This probably won’t be funny, so tl;dr for those of you who want laughs: Bella just fell down the stairs, Edward loves her okay he loves her she just makes him mad sometimes. Also, Twilight is serious business.
I know I make light of this a lot, but I wanted to break it down, point by point. From what I have seen so far, the Twilight series is about abuse, plain and simple. Edward is an emotional batterer, and Bella is constantly and persistently victimized by his actions. What makes it sad is that the author herself seems to have no idea that she was writing about an abusive, codependent teenage relationship. If she knew, I have a feeling she would have at least attempted to address some of the issues caused and raised by her characters and their relationships with each other.
This issue is somewhat personal to me. I have been in relationships with manipulative, and, at times, emotionally abusive people. I, like many people, also have friends who have a history of abuse. Because of this, you would assume that Bella would be a sympathetic character. This would be the case, were I not aware of the intent behind the writing. The relationship, despite its obviously harmful characteristics, is displayed as romantic. Edward, fans of the series say, is chivalrous, protective, and honorable. He opens doors for Bella. He’s sweet and thoughtful. He’s noble and caring. The creepiest part of all of this is that the justifications fans create for Edward and Bella’s actions are eerily similar to what victims of abuse tell themselves while they try to cope with their harmful relationship.
Let’s get a little deeper and dirtier with some examples. The symptoms of abuse are easy to find online, I am referencing the list found on HelpGuide.org.
Abusers use the following tactics to remain in control of their victims:
- Dominance. Abusive individuals (for example, Edward Cullen) need to exert control over their partners. By say, making their decisions for them (“Bella, please just do this my way, just this once.” Or, the “memory tampering” in chapter 17 of Twilight. Or dragging her to the prom in the epilogue), and expecting to obey without question (the whole of chapter 18 when Bella attempts to argue with Edward). Further example of this can be found in the fact that Edward refuses to let Bella drive, and their carefully constructed “rules” on what physical conduct is acceptable and unacceptable, rules which often come to Bella’s detriment.
- Humiliation. An abuser will do whatever they can to make you feel bad about yourself, or “defective” in some way (i.e. Edward’s conversations with Bella through much of Twilight revolving around the fact that she is an idiot for being with him, she can’t survive without him, etc.) The idea is that you are the crazy one, and if you believe you’re worthless and can’t find someone else, you won’t ever leave. Bella makes comments in Twilight and early on in New Moon to the effect of “I am too plain and boring for Edward, I don’t deserve him.” This is the product of naturally low self-esteem, and, in realistic characters, the fact that her lover calls her an idiot whenever he can.
- Isolation. The abuser needs their victim to be dependent on them, and will often try to do this by cutting you off from the outside world. Edward seems to perpetuate this less on his own, as Bella readily throws herself into it. She has no actual friends in the series beyond Edward and his sister, Alice. Her only social activity is working at the local sports store, if you can call that social. She is willing to isolate herself from her parents as well, if it would mean getting to spend eternity with her abuser. You could argue that Edward is manipulating her into this (I mean, really, there’s nothing bad about being a vampire).
- Threats. Abusers will threaten violence on their victims in order to exert further control. In the Twilight series, this is a little more subtle and insidious. Edward warns Bella that he could hurt her, that he could lose control at any moment. In chapter 8 of Twilight, he admits to having murderous thoughts regarding the ruffians Bella was accosted by, to further illustrate how dangerous he is. Even more shocking, he tells Bella later that he wanted to kill her when they first met. Every chance he gets, he “warns” her that he could murder her at a moment’s notice. Worse, his attempts at “saving” her often end in physical harm coming to her anyway, such as the James “conflict” and Bella’s birthday party in New Moon. Bella learns to make excuses and quick stories for the bruises, cuts, and broken bones she sustains, in a rather unsettling mirror of an abuse victim’s behavior. That’s not to mention Edward’s vague suicidal threats, should anything happen to Bella.
- Intimidation. Abusers will often try to scare their victims into submission. Edward in chapter 13 of Twilight, jumping around, smashing trees, showing off how fast and strong he is, in an attempt to make Bella frightened of him. Do I really need to say more?
- Denial and blame. Abusers are very good at making their own excuses for their actions, and shifting the blame. Again, this is a little more subtle in the Twilight series. Edward blames his behavior on being a vampire, on having to resist human blood, and on having buried his humanity for so long. In a supernatural setting, it’s hard to say that these excuses are not justified, but they are still excuses. Bella, again, readily assumes the blame for anything bad that happens to her as a result of Edward’s actions. Edward will occasionally make the token effort to convince her this isn’t the case, but there are a few times where she shoulders the blame unhindered. Edward has also told Bella that if she gets hurt, he’s going to blame it all on her. He also seems to think that if she kisses him too hard and he eats her, that’s going to be her fault as well.
Abusers will also exhibit signs of remorse after periods of abuse, entering the “honeymoon phase” of the cycle. They will make it up to the abused in whatever way they can, in an attempt to keep the victim with them. They may say “I’m sorry I hurt you,” when what they mean is “I’m sorry I hurt you, because I might get caught.” This creates further conflict in a victim who would otherwise leave the relationship–“when he’s not making me feel like garbage, he’s very sweet.” Edward writes songs for Bella, and offers to buy her expensive gifts. Then he refuses to let her drive and warns of the threat of violence if she open-mouth kisses him.
Bella, as well, exhibits signs of someone who is abused. She accepts the blame readily when terrible things happen, especially when it was through no fault of her own. She suffers mysterious injuries, and will have elaborate tales for how she sustained them (“I fell down the stairs and into a window”). She has incredibly low self-esteem, and considers herself lucky to be with Edward. She is always ready with an excuse when Edward begins to treat her coldly, hurts her, or otherwise emotionally abuses her.
Abuse, whether it’s physical, emotional, or sexual, is a real issue. It can be insidious, as the abusers are often very good at hiding their behavior from others, or even convincing others that they should be excused from what they do, due to everything from a bad childhood to a bad day. Emotional abuse is unfortunately the most ignored, as it leaves no obvious bruises or scars. Victims will assume that since their partner has not put them in the hospital, there is no abuse occurring at all. Seeing it occur so blatantly in Twilight, a book that is shoved down the throats of young girls as a model romance, honestly makes me scared. Watching others defend the story with the same reasons and excuses abusers and their victims would use doesn’t just make me scared. It makes me sick.
But it’s just a kid’s novel about vampires. It’s not that big a deal.