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Deconstructing Twilight

November 26, 2008


He makes some really good points read on!

Deconstructing “Twilight”

Posted by Mike McGranaghan November 26, 2008 16:45PM

I’m the only guy I know who has read “Twilight.” Certainly there are others out there. It’s just that I know a lot of people who have read Stephenie Meyer’s vampire romance novel, but none of them are males. When I ask other guys if they’ve read it, I get the kind of perplexed looks that say, Dude, are you serious? What time is the game on?

I first heard of “Twilight” about a year and a half ago, on the popular website Yahoo Answers. Every day, there were posts inquiring as to the possibility of a movie version, as well as opinion polls about who should play the lead characters. Not long after, I started seeing teenage girls carrying the book around with them. Whenever I asked one of them about it, I would always hear a refrain on the same general idea: “Twilight” is, like, the most amazing book ever! More than one teen girl suggested that I read it for myself. I always begged off. Vampires are cool, but a romance novel about an adolescent girl falling in love with a dreamy young bloodsucker? Not my cup of tea.

I started to rethink things when adult women began recommending it to me. There were at least three of them. Smart women. Women with taste. Women whose judgment I trusted. They didn’t talk about the hottie vampire; they seemed to be responding to something else, something deeper, perhaps something from their own adolescent years. Knowing that I would have to review the film adaptation – and highly curious as to what everyone was raving about – I finally bought a copy of “Twilight” and dug in.

Good heavens, I actually liked the thing. Sure, it has clunky dialogue and waaaaaaaay too many sequences where heroine Bella Swann describes her swooning reaction to vamp heartthrob Edward Cullen. But there was something about the book that captured my imagination and made me understand why 17 million copies of the saga have been sold worldwide.

Simply put, “Twilight” is about the fear of sex. A heady topic, to be sure. Just as teen boys peruse Playboy to investigate the mysteries of their burgeoning sexuality, teen girls read “Twilight” to explore the common adolescent conflict between wanting to have sex for the first time and wanting to remain pure. Without ever openly expressing any of this, Meyer delves into issues of desire, abstinence, and the nervousness of making the life-changing choice to give into your passions.

In case you’ve been living under a rock (or enjoying Jane Austen or Stephen King instead), the story revolves around Bella, who moves to the tiny, rain-drenched town of Forks, Washington, where she meets and falls for the vampire Edward. He reciprocates the feeling, immeasurably drawn to Bella because she “smells so good.” Of course, what he really means is that he desires her blood. That would mean killing her, and so Edward holds back on his urges; he loves Bella so much that he can’t imagine harming her in that way. (Good thinking – nothing blows your chance with a woman like trying to drink her blood on a date.) Bella at one point begs Edward to go ahead and do it; if she too becomes a vampire, then she will be immortal, allowing them to spend eternity together.

Edward is the kind of guy young girls dream about. He’s the ultimate bad boy: moody, anti-social, and literally dangerous. He also has a tender side, and Bella is the only one allowed to see it. This drives her crazy with desire. The big, scary vampire dude – who could slaughter anyone of his choosing – looks at her and sees someone so extraordinary that it makes him want to be a better (undead) person. This is an idea that fills Bella with addictive feelings of power and special-ness. Like many a real-life teen girl, she is seduced by the thought of a bad boy being so completely into her that he wants to change his stripes. His undying “need” for her makes Bella feel better about her admittedly awkward self. One gets the impression that, were it not for Edward, she might eventually become the kind of woman who writes love letters to men on Death Row.

There is an elephant in the room, though. Edward’s desire to drink Bella’s blood is, obviously, a metaphor for his desire to bed her. He’s got crazy hormones for Bella, and his every moment is consumed with thoughts of how much he wants her. By asking him to drink her blood, Bella is suggesting a willingness to “go all the way.” So high does Edward make her feel that she virtually throws herself at him with reckless abandon, despite his repeated warnings that it would really be better for them to remain apart. The repercussions don’t matter; she desperately wants to be taken. She’s a willing partner.

He refuses to partake of her. Edward sees Bella as being so precious and so extraordinary that he doesn’t want to ruin it by “turning” her. We can infer from her self-description as a romantic loser that Bella is a virgin. When he won’t drink her blood, Edward is really saying that he does not want to rob Bella of her virginity. He feels that she deserves something more than the “usual treatment” other girls might get. He also fears what might happen if he does deflower her. In real life, those fears would be unwanted pregnancy or perhaps an STD (or, at the very least, getting caught by Mom and Dad). In “Twilight,” they are expressed as pain as vampire venom snakes through her veins, as well as a permanent, irreparable loss of her humanity.

Now, is it any wonder that teen girls are devouring “Twilight” like a starving man devours an all-you-can-eat buffet? The genius of Stephenie Meyer (whose Mormon faith no doubt advocates pre-marital abstinence) is that she has packaged her message into a page-turning vampire/romance novel. My strong suspicion is that the adolescent girls who read “Twilight” probably don’t know exactly what they are relating to in it; they simply know that the story is striking a chord somewhere very deep inside them.

Adolescence is a scary time. Teenagers are faced with feelings that are new and exciting, but also confusing and scary. They find themselves feeling attracted to others in new ways. These incipient feelings of sexuality are overpowering, yet also frightening because to indulge in them is to enter completely new territory. It’s like jumping out of an airplane without even knowing if you’re wearing a parachute.

The pressure is perhaps even more intense for teenage girls. Boys have a single-mindedness that often pushes through the fear. I’m not even going to lie about it: adolescent males are usually focused on “getting it” wherever and however they can, fear or no fear. And – rightly or wrongly – society is generally more accepting of that. Things are different for girls, in whom purity is prized, even in our liberated world of today. It is a Big Deal for a young woman to fall in love. It is an even Bigger Deal for her to consider giving herself to a male for the first time. The experience is a mishmash of intense feelings, from lust, to excitement, to honest-to-goodness pee-your-pants terror. Once you become sexually active, life is never quite the same ever again. You are fundamentally “turned.”

“Twilight” provides a safe way for its readers to consider these issues, which doubtlessly accounts for its enormous popularity. As when John Hughes dropped The Breakfast Club in 1985, or when Nirvana released their CD “Nevermind,” Stephenie Meyer has tapped into the zeitgeist by saying something that a lot of young people were feeling but unable to express on their own. She has made it okay for fans of her book to acknowledge their own uncertain ambivalence about sex. She has told them that it’s perfectly okay to feel lust. She has also told them that it’s okay to wait, no matter how much you love the guy in question. And maybe – just maybe – it’s even better if you do wait.

Bella Swann, a heroine for a generation, expresses these mixed feelings with an adolescent eloquence. Of course, her biggest concern is technically whether to let a vampire drink her blood, but millions of teenage girls know exactly what she means.

One Comment leave one →
  1. morethinking permalink
    April 29, 2009 7:08 pm

    This is an interesting way of looking at the story. Of course, I thought that the film was average, but I have yet to read the book. Maybe, just maybe…the book might be good.

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