Posts Tagged ‘selflessness’

Total Eclipse of the Heart

In Books on September 24, 2010 at 12:17 am

If you think about it, the Twilight series isn’t so much a vampire saga as it is a romance saga – the same elements are at play here as they are in Danielle Steel; you’ve got your tantalizing heroine and talented hero, the cruel fate that threatens to overwhelm them, the equally talented and even more tantalizing villain(s), and the cataclysmic showdown that’s meant to bring you to the brink of nervous exhaustion by sheer force of its melodramatic angst.  Meyer simply makes her protagonists vampires and werewolves and leaves out the descriptions of their secondary sexual characteristics.

In the typical vampire novel, there are usually some vestiges of the original gothic horror elements – the evil demon preying upon what is most pure and unsullied in the imperfect, but generally-morally-praiseworthy society.  We still have an inkling of this in Eclipse – what with Victoria and her army of newborn-vampires sweeping through Seattle and into Forks to destroy the kindly Cullens and their beautiful ward, Bella – but much more prominent throughout the Twilight Saga are the themes of ‘selflessness’, ‘self-sacrifice’, the importance of family, and (lest we forget) the all-consuming power of ‘true love’.  These themes constitute the meat of the story; what it’s really about – the events that transpire are merely a stage upon which we can watch Edward’s devotion and Bella’s courage manifest themselves throughout the harrowing slumber parties, college applications, contemplations of the myriad side benefits that go along with becoming an immortal, and the occasional werewolf snuggle.  For brevity’s sake, I’m going to focus on the ‘selflessness’ theme in this post.

The quotation marks aren’t my attempt at being grammatically correct.  I mean to point out that when I’m referring to these virtues, I’m referring to Meyer’s characterizations of these virtues. Here’s the Big Point – I don’t believe that her characters exemplify the qualities that she would have us believe they do. In her Twilight post, Brooke mentioned that one of the reasons why she doesn’t like the series is that Meyer’s characters aren’t believable – this is what she meant by that.  See, Meyer would have us all believe that Bella is the selfless heroine and Edward the devoted hero; that each would willingly sacrifice themselves for the other, and that their families are of paramount importance to the both of them.  While I agree that they would sacrifice themselves for each other, (indeed, both make pretty fair attempts to out-do the other in this respect, and more than once) I wouldn’t say that either of them are selfless or devoted.

“Well, Jane’s clearly off her rocker,” you may be thinking.  “Did Brooke put her on decaf again?”   After all, Eclipse is peppered with Bella’s assurances to Edward that she doesn’t care about her soul and how he can have it and how she doesn’t want it without him and can’t they please just get to third base already.  Her soul, her ties to her friends and family, her (ahem) virtue – anything and everything she has, she willingly gives over or gives up for his sake.  The willingness to relinquish one’s soul for the sake of another mere mortal is a genuinely selfless act, no question – I would argue that there’s nothing else one can do that’s more careless of one’s good.[1] However, the moral praiseworthiness of it somewhat diminishes when one recognizes that Bella cares nothing for her soul. We don’t see her pondering her ontology[2] or that of human beings in general; she has no feelings about who God is or who she is in relation to him; she gives no serious thought to whether or not there is such a place as heaven or hell – she simply exists and takes the existence of her soul as a given.  The question of its value only came up when Edward told her that she would have to relinquish it in order to become an immortal – and (to put it delicately) her nights weren’t exactly spent in gut-wrenching agony at the thought of having to spend eternity as a condemned creature of darkness.  Neither do we see her shedding many tears over her inevitable parting with her parents, or her school friends Angela and Ben, or even Jacob – the loss of these people she counts as dross that she might gain Edward.  Here’s my point: true selflessness involves a measure of understanding of the significance of the things that one must sacrifice for the sake of some other good.  Selflessness recognizes that that which one is considering giving up (e.g., one’s soul) is at least as valuable as the object for which one would sacrifice it (e.g., one’s boyfriend/girlfriend), but, for the good of that object, sacrifices it anyway. That’s not what’s going on here – Bella isn’t willing to relinquish her soul because she believes that it’s needful for Edward’s well-being; she’s willing give it up because she values him far more than she values her humanity.  Her reasons for giving up her soul are purely selfish – she wants him.  Life apart from him is, for her, utterly meaningless – it was no accident that Meyer deliberately left the pages for the months of October, November, December and January blank in New Moon. Without Edward, there’s nothing to do and nothing to say – action and conversation lose all significance in his absence.

Beyond just not being selfless, I would argue that we can take it a step further – she’s actually incredibly selfish.  Anything and everything that could possibly rival Edward’s importance in her life is categorically subsumed under her desire to keep him for herself.  Anything and everything she does, she does only because it doesn’t interfere with her relationship with Edward.  She goes to school because she’ll see him there; she obeys her father because his rules don’t interfere with her time with Edward[3]; she spends time with her friends to keep her father happy so that he doesn’t attempt to restrict their idyllic Mutual-Worship-In-The-Meadow time.  The moment anything happens to divide the two of them on a significant level, all other considerations are disregarded in favor of being close to Edward.  A prime example is the  that takes place in the meadow:

Victoria has descended upon Forks with her army of brand spankin’ new vampires and is ready to slowly dismember the puny female whose boyfriend turned her boyfriend into a sparkly goth bonfire.  The Cullens have assembled in the meadow, cans of whoopass ready to be popped.  They’ve all spent a considerable amount of time planning this showdown, and have gone to a great deal of trouble training and negotiating alliances and boundary lines with the Quileutes in order to be able to do this.  Both sides have gone so far as to set aside their mutual loathing in order to fight together – all for the sake of protecting Bella.  Edward is constantly referenced as the most valuable fighter the coven has – Emmett is strong, to be sure, but not much of a tactician, and while Jasper is good, he can’t be everywhere at once.  Well, sucks to be them – Bella can’t abide the thought of Edward being in the battle and therefore liable to be hurt or killed, so she point-blank emotionally manipulates him into staying behind with her and letting the others fight it out alone[4].  Never mind that the vampires and the wolves are fighting to defend her; never mind that the long-suffering Cullens have already been materially inconvenienced by her presence[5]; never mind that the wolves are there only because of their loyalty to Jacob, who can’t bear to leave her unprotected – the only thing that she considers is what she stands to lose if Edward dies.  Nothing else – not her love for the Cullens, her best friend, their considerable claim on her love and affection for them – bears even a momentary consideration.  Admirable selflessness, indeed.

[1] I say so because (according to Brooke), I’m not a reductional materialist (i.e., someone who thinks that human beings are composed entirely of matter), but we can talk about that later.

[2] One of Brooke’s polysyllabic philosophy words: it’s the study of ‘being’.  Yes.  There are people who study that.  I know.

[3] The grounding doesn’t count – he still sneaks into her room at night to sleep with her.  Only not like that, much to her chagrin.

[4]Edward’s not much better, since he gives in.  For a much more poignant portrayal of how this ought to have gone, see Homer’s Iliad, book 6, the scene between the Trojan prince Hector and his wife Andromache.  I’ll post on this soon.

[5] Having to be around the yummy so-fresh-its-still-moving human blood smell on a pretty regular basis; having to flee the state because Edward has decided that having vampires living in the same general vicinity isn’t safe for her; having to endure the pain of almost losing Edward because of his determination to kill himself if Bella isn’t alive.