Last Monday, I wrote about the connection that girls have with Twilight’s Bella– for them, she embodies the dream of being desired for who one is. However, this connection is magnified tenfold if these girls also connect with Bella as a person.
In nearly all aspects, Isabella Swan is the goddess of mediocrity. Average looking, yes, she is (murky wardrobe and scant make-up: check). Socially awkward, oh, just a gigantic bit. Should be kept away from anything that might be called a “sport”– including miniature golf. Can she dance? Of course not. Can she keep herself upright on any surface that isn’t 100% flat? Definitely not. Why are her “normal” classmates so interested in her? No idea. Her defining word is “bland”.
What, then, causes Edward to notice her? Two things.
One: she smells good. Not good like flowers or mid-afternoon sex, but like “nomnomnom” good. She smells like his favorite turkey dinner (insert stuffing joke here).
Two: he can’t read her mind. Guess what? This isn’t a positive thing. “What’s bothering you?” “Nothing.” “You look upset.” “I’m fine.” “Did I do something wrong?” “What could you do wrong?” (For those of you who I just induced traumatic flashbacks in, I’m sorry.)
He’s intrigued because he can’t tell what she’s thinking.
(Also: welcome to the rest of the world’s male/female interactions. Enjoy your stay.)
These two factors are what inspire Edward to potentially blow his cover in front of the entire school. The overwhelming smell of turkey induces the cringe-inducing line: “Your scent is like a drug to me, you’re like my own personal brand of heroine”. Edward travels to sun-drenched Arizona and kills another vampire out of love of the single woman whose mind he can’t read.
These enticing(?) traits are innate to her character– she’s done nothing to earn them. If she was athletic, she would have spent years practicing and honing her skills. If she was beautiful and dressed well, she would have had to put effort and money into maintaining her appearance. If she was in academic clubs and honor societies, she would have had to study hard and really work for it. These would have been character establishing traits of motivation and perseverance.
Instead she sits around with her mouth open while psychically shielding herself and emitting the smell of turkey.
This is typical of the current young adult paranormal romance. The male character is this all powerful (and, of course, deeply tormented), dangerous werewolf/angel/vampire/demon/civil war re-enactor, and the female character who catches his eye has some odd feature about her: a family curse, ESP, a weird blood type, an immunity to powers, or the ability to boost the male lead’s powers. The initial connection between the angst-ridden yet powerful male and the beautiful but odd female comes because of her unique ability or trait, just as it does in “Twilight”.
The difference is that, in the other books, the female lead also has a personality. There’s some spunk about her, some quirk, some redeeming personality traits like bravery or total loyalty to her even more quirky friends or a traumatic past that creates a character with depth, possibly someone for the young female reader to look up to. There’s no real depth with Bella.
While this lack of depth works in her favor for the girls who see themselves in this average character, it fails to provide anything for the rest of us to become interested in. She almost becomes the antichrist of role models, stepping up for girls around the world and telling them that it’s okay for them to not try to improve, not try to grow, and that, if they do this for long enough, their own personal Edward will whisk them away from their dull life.
If Edward had never shown up, who would Isabella Swan be? What would her life be like? I see long hours at community college, a career that, like everything else, she is apathetic about, and a series of boys that are absolutely fascinated with her due to a deep-seated psychological need for validation. And don’t bring up the “what about Jacob?” bit either– that wouldn’t have been an issue if she hadn’t rebounded so desperately off of Edward.
God, I sound like a 90210 fan.
The point is, Bella is nearly featureless and certainly soulless without Edward to activate her, and that’s what she’s teaching her readership to be.
However, she does have one very strong and defining personality trait. We’ll get to that in a later article.