Recently, Stephenie Meyer has come forth to defend Bella Swan, the leading point of view in the Twilight saga. Hundreds upon thousands of readers and viewers of the films have discussed and argued that Bella is a bad role model for young readers.
To provide a summary of both sides of the argument, I will begin with the readers who have argued that Bella is not a good role model. Screen Rant writer Tiffany Wang draws attention to how a lot of readers felt that Bella’s personality “revolves around her current love interest, as well as her reaction to Edward Cullen’s decision to leave Forks in New Moon and her decision to quite literally drop everything to remain with Edward.”
image via Distractify
As the writer of this article, I do need to acknowledge my own bias here. I read the book series a few years ago, and I did feel like Bella, for the first fifty or so pages, was a standard YA protagonist. She liked reading and definitely acted introspective. She was trying to find her way through her first day at a new school… and then she meets Edward. As a reader, I felt a tangible shift in Bella’s attentions. She went from going through her day, fairly indifferent to everyone, to suddenly focusing intently on Edward. As a reader, it was a bit disconcerting to find that our intrepid narrator was suddenly so interested in someone who she had barely interacted with, just because he ran out of the room. I think that Bella’s mother, actually, sums up how Bella’s focus shifts flawlessly when she describes how Bella essentially orbits around Edward – when he moves, so does she. For those who might be interested, that conversation is in book three of the series, Eclipse.
I also understand why so many readers were bothered by Bella’s response to Edward suddenly leaving in New Moon – they had been dating for seven months at that point in time (and yes, I found a fan-made timeline and then cross-referenced said timeline with my own personal copies of the saga). It was hardly a few months in between Edward and Bella meeting in chemistry class and then Edward solemnly telling Bella that she was his sole reason for living. It’s intense, especially for a seventeen-year-old YA protagonist. So when Edward leaves Bella in New Moon, and Bella moves into the process of grieving her relationship, there was a mixed response. What makes it difficult for some readers is how intense that grief is. Bella has violent night terrors, she’s emotionally catatonic, and she just… stops being.
with that being said…
image via Yahoo! Sports
I also don’t want to write off how intense people’s emotions can be sometimes. I think we have all been in situations where when we were younger, we felt strongly about something, and the adults in our lives dismissed those feelings. I think even into adulthood people can feel powerful emotions that are difficult to process.
With that being said, I want to move into discussing the defense of Bella as a role model. When interviewed several years ago, Stephenie Meyer said that she didn’t necessarily feel that book characters should be viewed as role models, and she extended that to her own characters as well. Personally, I think this goes back to the belief that people should just be people – they don’t have to be idolized. Meyer has stated on multiple occasions that when she writes, she is writing for herself. She is the reader that she has in mind while she works on her stories. However, Tiffany Wang cites Meyer’s interview with the Remember Podcasts, where the writer disputes the more negative arguments against Bella and says that her character could be a role model.
In this podcast, Meyer establishes that Edward and Bella have a far from normal relationship, and she also points out that her work is a work of fantasy. She then proceeds to say that she does feel that Bella was assertive and confident in the fact that she wanted a relationship with Edward, and she was very open about what she wanted in that relationship. In that way, she wants young readers to be able to embody those qualities, but perhaps not to the same extent as Bella.
Wang also points out that Bella does have several redeeming characteristics that aren’t always acknowledged. It has been pointed out that Bella is a determined character – she wants to be turned into a vampire, and she does not stray from that desire. Bella leaves the country to save Edward without consulting anyone. She just does it because she loves him. If Edward tries to tell her what to do, Bella pushes back and argues. She punches Jacob when he crosses the line and kisses her without her express consent.
So while there are aspects of Bella and her relationship that should be discussed, I don’t think we should point blank dismiss these aspects of her, because then we don’t get a full picture.
SO… should bella be a role modeL?
image via Distractify
Unfortunately, I don’t think I have the answer to this.
For me, this conversation about how we should perceive Bella’s character brings up a much more complex string of questions. I think we need to ask ourselves, should we view fictional characters in general as role models? Is this a new onus that authors need to consider when they are writing stories and creating severely flawed beings?
I came across a published essay several years ago that discussed how we should handle this question as it pertained to Twilight. Ultimately, the writer said that we should consider what we can learn from this story.
The Twilight Saga is controversial for a number of reasons, and one of those reasons is the relationship between Bella and Edward. A lot of people have cited how unhealthy that relationship is. For example, in his anger in New Moon, Edward destroys an entertainment system because his entire family agreed that Bella should be turned into a vampire. I want to address that here, because I don’t necessarily know if we can include Bella in this conversation without considering one of the most important aspects of her narrative.
So, at the end of the day, I think we need to ask ourselves, what can we learn from examining Edward and Bella’s relationship?
While we can read the story for the escapism that it provides, we can also read it and ask ourselves some of the following questions: How does Bella treat the people around her? When she starts her relationship with Edward, whom and what does she set aside? What does she begin to prioritize? How do we feel about how she is treated by others? That includes the Cullens, and that also includes people like her father and Jacob. And most importantly, what can we learn from her relationship with Edward?
There is a lot about the Twilight Saga that raises eyebrows – and I would agree that those eyebrows are justified. I also believe that Meyer’s series presents a question that, at surface level, doesn’t seem very difficult to answer. However, when you tunnel further into this conversation, it gets more and more complicated.
We begin with ‘should Bella be perceived as a role model’ and we go to ‘should we necessarily view fictional characters as role models?’ and from there, we get questions like ‘do writers have to write role model characters?’ ‘Does this statement only apply to YA writers?’
This is a complex discussion, and I think that Twilight has done a great deal to draw attention to it. Flawed characters are interesting for a number of reasons – one being that they are that much realer to us. I think that we can strike a balance between a character being flawed and also being a role model, but I think we can also strike a balance between writers who want to write role model characters and writers who do not.
Featured image via Syfy Wire