PART 3: (Ig)Noble savages in need of vampire civilization
In addition to its depictions of the Quileute characters as literally and figuratively darker and more animalistic, the Twilight series also features many characters whose villainy is either associated with non-white skin and/or their black hair and clothing.
Laurent, for example, is described as having olive skin and glossy black hair in the books and is played by a black actor in the films. The evil Volturi, their name redolent of black vultures, are repeatedly associated with their long black capes and “dark ruby eyes”.
Even the raced vampire allies are portrayed as more savage than their white counterparts. The animal-skin wearing Amazonian vampires are depicted as “feline” with “long black braids.” Bella observes “It wasn’t just their eccentric clothes that made them seem wild but everything about them” Noting their “restless” “darting movements,” and “fierce appearance,” she relates, “I’d never met any vampires less civilized” .
The Brazilian workers featured in Breaking Dawn are similarly associated with darkness. The “tiny coffee-skinned woman” with “dark eyes” is “superstitious” and speaks in what Bella describes as an “alien tongue”.
More explicit racialization occurs via the NA wolves depiction as less civilized than vampires. In Breaking Dawn, for example, the Cullens introduce “culture” to Jacob, inviting him into their home. Sleeping and eating outside at first, in various states of undress, he is gradually “civilized” and moves inside the house, or into the white world.
The term werewolf, literally meaning man-wolf, connotes beastliness and irrationality, attributes that were also associated with those “in need” of colonization. This man-wolf idea, as Meyer’s books show, lends itself well to the historical rep of Native Americans as a violent, savage people.
Indeed, violence is represented as genetic trait of the Quileute via the actions of Paul, Sam, and Jacob, a representation that glosses over the political reality that native women experience domestic violence at higher rates than any other ethnic group and frames native men as predisposed to violence.
On the flip side of this ignoble savage representation is the noble savage (the native American as close to the land, spiritual, heroic, virtuous—and doomed). In Twilight, Jacob’s “good side” is often rendered in animal-like terms which present him not so much as a savage beast, but as a loyal dog. These depictions, despite having positive associations with “man’s best friend,” nevertheless portray Jacob and the wolves as more animal-like than human, a portrayal that has historically been used in relation to Native Americans.
Tellingly, when Edward is associated with animality, he is characterized as a lion, the king of the jungle – Jacob, on the other hand, is depicted as a loyal dog, a savage wolf, and, at one point, a sure-footed mountain goat. He is the ignoble savage that forces himself on Bella – a younger Sam who, we are encouraged to think, might just leave Bella’s face scarred like Emily’s. Yet, lest this violent representation smack too much of racism, he is domesticated in the texts – rendered into a nice puppy dog for Bella to pet. (Tellingly, Bella admits she likes Jacob MORE in wolf form when she can be his metaphorical human master, patting his soft fur and reveling in his expressive wolf eyes that are so much more palatable to her than when he is human and can talk!)
She, as future vampire, tames his wolfishness, preparing him to enter the Cullen world – first via being allowed into their house, then dressed in “civilized” clothes, then ultimately made a family member through his imprinting on Renesmee. Not only is he colonized by these vampires, he now has godly Edward as a father. What a nice little assimilationist fairy tale…