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Edward Cullen: Doting or controlling? (a guest post)

October 3, 2010
(The following is a guest post penned by Kelsey McCarthy, one of the students in my Twilight: The Texts and The Fandom course)

Edward Cullen, the protagonist’s love interest, is always portrayed in a positive light. Bella describes him as “perfect”, “too good to just be human”, and often refers to him as a “Greek God”. Without a discerning eye, most readers simply align their view of Edwards with Bella’s narration. However, once you begin to read the novels through a feminist perspective, Edward is not necessarily the prince charming a modern day teenager would be pining for.

While Edward does possess many desirable qualities, such as good manners, intellect, striking looks, and wealth, he is still not without flaws. Before this class, I had read the Twilight series twice through and had been completely infatuated with the idea of Edward. However, this time around, I’ve noticed many fundamental flaws with Edward’s character.

Before, I saw Edward’s mannerisms in regards to Bella as endearingly protective. Now, I’ve begun to realize that if any man treated me in the same way I’d be running for the hills.

In chapter 10, Bella tells a classmate of her experience spending time with Edward in Port Angeles, so naturally Edward hears every word of it. When he is displeased with what she says, Bella tells him he got what he deserved for eavesdropping, and he replies with, “I warned you I would be listening.” (pg. 208)

The last two times I read the novel, that line didn’t seem especially alarming to me; but it literally jumped off the page when I read it this time around. The thought of a potential love interest insisting on listening to a conversation between a friend and myself is borderline disturbing. Also, he almost has an authoritative tone in his language when he defends himself. I feel as though only a parent should “warn” a teenage girl about anything. That whole scene shows just how overbearing Edward is in regards to Bella from the start of their relationship.

Another line that stuck out to me was in chapter 14. Bella is sitting in Edward’s lap, and she tells him not to leave her. He replies with “Bring on the shackles—I’m your prisoner.” However, the following line states, “But his long hands formed manacles around my wrists as he spoke.” (Twilight pg. 302) Although he allows Bella to believe he’s subjected to her every beck and call and that she has the upper hand with him, his body language tells something different.

Although many argue that Twilight is a post feminist fairy tale, I beg to differ. In the chapter “Cinderbella” from Twilight and History the author give many examples to highlight the fact that Bella is just another princess in despair waiting for her prince charming to come and save her from her desolate life, completing her existence.

Before Bella meets Edward, she is extremely discontent with her life in Forks. However, as soon as they begin their relationship, she is suddenly smiling, prancing around the house, and looking forward to different times where she will see Edward. This doesn’t differ from characters such as Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and others who are awaiting the arrival of their one and only.

Although Edward’s character holds a great deal of appeal to many girls of this generation, I believe if any modern day teenager were in a relationship with the same logistics they would feel caged and utterly confined.

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20 Comments leave one →
  1. October 3, 2010 6:43 pm

    I totally agree with this post, with one minor exception. Keeping in mind that Edward IS a vampire with some sense of immortality, much of his behavior can be ascribed to the status of protector. Edward comments several times how fragile Bella is and through, admittedly, purely selfish motives, he wishes to protect Bella from all the possible dangers life portends for humans. In other words, I’m looking at Bella through vampire eyes-not normal, human vision-and the world appears chock full of bear traps.

    Would I be so overbearing? I don’t know. However, if any action was within my power to protect the “love of my life,” I would feel immense guilt for not exercising that power. I do notice that in the final book, Bella’s vampirism allows her to become equal to Edward and she is much more assertive and in control of her life. What is truly sad is that she could not achieve that status when she was human… now THAT is a really poor message to send to kids.

    At no point in any of the novels do we see an individual who is truly happy on their own. Even Charlie finds happiness only after connecting with Sue and the only lone vampire is maladjusted, which is how Edward was before he met Bella; there is a much more positive spin on Edward once he declares his love for Bella, but even so, he still is not without problematic behavior.

    My final question is why does Edward fight so strongly to keep Bella from becoming like him and attaining “equality?” Sure, she would give up a great deal by no longer being human, but overall, she would gain so much more. I’m still thinking this problem through, and I lwelcome more input from others…

    • Fran permalink
      October 3, 2010 8:35 pm

      I think we have to remind ourselves that Edward was “changed” at a very young age of 17. He has been alone for so many years, with no experience in how to act as a boyfriend. However, he does have a good example in his own parents. He is very protective, and to some that can seem overbearing. Bella is wise beyond her years, yet again, only 17. Edward is unselfish in that he would and is willing to leave her if he thought it was best. He is so overly understanding of her relationship with Jacob, where a jealous boyfriend would never be like that. He bends over backwards to understand her, such as letting her go visit, even when he feels he canot keep her safe. And the tent scene is another example. Maybe it is his maturity stacked up against Jacobs immaturity that I make this comparison, I don’t know.
      He does fight her to keep her human throughout the saga, and again, isn’t that unselfish? Bella knows her own mind, however, like I said before they are only 17. I think about my girls at that age and cannot imagine them making decisions as Bella did. She is a strong independent woman in my view, just one that is hopelessly in love…

    • Kris permalink
      October 4, 2010 2:35 am

      Lin,

      To give some clarity on Edward’s reluctance to Bella becoming a vampire (in addition to the soul destroying and stealing her life/possibilities issues)…this is from Steph Meyer herself via the press junket with fansites for Eclipse: [he believes it would be better for her if she went with Jacob] “He never foresees her being a happy vampire. In his mind, it’s all the Rosalie reaction. He just thinks she will be miserable and there will be so much pain, for her. He wants her to be happy, so he thinks ‘the longer we string this along, maybe she is going to change her mind, maybe she’ll say yeah, I wanna stay human, I’ll do this.'”

      Q: Do you think that the way that she fears…the fact that before she’s going to turn, she thinks “well what if after I turn, I’m not going to love him anymore or I’m not going to feel the same way?” Does he ever fear that at any time?

      SM: Oh, he fears that. He does. She doesn’t much, because she feels that, ya know, “I’m gonna love you forever,” and he knows that things change. And after having just gone through this horrible thing, there could be part of her that turns around and says “you did this to me. I just went through all this horrible stuff because of you”… He just only sees the negative [living a life of lies, always fighting the painful thirst, losing her family/human friends].

      Reading from Bella’s perspective, vampirism seems like a great blessing…but there ARE true downfalls. Can you imagine always in pain over the thirst? Leaving loved ones behind? Never being able to truly fit in with humanity/society? Constant desire to kill/being unintentionally dangerous to be around? THAT is what Edward dislikes about her plan/choice. It’s not a equality issue.

      But in the end…(again, according to SMeyer) A lot of him becoming an optimist is, her reaction to being a vampire and seeing, she was right about her choice :) She didn’t just do it so he won’t ever get tired of her (think her insecurities in Twilight and New Moon).

    • October 4, 2010 2:38 am

      I think Edward was more fighting with himself more than with Bella.
      1) His deep religious believe that she will lose her soul for him.

      2) I think the fact that he had a low self steem (thinking of himself as a monster) also played on the fact that he though he was not worth that sacrifice and on his fear that Bella once transformed will hate him forever. Him being a vampire knows that once you get certain strong emotions you are unable to change. If Bella made a mistake and she is unhappy as a vampire she will blame Edward thus what is worst a human Bella that would be sad but be with Edward or a vampire Bella that will hate him for eternity?

      3) Edward also hates being a vampire himself what if his hate of his kind kill the love and atraction he feels for Bella once she also becomes a “Monster”?

      4) Edward didn’t beleived he deserves to be happy. I think there is a lot of guilt on Edward: he is the only survivor of his family, he killed people (mind you murderers and rapists) he never got to become a hero I think a big part of him was so used to lonely and guilt that the idea that he could have what his father and the rest of his siblings had also was something he couldn’t accept he deserved. I mean Bella might had low self-steem but he never let that got on her way to have a relationship that made her happy. In contrast with Edward that was on the edge of leaving even before they started because of his self perception.

      I think all this played a part of Edward’s fears but part of the whole fantasy of Edward is that through her love for Bella he starts to change and comes from a fatalist to actually have hope and realize that he indeed deserves happiness and desperately wants it.

      One of the scenes that I think is most important on the books that show the moment when Edward finally makes peace with himself, his nature and the happiness he finally achieve is when Bella is “sparkling” in their meadow with Reneesme. I think when he calls her beautiful that was the final moment of redemption on his journey, it was the moment when his inner conflicts finally ended for good. One of the things that I always say is that both Bella and Edward had two journeys to become equals. Bella has to change physically (become stronger) but Edward had to change emotionally (accept that there is hope for happiness and that he deserved it and wants it). That is why I always though the books were at least trying to be gender equality because both leads improved their existence by falling in love with each other and fighting for that love.

      • October 4, 2010 10:48 am

        The most disappointing thing about Breaking Dawn that I found was the way everything was resolved so quickly and easily. After the agonising over this life changing (into death) decision from Edward the pain is over very quickly. I agree with the idea that his religious views influence they way he thinks about his soul and that as the above comment says he feels he must be protective. The only problem is that we see Bella becoming self confident and more in control of her own life. She becomes his equal and maybe even superior because she evolves and becomes happy. In Breaking Dawn, Edward seems to be more of an outsider as Bella becomes accepted through Renesmee. From this it makes you think the only reason he kept her from immortality was because he knew she would become independent and as he says in Eclipse that she might only be using him to get immortality. Another consideration is the books referenced in Twilight, often seen as romantic stories about characters who die for true love. Both Romeo and Juliet and Wuthering Heights are seen as tragedies and not particularly romantic even though in popular fiction they are seen as undying love. The reason I bring this up is because the love they have isn’t seen as normal. Just like with Cathy and Heathcliff, these two characters pull everyone into their relationship causing war between other vampires and even werewolves. We then learn it all could be resolved by Edward’s decision to change Bella. This makes Edward look as though he is manipulative. I think what is said about actions being louder then words, in the article is true. Edward commands, orders and manipulates Bella into doing as he pleases. I also think impregnating her was his way of marking her. She would always be emotionally attached to him through the child. He behaves insecure but he believes he has the right to protect her. The problem is I don’t think we have an example of a vampire female and human male relationship. That way we could see if this behaviour is just because of the dangers Bella faces. (Unless there is an example.) He is justified to protect her but he could have protected her by giving her, her wish in the first place. I disagree with Bella’s reason for changing though

  2. October 4, 2010 7:07 pm

    Kim
    Not sure why you think that Edward got Bella pregnant on purpose when is obvious he didn’t knew that was even possible and was not happy to have her risking her life for the baby. Also Bella got what she wanted out of Edward: becoming a vampire so I disagree that he manipulates her into what he wants. If that were the case Bella and Edward would had stayed human and vampire and the books will had ended with her dying of old age and Edward killing himself after the fact.

  3. Fran permalink
    October 4, 2010 7:28 pm

    If it were true as Kim says, that Edward got Bella pregnant so he could keep control of her, then he could have done that much earlier in the book, as she was always willing to have that sexual experience with him. But he was emphatic about that never happening, partly to protet her “virture”, and part because he did not want to hurt her. And once he realized she was pregnant his first insinct was to get rid of it.
    And when he thought that she was dead from the cliff dive, he did do as he said he would earlier in the saga, he went to the Volturi so he could die. Maybe that could sound a bit over the top to die because someone you love dies, but we must remember, he is a vampire who has been alone for so long and just recently had his first experience with love and a relationship. Would he have left Bella after the birthday incident with Jasper if he didn’t truly feel that that was his best way to protect her from something like that ever again? Misguided sometimes…controlling, no.

  4. Rebecca permalink
    October 4, 2010 11:22 pm

    What Fran says! Team Edward. Team Bella. Team Jacob. They are all great characters each dealing with the powerful emotions of first love. I love how perfectly the books deal with all the emotions you go through when you experience your first true love – the feelings are so new and so strong that yes you can become obsessive, jealous, controlling. I don’t think it’s a feminist issue. It’s a love issue. And an issue of experience. As you grow you learn to deal with the feelings that come with love. So I suppose you can say that Edward seems controlling at first but it’s just part of what many 17 year old boys (and girls) would go through when they’ve fallen head over heels in love for the first time. They don’t know what to do with the intenses feelings. So they try to control them, and as a result end up controlling their loved one. In a short time, Edward does learn how to deal with these feelings and by the third book his controlling behaviour is subsiding and he has a far more level head to deal with Jacob and Bella’s friendship and even knowing that his girlfriend has feelings for someone else. I think the way Meyer conveys first love is one of the reasons why the books are so popular – especially the ‘Twi-Moms’ who think back to that intensely passionate time with their first loves with fond memories.

  5. October 5, 2010 8:28 pm

    My comment about Bella’s pregnancy was part of a weird theory I had in which Edward finally captures Bella for good by impregnating her. It probably doesn’t work but I stand by the rest. The reason Edward works as a character is because he has depth to his character. He doesn’t just have a two dimensional personality but you feel as though you are getting to know him. This, I believe is one of the reasons, I feel people like Twilight. I still believe that although part of Edward’s character is that he becomes obsessive because he’s new to the relationship, immature and also a vampire some of his behaviour is unacceptable. Watching a girl while she sleeps, stalking her, even if she does turn out to be in danger and treating her like a child still seems to me to be behaviour that is too over the top. I don’t think that is romantic or even protective. I do believe as the books go along he does tone it down as he becomes more experienced. I think often people who criticise it don’t get past the first book and so base their comments on the first book. In Eclipse, Edward is a lot more laid back and appears to be a boyfriend rather then her protector. I also think the overall message is a good one. It is refreshing to read about a teenager who doesn’t feel pressured into sleeping with her boyfriend.

  6. October 6, 2010 3:14 am

    The last two times I read the novel, that line didn’t seem especially alarming to me; but it literally jumped off the page when I read it this time around. The thought of a potential love interest insisting on listening to a conversation between a friend and myself is borderline disturbing. Also, he almost has an authoritative tone in his language when he defends himself. I feel as though only a parent should “warn” a teenage girl about anything. That whole scene shows just how overbearing Edward is in regards to Bella from the start of their relationship.

    I really do believe that this scene high lights the age difference between Bella and Edward. Edward may appear to be a young man but we need to all remember that he is over 100 years old. I think that what we should be focusing on is why this genre insists on pairing these extremely old vampires with teenage girls. How can this be considered a love story? At times it almost reads me as child abuse.

  7. October 6, 2010 6:37 am

    You said “as soon as they begin their relationship, she is suddenly smiling, prancing around the house, and looking forward to different times where she will see Edward.” I don’t really see anything wrong with a man putting a smile on a woman’s face. This is normally what happens when someone has touched a soft spot in another person. As far as Edward’s mannerisms, I was never really impressed with him. I saw “Eclipse” before I read the books, and I paid more attention to Taylor Lautner’s character. I wonder if my reaction would be different had I read the books FIRST before seeing one of the movies.

    I don’t think it would though because even in the books with Jacob Black described differently, I still leaned more towards his character. I just didn’t get the big deal about Edward. Everything about his entire personality and his surroundings screamed drama from the beginning, with him constantly changing his mind about being friends with her, his selfish reaction to getting Bella out of Forks and ignoring Charlie still being there, kidnapping her and telling Jacob she wasn’t allowed to be anywhere without him around. He went from boyfriend to father entirely too quickly. Protective is fine, but that was just over the top. Nobody should have to plot against running away.

    He did finally change his mind and “let” her see Jacob, but it felt like somebody was letting her off punishment. He seemed so much in control in the first three books though so I became accustomed to that, but in “Breaking Dawn” his character spent most of his time whining, begging or trying to convince someone else to get Bella to listen. I’d just grown tired of him altogether but I liked him solo. In “Midnight Sun,” he was fascinating but he was more interesting to me when he was away from Bella than when he was with her.

    • October 6, 2010 6:40 am

      One more thing: I remember Bella telling Jacob that she’d have to ask if she could see him. This is the same Bella who swore she was grown and completely ignored what Charlie wanted her to do unless she felt like doing it. But she all but needed a permission slip with Edward. That kind of control made me not care for him. It was disturbing to me. But on the same note, she just KEPT going back to him being controlling and even when she was supposed to be mad at him and he told her to close the window if she didn’t want to be bothered, she opened it wider. I stopped feeling bad for her. If you keep asking for drama, you’re destined to get it…and so she did.

  8. Fran permalink
    October 6, 2010 3:43 pm

    When Renee asks the question, how can Edward and Bella be considered a love story, is hard to understand, as well as her line about how he is so old and the situation borders on child abuse. Remember again that he was changed at 17, so that is where his mind is. He has never experienced any emotions and feelings like he explains in the book about jealously. He has lived a long time, but he is still staying 17. You are imagining a vampire as being someone so old, but that is not the case. And as far as Edward’s reluctance to let Bella go to see Jacob, again, these particular werewolves and vampires are mortal enemies, and he is working hard on that issue as well as Bella’s feelings for Jacob. I think he makes amazing progress on both these issues as the books progress and as his love for Bella gets stronger. He makes mention of how she makes him be in tune with his human feelings.
    And in Breaking Dawn I didn’t ever think he was whinny. He was a man in pain over Bella’s pregnancy and what might happen. Again, this was something no one had ever experience. He was at her side constantly. Yes, he did ask Jacob to try to talk to her, but only because it could save her. He always gives in to her…unless her life is in danger.

  9. October 6, 2010 6:21 pm

    @Fran

    The question is based in vampire lore. Your essential personality does not change when you become a vampire but you still age as you go through life. Consider for instance Armand in Ann Rice’s vampire serious. He was changed as a young boy of 14 but he certainly after over 500 years of existence was not the same person and the same is true of Edward and all other vampire lore. The lack of a physical change does not reflect a difference in maturity if this were the cause Claudia again from Anne Rice’s series would not have become a grown woman in a child’s body.

    • October 7, 2010 12:47 am

      But Smeyer vampires do stay frozen on many ways. There is a difference between storing knew knowledge(like books or studies) and maturing, specially for Edward that never had fallen in love before. Most of this vampires retained a lot of the traits they had at the age they were changed.

      Also a teenager is not a child, even by US laws Bella had the age of consent for sex and when she reached 18 she is also of legal age to marry without parental intermission (heck she could choose to go to war and die if she felt so inclined to) So is a different lore specially to Claudia that was not even close to any kind of legal advantage when she was turned.

  10. Jennifer permalink
    October 21, 2010 6:00 pm

    When I first read Twilight, I didn’t like Edward at all. There was something creepy about him. For example, him sneaking into Bella’s room at night without her permission. Thanks for putting it into words better than I could!

  11. cat permalink
    September 10, 2011 4:54 pm

    Well written essay.

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