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Presented by State Library Victoria

the twilight era

I’m starting off my blog with the most popular Y.A. novels, so I can get in practice with blog writing and reviewing and feminist ideals and all that jazz (HP novels are on their way). So this week, we’re reviewing the Twilight saga (hereafter referred to as Twilight for the sake of conciseness). Twilight is a novel a lot of young people have strong opinions on. Truth is, you either love it or hate it. Either way, there are some feminist themes that need to be reviewed. And that’s my job! So off we go.

Let’s start with Bella. She has a bit of a danger complex, and is a little bit bland and ordinary, with a kink for sparkly men. Now, feminism is all about equality, and her relationship with Eddie, though it can be many things, is definitely not that. Bella is definitely not one of the worst characters I’ve ever come across (risky statement, I know). She spends most of the quartet trying to be on an equal level with Edward (by becoming an immortal). She’s definitely not empowered, though she does know what she wants and goes after it. She paints most of her female friends in a negative light (bond between sisters, anyone??), and puts down all other boys once she meets her ‘one true love’. She lives with her father, almost becoming his housemaid when she moves in – there are plenty of scenes when she’s preparing their dinner while he watches footy in the other room – it’s almost like she has this weird servitude thing (her mom, her dad, Edward… etc). Though not much detail is spent on her school life, Meyer says she’s smart and finds school easy, so easy that she reuses one of her old essays instead of writing a new one so that she can spend more time with her boyfriend. She takes life on with a passive attitude, a sort-of let life come at me and I’ll just cruise through sort of way, instead of taking action to get what she wants and where she wants to be. Not somebody I’d want to have as a role model for young children.

The relationship between Edward and Bella is odd. Not because it has possibly the largest (& weirdest) age gap in history (taking into account that 18 year old Bella is still under 21, the legal age in America), but because of the odd power thing between them. Edward definitely holds the power in the first book, as he holds Bella at arms length when she is clearly in love with him, but supposedly he’s also thirsting after her?? So Edward controls Bella, in a creepy, almost mind-slavish way, and Bella controls Edward a little bit, as he clearly wants her, but he also controls her by holding his returned love over her head. At the end of the first book, over the course of a couple of months (January to March 2005, if you’re interested), Bella’s already ready to lay down her life seriously for Edward. And she’s not even 18 yet!

Let’s talk about the side characters in this book. The ‘bridesmaids’ and ‘best men’ at a fictional wedding. First off, we have Jessica. The talkative, popular, skin-deep level stereotype that is so overused in modern fiction. Revealed later in the series to only be friends with Bella because she wants her popularity and constantly fighting for male attention, Jessica isn’t what you’d think of when you think of a modern, empowered woman. There’s nothing in the books that say she’s interested in anything except her own gain, which isn’t a feminist stance.

Renee. Well. Um, where do I start with her. Possibly the least empowered feminist character in the book, Renee relies heavily on those around her. Portrayed by Meyer as a forgetful, loving, scatterbrained mother in love with her husband Phil. She doesn’t sound that bad, except that the degree Meyer plays up these aspects of her personality, accidentally (or not!) making her, in my opinion, the weakest character in the book.

Edward’s brothers and father continue to play into the stereotype filled fictional city of Forks. Emmett, the jock who married the beauty queen, too manly for his own good and described as literally a beefcake, what isn’t to love. Jasper, the goth kid in the family, sulks around and has too much anger for his own good. Meyer doesn’t seem to paint either her male or female characters in a positive light.

The second book brings in a second man vying for Bella’s love, the ‘swoon-worthy’ werewolf Jacob. Meyer believes that because Bella has the ability to choose between her two lovers, she is automatically a feminist, as feminism is rooted in free choice. But if we are to agree with the dictionary definition of feminism, nobody seems to be championing equality of the sexes, or even remotely mentioning it…

New Moon also brings in the topic of mental illness. Bella spirals down into a depression when Edward leaves her because he left, and he said he didn’t want her. Some interesting inadequacy issues there, and very low self esteem. Is Meyer really showing young girls that if they’re not good enough for some boy, they’re not good enough to live?

The underlying themes in this book seem to me to be:

  • A power play between Edward and Bella that goes for the entire saga length
  • Stereotypical characters entering Bella’s life on the sideline
  • Bella’s self esteem issues that she thinks Edward and vampirism can fix.

The feminist themes outside of the storyline are interesting, because for a book that seems to mainly not champion feminism, Edward, not Bella is the main source of objectification. 80% of the twilight fan-base is people thirsting over Edward, which puts an odd lens on it as you read it with this in mind.

Overall, Twilight is filled with stereotyping and unempowered characters. I legitimately cannot think of any fully empowered, feminist characters that could portray good role models for young readers, which means I can’t recommend it as a book for young, malleable minds. That being said, it isn’t as bad as it’s said to be. As someone with a (shameful) past love of the Twilight saga, it has worldwide acclaim for being an awful book with awful writing and characters. I disagree with this. Twilight is at most, a very average book, with average characters and an average plot. Gotta say, tho, Rob Pattinson as Edward Cullen is definitely un-average on my list.

–  xox

p.s. if I made grammatical, spelling errors just notify me in the comments. this blog doesn’t get proofread by anyone but me, and I type up these posts in about the space of an hour and just hit post. thanks friends 🙂

4 comments

bookwithbane

I agree with the first one. Also finally good to see a real feminist.

Now, feminism is all about equality

. A lot of feminists I know(not all of them mind you. I am under the definition as feminist, but I use the word gender-equalist because of the controversiality about the word feminist), they are all for the matriarchy(meaning women are better than men and should control them. Basically modern Amazonian women). So basically they're pseudo-feminists. Darn, this sounds like a rant(kind of is, isn't it). But good post. though I wouldn't agree totally on Renee, though.

4th May, 18
serendepity

Thanks! What do you think about Renee? She was difficult to write about, because she's a complicated character. I'm always interested in different opinions.

5th May, 18
bookwithbane

In reply to serendepity

The thing there is about books is, that books don’t have to fill a quota with characters. So I don’t want to read a book that feels like the author was just trying to make it diverse. Of course I’m not saying diversity’s bad(I’m all for it). It’s just it doesn’t make sense to make every character different. And Renee, why does she have to be empowered? In the real world is everyone empowered? And to me Renee sounds like she’s a happy person, with a loving family. Bella on the other hand, I agree with you. She is just the most... eurghh character there is in Twilight.

5th May, 18
serendepity

In reply to bookwithbane

That's fair. I agree that not every one in the real world's empowered. She seems like a nice person, just not a great role model from a feminist perspective. I did like her as a character. I think I'll make the wording clearer. Thanks!

5th May, 18