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Where is Twilight’s Feminine Face of God?

January 24, 2010

In his recent interview with Lev Grossman, John Granger (Forks High School Professor and author of Spotlight: A Close-Up Look at the Artistry and Meaning of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga) argues that the Cullens are “a celestial family” acting as a “body-mind-spirit triptych.”

Though I favor socio-cultural readings and Granger tends towards religious based analysis and an iconological approach, I find many of his ruminations on the series interesting. For example, I agree that there are certainly a lot of religious undertones in the book generally, and that Meyer’s Mormonism is an important aspect of any critical examination of the saga.

In regards to the above body-mind-spirit reading of the three Cullen couples, Granger claims “Carlisle and Esme are the otherworldly spirit figures of love and self-control to whom the family defers, Alice and Jasper have powers to sense the mental and emotional fabric of the world and the people in it, and Emmett and Rosalie are, well, center-fold portrayals of the body.” I find this tripartite reading intriguing, but if the duo of Carlisle and Esme are at the top of this hierarchy, it seems to me Esme is profoundly silenced (and sidelined) in the text.

If we are to read Carlisle as a sort of quasi-God figure, creator of the Cullen clan and ultimate arbitrator of Cullen commandments, where does Esme come in? She is hardly an equal-in-vampire-arms female deity. Of course, her relative unimportance in the text (and her portrayal as mainly wife and mother) is in keeping with the way mainstream religion frames females.

Though feminist theologians have argued religious texts have been “edited” in ways that render females LESS important and argue, for instance, that the bible had a far more gender-equality before it was whittled down into current canonical form, the accepted notion of God is male (and the majority of power within religions is granted to or conceived of as male.) *

I agree with Granger that the saga can be read as containing subtle criticisms of Mormonism “especially the prevalent misogyny” (as Granger puts it). But I wish that in regards to what we can see as the god-like representation of Edward and Carlisle we had a corresponding female deity.

Esme is no matriarchal god (more of a domestic goddess with little power) and Bella is far from a female deity – even if we read her as gaining god-like power towards the series end, we must remember she is only able to tap into this power by submitting to male rule (via capitulating to Edward’s marriage ultimatum) and by acquiescing to the prescribed role the majority of world religions still constrain women within – that of wife and mother.

While some may retort that godliness has no gender, I would ask, why is it almost always portrayed as male then? And if “gender does not matter,” why not (for once) present a female as “savior” and a male as Eve? Especially given that, as Granger points outa, Rosalie is given the maiden name of Joseph Smith’s first wife – a woman that had quite a bit of religious power but whose history and role (as in the tendency in our patriarchal world) has been largely ignored and forgotten?

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*See, for example, the work of Elaine Pagels.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Merinne permalink
    January 25, 2010 3:29 pm

    Intersting article – thanks for the link!

    I’m surprised that in his analysis of the role of Meyer’s religion he did not address the less than well-known Mormon belief in a Mother god as well as a Father god, something I was very surprised to discover in my research, which has an effect on the interpretative landscape. But he does seem a little hostile to feminist readings (although I am only judging by this one interview) so perhaps it is not so surprising…

    • natalie wilson permalink*
      January 25, 2010 8:02 pm

      Merinne,
      You are welcome!
      Great point about the Mormon belief in a mother god – I will be writing about this in my book.
      I don’t think Granger is hostile to feminist readings per se, but to any type of readings which dismiss Twilight as unimportant merely because it’s popular…

  2. January 27, 2010 4:02 am

    In many ways Bella’s story has similarities with the myth of Psyque and Eros.
    Following that idea the Cullens could be a representation of the Greek Gods, of course done by a mormon so its a pretty clean one: Carlise is Zeus, Esme is Hera: The eternal parents and a couple although Carlisle kids don’t come out of cheating like Zeus kid’s did.

    Rosalie is Aphrodite, Emmet Hercules/Hephaestus: In the original myth Aphrodite is the one that hates Psyche and she needs to fight over to access her place at the side of her husband and in this story the only member of the Cullen Coven Bella has to win over is Rosalie.
    Alice would be Athena/Ceres, Jasper would be Ares/Poseidon:

    Since Bella has to have a journey to enter the Olympian Gods she would be Psyche and Edward would be Eros,
    The Volturi could represent the three headed dog Cerberus and all the problems Bella had to face can represent the problems Psyche had to face too, they even had a meeting much like the Cullens had to vote for her to join their immortal family. No to mention that they also had a daughter.
    They also represent the sun and the moon making them Apollo(The Sun God; god of light, healing, music, prophecy) and Diana(Goddess of the hunt, of maidens, and the moon). Funny enough Edward is the moon and Bella is the sun.

    Of course all this symbolism and allegories are things that need deeper analysis to find. Still very interesting concept to play with and according to Carl Jung its part of our collective psyche, so even if Smeyer didn’t placed in un purpose the fact that it comes out of dream might make it more charged with meaning than she could had possibly had tried, YMMV.

    • natalie wilson permalink*
      January 27, 2010 6:48 pm

      Ana,
      Wow, very interesting comments!
      Would you be interested in writing a guest post on this?
      As per your comments regarding Meyer’s intention, I am in Barthes camp here — that “the author is dead” and what they intend and what the work actually means to readers or how it functions as a text are very different things…

      • January 28, 2010 4:15 am

        Of course! As soon as you explain me what is it. I warn you that you need to check the spelling and grammar since english is not my first language and my last test on it showed I was just 85% fluid on it.

        I also sent you a mail to visit an analysis I did on Bella and Edward on my personal blog, that touches this and some of the roles I think Bella and Edward are playing on the story and some of their motivations.
        Did you got it?

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