is a competent woman, who can think and act of her own accord. She is absolutely dependent on Edward’s ability to save her life, her virginity, and her humanity. Instead she basks in Edward’s glory, and her lust for his immortal presence.
The restaurant scene is one of many instances where Bella endures Edward’s slightly controlling manner. Blinded by lust and passion for his beauty, she does not even want independence. Her love for the immortal is personified by her own thoughts about him and nothing more. Her constant references to Edward show exactly what she thinks of him. He is nothing short of breathtakingly perfect, Bella’s “perpetual savior” (Twilight p. 166)”, a Greek god” (Twilight p. 206), a “godlike creature” (Twilight p. 256), “a carving of Adonis” (Twilight p. 299), and “terrible and glorious as a young god” (Twilight p. 343).
Bella is not the ideal role model to which young women need to develop a connection. There are better characters to admire. Many classics present well-developed, competent women. Surely Scarlett O’Hara, from Gone with the Wind is a better icon. Margaret Mitchell’s Southern belle has certainly left her massive impact on popular culture, and with far more grace. Or perhaps Celie, from The Color Purple, Josephine “Jo” March, from Little Women, or Dagney Taggart, Atlas Shrugged’s railroad magnate, would be better choices.
The reason Twilight’s influence is “bad” is the psychological impact the little character surprises paint within its pages. Past characters of novels soon become the role models of the present. Bella is not a strong character and might eventually place the idea in many heads that all women need to be as submissive as her.
Do we want our fictional characters to be classroom role models or future blueprints for useless girls? Perhaps someday, an author will look more closely at the characters he or she creates, and how those images shape society. They should be doing that now. After all, the future should be considered, and considered with great care.