rough notes

Vampire Love: Unrefined Thoughts on Twilight

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I’ve been thinking about vampires quite a bit lately. Actually, I’ve been fascinated with vampires as a cultural product for a number of years now. It is not uncommon, I don’t think, to be curious about a concept of ourselves which is physically and intellectually our superior, yet whose souls and morals are imperfect and subordinate to our own. I honestly don’t know too much about vampires, and I certainly am no expert on the intersections between the vampire and contemporary popular culture because I never watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer. At best, a smattering of Anne Rice, some various vampire films from the 1970s to the present, and one or two readings of Bram Stoker’s Dracula establish my pedigree. But last week, Stephenie Meyer‘s Twilight entered into my home, so I decided to see what all the fuss has been about. Reading the text made me revisit some of my opinions about the vampire as a “pre-postmodern” (because it certainly isn’t just “modern”) Terminator, a biological, post-human cyborg that walks amoungst us, is stronger than us, smarter than us, and more heartless than us. Like the Terminator, vampires must “destroy” humans – organisms that are their originators – in order to sustain themselves. Before getting to that subject, however, I need to express some thoughts about Meyer’s conception of teenage romance as witnessed in Twilight. Without touching on the more interesting elements of the vampire motif, Meyer appears to present an understanding of teenage love that is based on the irrational and unexplained. To Meyer and her characters in Twilight, if one person’s feelings for another can’t be reconciled, explained or understood, then they are as strong and as real and as valid as life itself.

I will confess that I didn’t particularly enjoy Twilight. I found the text to be fairly simple in places, and there were a couple moments when I questioned if there was even a plot beyond the developing love between Bella and Edward. A large part of me was annoyed with Meyer’s characterization of teenagers and teenage love in the text. Bella, the narrator, has fallen crazy-in-love with her opposite, Edward. Initially, Bella characterizes it as infatuation, understanding that most teenage romances are simply crushes that are blown out of proportion. At some point in the text, however, Bella’s infatuation for Edward becomes a declaration of true love and adoration: the two characters spend an inordinate amount of time expressing their undying devotion to one another with incessant “I love you”‘s. I haven’t decided if Meyer believes that teenagers believe in this puppy-love romance themselves or if teenagers expect to see this sort of romance in fiction, but I will give her the benefit of the doubt and say that to a certain degree she is writing about the perception of teenage romance. Bella’s narration, especially in the first half of the text, betrays this because it reveals her awareness of her own inexperience with relationships as well as the ways that teenagers watch and perceive their friend’s relationships. A lot of watching, listening, and (mis)interpreting goes on in Twilight. For instance, Bella watches Mike interact with Jessica and with herself, and notes his clear shift in attention when she betrays her friend’s feelings to him. Bella pays particular attention to interpreting signs and reading body language when Edward is present since the vampire can read everyone’s thoughts but for her. She realizes she must be careful of what she says to her friends so that Edward won’t figure out her own thoughts and feelings through them. Her sensitivity to the perception and interpretation of thoughts and relationships suggests that Meyer is writing to an audience who understands that relationships and romance can be misinterpreted, if not misguided.

It would be wrong of us to characterize Meyer’s understanding of teenage love as simple as that, though. Romance takes on a definition that goes well beyond how one perceives relationships in Twilight. Rather, it broaches on the irrational and the fantastic. Although Bella is written to be consciously aware of her inability to accurately evaluate relationships, she nonetheless succumbs to her emotions and comes to believe that her teenage love is in fact a manifestation of “the real thing,” an instance of a true love, which is undying and eternal (pardon the pun). Meyer seems to validate Bella’s adoration for Edward through her character’s original skepticism for teenage romance itself. Having been raised in a broken home, Bella is intuitively skeptical of the concept of “true love.” She understands that what teenagers categorize as “love” is often “infatuation.” And a romance between a human and a vampire should never happen just as a romance between a Capulet and a Montague should never happen. Regardless, Bella and Edward are drawn to one another by an unknown, unstoppable force that lies well beyond the limits of reason, thereby making their lives star-cross’d and their romance fated. By the end of the text, Bella comes to terms with the fact that she can’t argue with such an unexplained and unreasonable force: if vampires are real, then true love must be real. If Bella’s skepticism about one element of the fantastic – vampires – can be shaken, then so, too, can her skepticism about true love. Just as Bella won’t bet against Alice’s ability to see the future, she won’t argue with this love. To Bella, the fact that love exists in spite of her reason actually makes love stronger than any rational understanding of the senses, ourselves, or society might. For better or for worse, Bella’s love for Edward, and her understanding of love it self, is situated beyond reason. It resides in the realm of the fantastic and of faith.

I can’t tell if Bella’s undying love for Edward reinforces a stereotype we have about teenage love or if it affects how a teen should consider the nature of love itself. Does the presence of a teenage character who clings to a romance reinforced by the irrational and the fantastic suggest that love can’t ever be understood, or that love even finds its strength exclusively through the irrational? On the one hand, such a character simply tells us that no teenager can ever evaluate and understand love. Bella tells us so in the beginning of the text, and insinuates it as much in her constant apologies to Edward and the Cullens for the problematic consequences of her vampire romance. Her apologies remind us that in spite of her smarts, Bella could not ever properly judge the consequences of her emotions and is now repentant for the outcome(s) to follow. But on the other hand, Bella’s misguided romance (both she and Edward are at least cognizant that complications will arise, even if they don’t know what those complications will be) is accepted by the highest moral authority in the text – Carlisle Cullen, the patriarch of the vampire family. In spite of the obvious differences between the vampires and Bella, Carlisle and his family welcome her into their home, invite her to take part in familial events, and even celebrate her birthday. The Cullens, and Carlisle especially, represent wisdom and experience in the text; they know better than Bella the danger that her association with them brings onto her person. Yet, they warmly receive Edward’s girlfriend into their family and protect her at all costs. The protection of Bella by the group that that should reject her on moral grounds represents an acceptance and enshrinement of the irrational human-vampire love in Twilight. Meyer’s book is a great love story, but only if love equals ignoring reason, ignoring signs, not reading, not interpreting, and only simply accepting what might come. Bella’s giving over to the fantastic, and the willing acceptance of this concession by the moral authorities in the text carries with it the implicit narrative suggestion that love must be irrational, and somewhat helpless, if it is to be love at all.

I don’t think I’ve given myself enough to time to think about the depiction of teenage romance in Twilight in order to properly address its outcomes. And I haven’t even addressed the fact that Edward’s relationship with Bella betrays either highly inappropriate behaviour toward teens (after all, he has the wisdom and maturity of someone who is well over ninety years old in spite of his teenage appearance) or a logic that betrays a poor intellect (i.e. how could some one who has the wisdom of his lifetime fall for some one who has the wisdom of her shorter lifetime?). But I can’t help but wonder what Stephenie Meyer’s depiction of love in this young adult novel says about how young adults actually perceive love or even how we would like young adults to perceive love. There seems to be an undercurrent within Twilight which suggests that no form of love can be understood. Of course, love is an emotion, so it can’t be quantified, and no relationship is ever “not messy.” Regardless, the manner in which Bella decides that she loves Edward in spite of her reason and the manner in with the characters who have the highest intelligence and highest moral code accept this love and protect it at all costs makes me wonder if there is room at all for thinking in Meyer’s form of (teenage) romance. Frankly, it’s ridiculous that Bella should be in love with a vampire. Meyer knows that, Bella knows that, and Edward knows that, but Bella goes on loving the vampire all the same. The sheer stupidity of, and danger in her situation is negated in the text, however, by the “power” of her emotions for Edward. Is Meyer telling us we should ignore signs of danger or should stop interpreting things when we feel the “power” of love? Perhaps that is true love in the end. Or maybe it’s a clever plot device that will keep Bella as a helpless, unthinking fawn in the woods who needs protection, always. What does such a plot device say about us, though? It leaves us helpless to the people around us. It leaves us in either the protection or the mercy of others. Bella in some ways has conceded her free will by taking the thinking out of love, and maybe that’s why I don’t like Twilight. I like my main characters to be strong, especially when they have to live amoungst and go to battle with the blood-sucking, re-born un-dead. Meyer may have given Bella a faith in love, but she’s made her weak in spirit.

Written by mitchellirons

December 15, 2008 at 9:56 am

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  1. […] Derivative – Vampire Love: Thoughts on Stephenie Meyer’s ‘Twilight’ […]

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