Saturday, August 29, 2009

CharacterExploration: The Psychoanalysis of Bella Swan

The Psychoanalysis of Bella Swan
(Canon Bella)

Pastiche Pen

A lot of us don’t like Bella Swan--which is weird. I don‘t think you‘d find anyone in Harry Potter who truly hates Harry, and yet in our fandom, some seriously slanted faces occur when Bella is mentioned. People will call her a Mary Sue. They will *headdesk* over her early marriage, growl about her Catherine-esque [Wuthering Heights] behavior in the Edward-Jacob love triangle, and snarl at her ovaries for their corruptible production of that oddly named spawn child.

So, yeah, Bella ain’t the shiznit in this fandom but why? My theories:

She’s Not Good Enough for Our Edward

Well, in summary I think its pretty simple. Edward, broody and mysterious, is our modern day Mr. Darcy [Pride and Prejudice]. He is pent-up sex and over protectiveness and happily ever after. So, you’d think he’d go for the Lizzie Bennet sort of character, right?

Unfortunately not. Edward goes for “selfless” Bella Swan, who cleans a lot, makes good grades, and like old books. Part of what makes his choice of Bella odd for me is how broody Edward is. Normally, these saturnine personality types end up with relaxing, funny types that are capable of pulling them out of their mercurial muck holes. We see this from Midnight Sun. Edward is closer to Emmett and Alice than Jasper and Rosalie. This is due to their contrasting demeanor to his own. Now, in Bella’s case her clumsiness and her bouts of temper manage to entertain Edward--but once she’s a wise mommy vampire and her quirks are gone… what is there for Edward to chuckle about?

So, yeah, we want Lizzie Bennett-Bella to be with Edward but instead we get dowdy [Mansfield Park] Fanny Price-Bella.

This leads to our second point.

Bella Is Kinda Boring

She is supposed to be the EveryGirl. Thus, there’s little physical description, and more importantly, there is no history with Bella. She has no past friends. We get subtleties, like her issues with wealth and shopping. She likes music and the Simpsons. We know that she loves doting on people. We know that she is strangely patient. We know that she can’t walk across flat, stable surfaces without tripping. We know that she is kind, but more than kind, she is also aloof. When she turns down Eric, Tyler, and Mike, we don’t see the same guilt and fear of harming them that we might see in a more insecure character--but rather this subtle confidence. There’s a wall between her and the rest of the world until she lets certain people in, e.g. Edward, Alice, and Jacob.

As a side rant, I don’t think she’s actually “selfless” although she does get her energy from helping out other people, which is nice, but I have no idea why Meyer has a hang up on her characters being selfless, self-abnegating, or altruistic.

Bella in Twilight is Not Bella in Eclipse

The Bella to which we’re introduced in the series is not the Bella with which we end. Bella in Twilight acts older than her age. She’s not concerned with teenage shit. She is brave and curious, and once she makes a decision, she stands by it.

Then in New Moon, she starts hearing voices in her head. End of Twilight Bella. And all that crazy shit that she looked down upon that her mom used to do, e.g. jumping out of air planes and taking on dangerous yoga positions, well Bella goes whole hog with the riding motorcycles and jumping off cliffs charade. So, yeah, responsible, mature Bella is bedamned.

And in Eclipse, because Bella hasn’t actually (really, truly) made a decision about Edward and Jacob, she ends up annoying us with her need to please everyone that she cares about.

Then in Breaking Dawn, she cares about Renesmee first and foremost, and once she’s vamped, she’s wise and all-knowing, and loses all of her relatable flaws. Stephenie Meyer called this a happy ending, but happy is not necessarily all that interesting.

How This Has Gone Over in Fan Fic

Not all that well. Basically we dropped canon Bella faster than T Laut could flex his roidy bicep. That’s how fast.

And I thought about trying to list out Bellas in the fandom, but really that’s a pointless exercise given that 90% of writers make Bella themselves. She become the narrator neutral. Anyhoo, let’s talk about canon Bella.

1. Her dialog is understated. She does not have fancy comebacks. She does however…

2. Bella has a temper. One that disappears once Edward dazzles her, but still, she has a temper that makes Edward chuckle.

3. Brown hair and Neutrogena girl skin.

4. Can’t walk in a straight line.

5. As much as she dismisses designer clothes when with Alice, Bella wears a brown sweater, a nice red top, an eyelit shirt, and the occasional skirt. She goes shopping with Angela and Jessica and gives shopping advice. None of which equals her dressing like a bum. Canon Bella does not wear hoodies and converse. Those aren’t adult and mature enough for her. And yet she doesn’t like shopping with Alice, but this is because she sees the expensive clothes as being obsessive, materialistic, and slightly childish--not because she’s a slob.

6. She’s a researcher. She likes to have all the evidence before making decisions.

7. She’s stubborn, and she stands by her decisions.

8. She has no direction in her life, academic-wise, because she’s been so focused on taking care of her mother, and then Charlie, and then Edward. She also takes care of them because she likes doing it, not because she feels obligated. We never get that sense of obligation from Bella.
Pastiche Pen
is a loverly admin of TLYDF, peddler of HP slash, and author of such favorites as The Nymph and the Waterfall, Waxing Crescent, Sin and Incivility, and If Love Could Light a Candle. Send her a nun and a gnome. Or a nun-ish gnome. Or.. a gnome-ish nun? Hmm...
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  1. Well that was a down right excellent take on her. And for the record by the end of Eclipse the concept of Bella as selfless is ridic. Oddly enough I came to hate her just as much as I think Steph Meyer came to hate Edward for not popping off that page and sweeping her away from her boring married to the one guy she has slept with life ;)

  2. This all makes perfect sense to me.

    I would like to comment on only one thing though: the selflessness thing. I can count on one hand the number of times that Bella was truly selfless. 1. Moving to Forks to let Renee be with Phil (though this might not be selfless because she is benefitting from the fact that she doesn't have to be Renee's mom anymore. 2. Going to Italy to rescue Edward, all the while thinking that he didn't love her and that he would just leave again. 3. Keeping Renesmee, who she was willing to die for, or worse, go against Edward's wishes for. (Maybe we could throw in the Jacob kiss? She claimed she did it to save him, but, come on, she wanted to kiss him, so I don't count this...)

    But, all of these things are BIG things, right? They are major life decisions where Bella shows herself to be unselfish. However, in her every day, regular life, she doesn't display this same kind of selflessness. She told Mike to say yes to Jessica, not to play beneficient matchmaker, but to get him off her back. But, from the outside, it looks like she is helping her friend despite the possibility of her own interests.

    It's interesting to see, because from Bella's narrative, I never got that she was selfless. She wasn't selfish, necessarily, but it wasn't until MS that this "Bella is the most selfless creature in the world" thing entered my consciousness in full force. I'm not sure Edward's narrative is the most reliable, especially when it comes to Bella. He was actively looking for the positives, and sometimes blatantly refusing to see the negatives. It makes for an interesting read, because they both strike me as unreliable narrators when it comes to the other person and themselves. So, I often wonder what are the REAL Edward and the REAL Bella actually like. It makes it interesting....

  3. My main beef with canon Bella is that appears to be a spineless twit when it comes to Edward. Look, I get that Edward is ridiculously hot and able to strike her dumb with his breath... but I just wanted Bella to tell him to quit stalking her and telling her what to do and give the poor girl some orgasms already. Grrr.

  4. I'm still giggling over the "quit stalking her and... give the girl some orgasms already" yeah, bella likes being paid attention to where Edward is concerned...

    And yeah, I focused on the selfless thing because Meyer hammers on it in The Host too. It must have really been important to her at some point, because she put it in two fics...

    Anyhoo, glad y'all liked the article. :-D

  5. Awesome read! Oh, what are we to do with lil' Bella? The one thing I always related with to her was her working class pride. She's blue collar, and blue collar families don't take jack shit charity from richie riches! I was the same way, proud as fuck that I earned my way and always having a chip on my shoulder with richer

    As for SM and selflessness, I thought I'd mention a couple things growing up a Marrrrmon myself. SM's selfless deal I think is coming from the Sermon on the Mount in the Bible, which is the blueprint for Christianity. And basically it comes down to the double commandment of love: love your family and friends, yes; but love your enemies too and everyone else in between.

    Jacob mentions that Bella loves the wrong things, and she does. She loves vampire lab partners, and shape shifting besties, and their families, and sharp toofed demon babies. And each book shows her sacrificing her welfare for various kinds of love; Twilight/parental love; NM/romantic love; Eclipse/friends/community love; BD: maternal love.

    So I think she was being selfless, but not in drama queen martyr way. I think SM is doing one of those redemptive power of love deals where time and again, Bella loves the wrong things, and in turn the wrong things realize they might not be so wrong afterall.

    Oh, Bella, you little do gooder

  6. Well, the fact that their match is so odd, is what I like the most in this story and what I think is what makes it the succes it is. Bella is Bella, like that...and he likes her. Have you ever sit down and think about the things your boyfriend, husband, lover or whatever you call it sees in you?. Same thing, we all love Edward and his strange way in life so much, we can't see what possibly could have call him into her. The silence in her thoughs?, the way that fact makes her interesting and not the average human he has known for a century?. I want to believe that is even when I don't like Bella that much either.
    What I do like though, is the fact that Bella IS a 17 year old girl. Yeah, she had had some issues in her life that had made her a very strange 17 year old, but she is a child, she doesn't have any kind of experience with boys and that shines in Eclipse. She's not selfless in that way we all seem to want, but when I readed the book I could feel the hopelessness in her behavior, the "I do know how all this happened, but how do I fix it" kind of feeling...a 17 year old first experience with love and passion.
    I don't know if maybe I'm reading to much between the lines, but that's the feeling I get while reading and that's why I love Eclipse so much.

  7. Excellent article! I have to admit, I lost sight of how to relate to Bella once Eclipse and Breaking Dawn rolled around, but your takes on canon Bella helps put things in perspective for me.

    As for the altruism, well, I think that's what made Bella so "mature" for her age in the first place, and was the underlying motivator in many of her decisions. For a teenage girl who's admittedly not religious and also comes from a broken home, in my opinion her selflessness is not necessarily a bad thing.

    I probably read and re-read Eclipse more times than Twilight, Midnight Sun, and New Moon combined, just to try grasping what Bella has become in the last two books, but to no avail. Even though Edward idealizes her through the roseate lenses of first love in MS, and while she loses her mind in NM, she still maintains a distinct self-awareness and even self-confidence that girds the "selfless" decisions she makes.

    Once Eclipse rolls around, however, Bella is suddenly not sure of who she is (SMeyer says she lacks self-awareness), which to me is ironic because even when she'd lost her mind, she was still resolved of her decisions when she put everything on the line to go save Edward in NM.

    I think what has me lost to the whole ending of Eclipse right into Breaking Dawn is not so much that she was torn over Jacob (because her thinking of his feelings even when he was outright manipulating her is in its own way altruistic), but that in the end both Edward and Bella are more or less resigned to being with each other for eternity, without addressing the issues they're taking with them into their union. That doesn't seem characteristic of either of them. Yes, I know she's a teenage girl who's got to make big decisions as far as marriage and children and losing her life, and it's only natural for her to have errors in judgment, but wouldn't she want to talk this out with Edward? Wouldn't he want that as well? to want to reconcile all the issues between them and understand where the other is coming from- lay all the cards out as they usually try and do. Not that any relationship has this aspect of facing issues and communicating down perfectly, but it doesn't even seem like SMeyer has them attempt to try it after Bella kisses Jacob.

    Sadly, it more or less seems like they end up accepting they're "stuck" with each other, almost like have no choice about it. Yes, Bella and Edward end up together and each gets what they want, but how does that resolve anything in their relationship? How does that lead to any kind of growth on their part? It seems more than anything utterly self-serving: Edward claims Bella legally as his wife, and Bella gets to be a vampire, but really, is that all there is to their happily ever after? There is no willingness in Bella's marriage to Edward other than Bella coming closer to getting what she wants (sex). Then, unlike what Edward wanted for Bella's change, Renesmee's birth did end up being that sword hanging over their heads when he desperately had to change Bella.

    It's hard for me to appreciate canon Bella when she seems to be coming to terms with who she is at the end of Eclipse, only to yearn for Jacob again from the very get-go in BD. She remains ambivalent and is only free of her ties to Jacob when he imprints on her daughter...? I just don't get it. For that matter I don't even know who Edward is anymore in BD when he's so willing to bend to Bella's every whim just so that she'll be "happy".

    With that, thank God for fanfic. Sure, a lot of fanfic writers don't quite have canon Bella down, but honestly I don't know that with all her good intentions SMeyer did either. Even without New Moon and Eclipse, the dichotomy between Twilight Bella and Forever Dawn Bella, as it were, is mindboggling. It's almost as if all of Edward's angst and ambivalence were also for naught if he just ends up being the unresolved character who also happens to be Bella's baby daddy by the end of the saga.

  8. In reply to Karina, it's interesting. Like I consider "selfless" a really, really strong word. To me, it implies a person so lost to compassion that they have little sense of self due to their focus on the greater good (sorta like Jesus and any number of saints), and that definition doesn't really apply to Bella for me, but this is partially from my own experience. Personality-wise, my mom is similar to Bella. She mentally NEEDS to take care of people. Sorta annoying. Mostly sweet. But not really all that selfless. It's her personality.

  9. oh, god, my mom's like that too. lol :) Bella has her selfish and her drama queen moments, and everything in between. But where I think she does show true selflessness in the sense you mention was that in every book, she was willing to sacrifice her life for someone else.

    She was willing to die to try to save her mom in twilight. She was willing to die to save Edward in NM. She was willing to die by reenacting that dumb ass NA legend to serve as a distraction for Seth and Edward and others. And of course you has the demon sharp baby toofed thingy in her womb for BD that she won't get rid of.

    So, she was willing to sacrifice everything when it came down to it for those she loves, and without a second thought. The series seems to focus a lot on love and the various relationships that stem from it, and Bella puts her money where her mouth is when push comes to shove. Not just for Edward or romantic love either, but for the various relationships she's forged throughout the book.

    Bella does not compromise, and that's what i like about her as a character. She wants to fall for a vampire, and still keep her bestie shape shifter, and she wants besties's pack and vampy's pack to become besties too, and she thinks her demon spawn is cute and salvagable, and she stands up to the Volturi, but not on their brutal terms but with her magic lasoo rubber band that sheds no blood. lol She's quite subversive in her thinking, and that thinking ends up subverting the whole vampire world order in the end, the Volturi just lose their shit over her. .She's sorta a hot bitch for someone who's a little rice cakey on the outside. lol

  10. I am also stuck on the description of Bella as "selfless"... one thing that strikes me when I think about her actions in the books vs. my internal definition of selflessness, is that I think of selflessness as being more directed to people you don't know or have reason to care about. Basically, I don't believe it's all that selfless and special to sacrifice for those you love.

    Everyone is willing to sacrifice for their family and loved ones if they are decent human beings. You love them, of course you would! It's not selfless because you receive a benefit - seeing the ones you love happy, or successful, or healthy.

    To me, selflessness is helping people you have no reason to care about. For example, donating bone marrow to a stranger. You have no reason to care, but you choose to put yourself through pain to help them. That's only one example, but I'm sure there are many other. There's an argument to be made for why that is also not selfless because you receive a benefit (looking good to others, tax benefits for donating to charity, etc.), but that is where I guess I personally draw a line. Maybe if Bella risked her life to save a stranger, I'd feel differently, but I just don't see selfless in her, though she is very loving and willing to give to those she loves.

  11. Hi - I should clarify my definition of selfless--simply putting others' needs before yours. I don't have a very elevated or narrow vision of selflessness, and I think it's very hard to think of an example where someone benefits on no level for putting others' first.

    That working definition actually supports the idea that Bella loving the "wrong things" was a selfless act in itself. The meadow is when Edward does his big reveal, running around like speedy gonzalez and throwing things and telling her how his family thinks he'll kill her and he wants to suck her dry. Bella's need at that moment is to get the f-u-c-k out of the meadow. lol But she doesn't, she puts his need to be accepted first. She lets the monster vampire boy know he's loveable, even though he's arguing he isn't.

    Having said that, I don't really see Bella as a selfless martyr type either. She is typified as an "Eve" by SM herself. Eve is more subversive in nature, a bit of a shit stirrer, an instigator. Eve doesn't just just flip God the finger by partakiing of the forbidden fruit-she gets Adam to tag along with her little rebellion and ushers in a new age all by her lonesome. Bella likewise is the one to instigate things between her and Edward-and their "unnatural" inclinations to shack up and make demon babies and ally up with their natural enemies eventually ushers in a new age in ther vampire world where the "natural order of things" is now all subverted now. So, I peg Bella more in the Eve shit stirrer archetype myself than selfless doormat.

    Thanks for the great discussion to all of you lovelies though, I'm working on a bella characteriziation and this has been really fun to ponder over.

  12. Wow... Karina, when you put it like that, you just made me love canon Bella just little bit more. Mad respec to the wielder of the love lasso.

    It's probably difficult to rec good Bella fic in this article since most of the stories out there center on her. Although I've yet to read them, I am intrigued by the writers that have decided to alter well-known Bella traits ... there are now Size 14ish Bellas, Mixed-race Bellas, and Bellas who like high heels and dresses. I have the most difficulty believing the third one. ;)


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