This post discusses domestic violence and sexual assault.
I really didn’t want this first post to be about Twilight. The series has been discussed to death (and straight back into undeath) by writers far more capable than I of drawing attention to the problematic elements and ridiculous writing. So many people have ripped Twilight apart that I feel like there’s not much more to say. My plan was to get a few posts under my belt and get a feel for how I want to run things, then talk about my general feelings on Twilight and possibly do a more in-depth discussion in the future. Unfortunately, a combination of recently watching the first two films and having no idea what to start on has pretty much driven all other possible subjects from my head. I guess it can’t hurt to discuss this one point now and go back to talk about Twilight as a whole later.
Before we begin, I feel it’s only fair to point out that I don’t like Twilight. I think that Stephenie Meyer is a terrible writer, I find Edward to be unspeakably creepy, and Bella alternately infuriates and depresses me. I’ve read all four books (as well as the leaked draft of Midnight Sun) and found each to be even creepier than the last. I have a visceral reaction to the mere mention of these books, and a strange preoccupation with them that usually consists of ranting about their flaws and bemoaning the fact that people actually like these wastes of trees. Still, I hesitate to call myself part of the Twilight “hate-dom”. Yes, I complain about this series a lot, but I prefer to focus on discussing what I find problematic (like, for instance, the rampant misogyny) than outright bashing Meyer or Twilight fans. This post is not meant to be a flame, but rather a reflection of my own interpretation of the text.
Anyway, onto the reason for this post. I watched New Moon last week, and the constant shots of Bella’s night terrors got me thinking. At the end of Twilight, Bella is hospitalized with a broken leg, four broken ribs, and a cracked skull, on top of several bruises and severe blood loss. The Cullens’ masterful excuse for this is that she fell down the stairs. How Charlie doesn’t see through this right away, I have no idea; as a cop, even in a small town like Forks, he’s bound to have dealt with domestic abuse cases before or at least been briefed on such situations, and should therefore be familiar with common excuses used by abusers. (On a side tangent, where is the evidence that Bella “fell down the stairs”, anyway? The Cullens torched the ballet studio – did they damage their own house to make it look like Bella had her “accident” there? Did they break into Renee’s house or even someone else’s? And where the hell was Bella hospitalized, anyway? I assumed Carlisle was taking care of her, but if Charlie knew she was going to Phoenix did they take her back to Forks and pretend she never left, or did Carlisle just butt in at the Phoenix hospital? NONE OF THIS MAKES ANY SENSE.) In New Moon, Edward takes Bella out to the woods, dumps her, and leaves her there. She wanders around for hours until a search party is sent out for her, and she spends the next four months being borderline catatonic, distancing herself from friends and family, and having night terrors that are so bad she wakes her father up with her screams.
This does not come across as “bad breakup” to me. I’ve helped my friends through bad breakups, and no matter how in love they were (or thought they were), none of them ever reacted the way Bella does when Edward leaves. No, this sequence of events reads more like Bella is dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Take a look at the symptoms section – does any of this seem familiar?
Repeated nightmares of the event: Bella wakes her father up every night because she has nightmares so bad she starts screaming. I don’t remember the text stating directly that these nightmares have anything to do with Edward, but considering that his leaving was the catalyst for all this, I feel safe in assuming that this is the case.
Emotional “numbing”, or feeling as though you don’t care for anything / feeling detached / having a lack of interest in normal activities / showing less of your moods / feeling like you have no future: She spends four months going through the motions of day-to-day life. For the first week or so she’s completely catatonic, and then she spends the rest of the time going about her life like an automaton. She refuses to listen to music or read (activities she’s shown enjoying in Twilight), cuts off her family and friends, and is pretty clearly under the impression that her life has no meaning now that Edward’s gone:
I was like a lost moon — my planet destroyed in some cataclysmic, disaster-movie scenario of desolation — that continued, nevertheless, to circle in a tight little orbit around the empty space left behind, ignoring the laws of gravity.
Bella Swan, New Moon, Chapter 9, p.201
Even after she’s broken out of her stupor and starts spending time with Jacob, she is distant with her father and the rest of her friends, and shows little interest in anything that is not related to her attempts to “hear” Edward once again.
Avoiding places, people, or thoughts that remind you of the event: Any mention of Edward or the rest of the Cullens causes Bella to either shut down or ignore the topic completely. IIRC, pressing the matter makes her physically ill (I swear I remember Meyer’s constant mentions of the “hole in [Bella’s] chest” cropping up around Jacob and when Edward is mentioned).
The website also mentions that sufferers of PTSD may experience depression (which is Bella’s state for the vast majority of New Moon), and warns that you should seek a doctor if “you are thinking of hurting yourself or anybody else”. Sound familiar? It should, considering Bella’s intentional self-harm-seeking behavior.
Now that we’ve established that a lot of Bella’s behavior is similar to symptoms of PTSD, it seems like a rather severe reaction to a breakup, doesn’t it? Even considering that this is Bella’s first relationship (and a high school relationship at that, which are notorious for not lasting past graduation), and therefore her first experience with breaking up and dealing with lost love, Bella still acts completely over-the-top.
So why does no one question her reaction? Remember, previous to this event she’d been hospitalized with severe injuries, and the “explanation” her boyfriend (the same boyfriend who spends his life lying to and manipulating the people around him) gave was that she fell down the stairs – an excuse that’s not only commonly associated with domestic violence, but doesn’t match up with her injuries. A few months later, that same boyfriend takes her into the woods behind her house, leaves her there, and leaves town with his family. Bella wanders around the woods until her father is so worried he sends a search team after her, and spends the next few months acting like she has PTSD. If I were reading any other novel, I would assume that Edward was a physically abusive douchebag (as opposed to the emotionally abusive douchebag he already is) who grew tired of Bella and took her out in the woods to rape her and leave her for dead. Hell, I’m surprised I didn’t come to that conclusion the first time around.
Like I noted earlier, Charlie is a cop. Even in a small town like Forks, he would most likely have some experience with domestic abuse cases and sexual assault, especially considering that he’s the sheriff and must have spent at least a few years as a beat cop. And yet, while he does think that Bella is overreacting, Charlie doesn’t seem to pick up on the red flags his daughter is practically throwing in his face. If my daughter were having screaming nightmares every night and was so obviously, deeply depressed, I would be taking her to the first psychologist I could find and demanding that she go into therapy. Either Charlie is one of those people who thinks that mental illness is a weakness that must be hidden, or he doesn’t give a fuck about Bella’s mental health. (Or, more likely, Stephenie Meyer ascribes to both of these, as well as not considering Bella’s reaction to be abnormal in any way.)
This is a prime example of how lazy Meyer’s writing is. Instead of exploring the themes of abuse and dependence that she’s (unintentionally) set up, she blithely goes on depicting an abusive relationship in which the woman is completely dependent on the man, both physically and emotionally, as not only normal but ideal. It’s not just bad writing – it’s dangerous.