Post-Twilight Stress Disorder

This post discusses domestic violence and sexual assault.

Clever girl.

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.

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6 comments on “Post-Twilight Stress Disorder

  1. I’m also not a fan of Twilight or Stephanie Meyer’s writing, however I’ve read the entire series. I’m a teacher and wanted to know what my 4th graders were reading. Parents don’t even have a clue.

    This is a great post, because everybody else thinks Edward is a wonderful person (can you even call him a person?) and so caring to Bella. However, he’s so controlling and nobody should put that much into their relationship. Bella had nothing else but him in her life. There are clear signs of emotional abuse and he has the strong power to turn into physical abuse if he can’t stop himself loving her smell.

    Girls need a better role model than Bella. That’s not how a relationship should be. She’s weak and doesn’t respect herself.

    • Agreed. I’ve met people who say that this is the greatest romance since Romeo&Juliet, when Edward is clearly an obsessive, controlling, abusive creeper.

      There was part of Twilight that really drove this home for me. When Bella is in the hospital at the end, Edward asks her to apologize for “nearly taking herself away from him.” I kid you not.

      • What struck me as even more creepy was the point when Edward and Bella have to separate, and Edward tells her that he’ll hold her responsible if anything happens to her. She is being stalked by a killer vampire who clearly wants to torture and eat her, but it’ll be her fault if he hurts her.

  2. Oh, yes, being the owner of a blog that picks apart Twilight, I noticed that. Still, the worst part of that book was the parking lot scene.

    After fainting in Biology, Edward carries her to the nurse’s office, convinces the nurse to release her from class, drags he across the parking lot, and forces her into his car. Of course, his actions are instantly forgiven when Bella notices that they have the same tastes in music. *eye roll*

  3. I read Twilight in high school because it was the big fad just as the movies were coming out. I have to say that it is the worst book I have ever read. In the end I felt like I had wasted several hours (over a course of a few days) of my life. I couldn’t understand how anyone could enjoy such a book, let alone produce a movie based on it. Edward’s character made me cringe and Bella seriously has issues. To get that sort of behavior you would have to be imprisoned, tortured, and have gone through an insanely traumatic experience. I think I cried for about an hour when my first boyfriend broke up with me, and then I went home, wrote in my journal about my sad day, decided I hated him, and then GOT OVER IT *gasp*. Yes, people actually do that.
    Anyway, great post. I’ve been enjoying your blogs as you pick through Eragon (great concept for a story, but I love everything you’ve pointed out that’s messed up in it.)

  4. The most pathetic thing about new moon is it is passed off as romantic to – not move on, go into depression, cut off all social ties, make all your life revolve around boyfriend, not care about parents, start hearing voices, try to kill yourself.
    Yes all of Bella’s actions in the end didn’t land her in a mental ward as it should have, but it was justified as “truest of true loves” (she used those exact words in her book, god!!!)
    That is what is most disturbing to me, depression and mental health isn’t a to be take lightly as it is potrayed.
    Also she quotes Romeo and Juliet throughout the book, Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy and the consequences for Romeo’s impulsiveness is death. Bella has no consequences, nobody even gets so much as a scratch in the book, and Bella doesn’t experience any change, she never learns to be independent and she is just back to square one with Edward with her crutch.

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