You know, funny thing about this series, even after ten years, people still love to watch hate for it. I suppose that it doesn’t help that Meyer just keeps on dishing out lols.
So, now that I’ve briefly touched on the problem with this behemoth’s very conception, it’s time to move on to bigger fish. This will be the first of a good number of character centered rants.
Isabella Marie Swan. The very name is enough to give me shivers of horror. This character launched a character type, a mindset, and the idea of raging Mary Sues being acceptable that, to this day, still impacts YA. While Bella might not be the worst Sue that I’ve ever encountered, she is certainly one of the most influential. When talking about things that are wrong with this series, there is nothing more wrong than this particular character.
“Bella is an everygirl. She’s not a hero, and she doesn’t know the difference between Prada and whatever else is out there. She doesn’t always have to be cool, or wear the coolest clothes ever. She’s normal. And there aren’t a lot of girls in literature that are normal. Another thing is that Bella’s a good girl, which is just sort of how I imagine teenagers, because that’s how my teenage years were.” (Stephenie Meyer EW interview)
Bella Swan was meant to be a girl that, I’ll be honest, doesn’t appear too much in literature. She was supposed to be a character who wasn’t particularly pretty nor talented. She was supposed to have issues with her own self-esteem which hid itself in the guise of cynicism and sarcasm. She was supposed to love books because, at heart, she was a bit of a hopeless romantic but wouldn’t dare admit it because it was stupid. She was supposed to be kind of tame, a little on the sidelines of life even.
While other people had parties and friends, Bella read. She was supposed to love her mother, yet the stress of dealing with the woman had affected her, making it difficult to reach out to people. Possibly even due to her fear of being just like her. Yet at the same time she was affected by her mother’s prejudice against her father and the town she’d been born in.
Suddenly, because she felt somewhat threatened by her mother’s new husband, she decided to live with her father, and in that new world, she was supposed to be placed in a situation where she had to use her intelligence to navigate a world of creatures that were much more difficult than her. While at the same time slowly repairing her relationship with her father and learning to love the strange, rainy town of Forks.
In reality, Bella Swan had potential. She could have been an interesting character. She could have even been likeable.
What went wrong?
Bella has, what I consider, two things wrong with her:
1. She’s passive.
2. She’s unlikable.
Bella actually doesn’t do anything during the entire series. Meyer might claim that Bella ‘worked hard’ but in reality, there wasn’t anything that wasn’t set in front of her on a silver platter.
For instance, even in the first book, Edward loves Bella without her so much as having to attempt to be attractive. The other vampires are interested in her and the only actual thing that she does for herself is run away, and even that is after being lugged around by the other vampires.
The same thing happens in New Moon. Bella is hurt due to an accident, and Edward decides to leave her. Nothing is Bella’s fault, so while Bella can sit and stew in her depression, she doesn’t have to think that maybe she was wrong. Again, Jacob just automatically falls for her while Bella doesn’t have to fall for anyone at all. She makes no move without someone right next to her, helping her out, and in Eclipse, she’s again both beyond responsibility and also not involved in the danger.
Breaking Dawn, terrible as it was, shows this in its full glory. Bella not only doesn’t have to work for her happy ending, she doesn’t have to work to control bloodlust, and is just naturally the most powerful vampire ever. Her shield takes very little time to control, and allows her, rather than to stand on her own too feet, but to avoid having to stand on her own two feet. While in the end, she is definitely more powerful than her husband, she’s never actually made a choice, done something, or really even have to so much as lift a finger for her perfect life to be set in front of her.
It’s like a Cinderella story, only where Cinderella was sitting around while the stepsisters did all the work, got changed by the godmother, was carried to the palace and never even had to flee because she was so perfect.
If this wasn’t bad enough, Bella is not a character who you even want to succeed.
Now, I personally am a fan of suffering. As far as I am concerned, a character must suffer for them to be interesting. A character who never has anything bad happen to them is boring. Not only that, but they are often actually kind of mean, as they lack any reason to sympathize with others.
Bella is like that to me.
She hates absolutely everyone in the book who isn’t Edward. She hates her classmates for being boring and shallow and not like her. She hates the werewolves for not being as cool as vampires and having the gall to think that they can take one out. She hates the other vampires for being pretty and immortal when she’s mortal and dying. She hates her mother for being flighty and imperfect. She hates her father for telling her no. She hates Leah for calling her out.
And most of all, Bella Swan hates humanity for being flawed.
Oh, she’ll give people lip service, but she doesn’t seem to like anyone. When she goes with friends, it’s because they ‘made her’ not because she likes them. If she ever says anything nice about someone, it’s because they’re leaving her alone. She doesn’t even like things. We’re told that she likes to read, but we never see it, and her half-baked attempts at literary analysis are hardly signs of being a bookworm.
Also, note the books that Bella likes. Wurthering Heights, Romeo and Juliet, Pride and Prejudice. These books actually give no indication of Bella’s personality. Other than that she reads ‘good’ literature. She doesn’t like just ‘books’ she doesn’t like mysteries, she doesn’t like fantasy. She doesn’t even like stupid romance novels. All that we know is that she’s read the school’s reading list. Nothing more.
Bella Swan’s character is as flat and bland as the plains of Nevada during the winter. She is a sullenly sociopathic young woman who is, in reality just as abusive as Edward, just in a more quiet way, and the only reason we don’t see it is because Edward doesn’t have the same subtlety that she does, and it’s usually done in ways that we’re not usually thinking about. The fact that everything always goes her way, and the fact that she seems to think that she deserves all of it, does nothing but make her all the more hateful.
And yes, I do deem her abusive. Let’s look at how she treats the people around her, shall we?
First of all, we have her father, Charlie Swan. Poor Charlie’s going to get his own chapter. Bella treats this man, from the first like he is total dirt. First of all, despite the fact that he is clearly desperate to connect with her, she refuses to so much as acknowledge her blood ties to him. She treats him like he can’t feed himself, and then uses the final words of his ex-wife (who judging by the fact that he still has pictures of her, he still loves) as a way to hurt him so much, he’ll let her go do what she wants. That’s just the first book. In New Moon, she runs off to Italy while he’s at the funeral of his friend who had died brutally. And then she acts miffed when he is rather understandably upset. In Breaking Dawn though, Bella goes to new extremes. She flat out plans to pretend to die, refuses to let Charlie see her, and forces him to suffer. Because she doesn’t want to admit that she’s preggers with Edward’s demon spawn of a child. Oh, and she wants to be a vampire. She likes to frame it as selflessness, but really, it was because he was in her way.
Next, let’s talk about her behavior in regards to her human friends. She flat puts Jessica in danger in the second book, finds their ideas and opinions utterly dull, and sneers at them from behind their backs. Yet, they’re supposed to love her and when one of them snarks at her for her behavior, she’s the bad guy. This is that person who ends up sitting with you at lunch who nobody likes but who acts like she’s doing you a favor by being seen with you.
Finally, I’m going to bring up Edward. Edward is abusive. He’s incredibly abusive. I’m not saying that he’s not. A lot of my rant on him is going to be centered on just how terrible he is in a relationship, but Bella is not an innocent flower, and I think that sometimes, that can be forgotten when we look at the horror that is Edward Cullen. Bella is using Edward flat out. She doesn’t love him. She didn’t know the first thing about him. She doesn’t even have the flimsy excuse of a fascination that Edward does. She loves the fact that he is rich, immortal, pretty and powerful. She couldn’t care less about Edward’s supposed moral struggle to retain his humanity. As a matter of fact, she’s always trying to tempt him to turn her into a vampire, despite the fact that it’s clear he doesn’t want to, and he things that he’ll be making her suffer if he does. Bella doesn’t care about talking it out with him. She doesn’t care even about thinking about the reasons why he doesn’t want to. As a matter of fact, she doesn’t really care about him at all. She cares about what he can give her. She said it itself. She “want[s] to be Superman” (474).
Bella is an emotionally manipulative, joyless, boring young woman who doesn’t care who she hurts so long as she gets what she wants.
Funny thing is that if you read fanfic about the series, you’ll often find better Bellas. They’ll be genuinely interested in other people, snarky, sweet, innocent, all the things that they want to see Bella as, but that she’s really not. Bella is a character that fans project themselves into.
And that’s where the real clincher lies.
The problem is that Bella was never a character in her own right. She was Meyer’s ideal of herself in high school. Even the experience of her moving into a new school and having everyone like her was based off of Meyer’s own experience in going from high school to college. Bella Swan was and is still the avatar that Meyer lived her prefect life through. When it was published, the same held true for her fans. You can see it in their reviews and comments. They are Bella. Bella is not a person in and of herself.
Bella became the way that Meyer (and the reader) got revenge on people. A common problem with Mary Sues is that morality is determined by how much a character likes Bella. As such, Lauren and Leah in particular, despite doing nothing wrong, suffer. Lauren is the blonde cheerleader that Meyer hated so much in high school and wanted so badly to outdo. Leah is the harsh critic that can’t see how hard Meyer is working.
Bella is such a sociopathic monster because Meyer and her readers are projecting both their revenge fantasies and the romantic fantasies onto her. They read what they want to read about her. Nothing more, nothing less. As such, Bella is a blank slate with no interests, no feelings, and no life of her own. The reader is the one who projects these things on to her.
The boys all love Bella, including one teacher, because Meyer wants people to love her, and in her fantasy, they do. Bella has only clumsiness as a flaw because Meyer honestly doesn’t want to look at her problems and own flaws. This was an escapist fantasy, and as such everything was fine and everyone loved her. There was nothing bad, and nothing wrong. The reason that Bella could not develop, and remained the same whining, unmotivated brat for the entirety of the series is that she was based off of how Meyer wished that she could behave in the series. She wanted to be able to act this way. To always been the one in control; to always be a step ahead; to always be right.
And in the end, to be the near savior figure that both redeems her lover from his sins and saves him physically, all while transcending her human weaknesses and remaining young and beautiful and innocent looking forever. This is why the fans love her. Not because of any particular interesting character on Bella’s part, but because in their minds, they are allowed to become her and through becoming her achieve this through her.
What’s more, this is the reason why, even now, Meyer and fans of the series take the thing so darn personally when someone criticizes it. It’s like someone coming into your fantasy world and telling you everything wrong with it. This is particularly true with Bella’s ending. This was the perfect end as far as Meyer was concerned. Of course Bella didn’t have to suffer. Why should she? She deserved it. Just like Meyer and all of her readers deserved it.
So, I’m going to do something that I haven’t seen people do for these kinds of rants. Because I firmly believe that you can learn from the mistakes of others, and I honestly think that Bella could have been redeemed, I’m going to give something constructive.
The initial concept of Bella’s character wasn’t a bad idea. It was even fairly new for YA, and could have been interesting. A normal girl with no great talent, being forced to outsmart, deal with and even fight against supernatural creatures who did have a lot of advantages over her is really interesting. It’s no wonder people paid attention.
First of all would have been to acknowledge Bella’s faults and give her a reason for them. Let’s say that the difficulty of essentially taking care of her own parent had taken its toll on Bella. Say that Renee was, while not abusive, not a good parent. Bella has, since she was a little girl, always had to be the responsible one, the careful one. She had to learn to feed herself because her mother would forget. She had to learn to deal with issues alone because her mother, while sympathetic didn’t want to act like a mom. She wanted to act like a gal pal, and Bella always wondered if, at some level. Her mother regretted having her. Say that she liked to read, but her mother didn’t want a bookworm so she only got to read what was assigned because reading was discouraged.
This has left Bella was no friends, no social life to speak of, no hobbies, and only the school reading list for entertainment. The struggle between what her mother wants and what she is has her in a state of being kind of a jerk, but also kind of unhappy about it since she knows that she is one.
Then, perhaps due to a fight, she agrees to live with her father. Charlie is completely different. Steady, responsible, and for the first time, she’s with someone who honestly wants her there. But the same problems are still ingrained in Bella. Thus her subplot would be not only opening up to people, but also starting to think that people, her father, and even Edward could like the girl that sometimes shows her face behind her snark and stubbornness. Yet, these qualities also prove useful as, perhaps as a way to get closer to her father, she starts snooping around a series of bizarre murders that started around Forks.
You might disagree with the idea, but, the basic line is, for Bella to have ever stood as a good, or even interesting, character, she needed to have a character, a personality, and issues of her own, rather than for her just to be centering on the romance, vampires and the hope of immortality. And for her to make some move on her own to contribute to the plot.
Next up, the man who fluxes between annoying and downright terrifying: Edward Cullen.