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PART 4: Edward’s mind versus Jacob’s body, or, Twilight as a Colonial Text

April 23, 2010

Twilight can be read as upholding traditional ideas of mind versus body and culture versus nature. Edward (and the Cullens) are associated with the mind/culture, while Jacob, the Quileute, the wolves, and other raced characters are associated with body/nature.

Edward has various graduate degrees, is well-spoken and well-read, and is distanced from his ice-cold body. As a mind reader, he lives not only through his own mind, but by reading the thoughts of others. Jacob, in contrast, is grounded in corporeality – his bodily size, color, and temperature are constantly focused on in the books. Further, as a werewolf, Jacob and other Quileute characters are associated with the unruly body.

Their bodies run hot and their physical anger cannot be contained. More generally, the werewolves’ lack of clothing emphasizes their status as bodies.

The sexualization of the wolf body further highlights the body/mind binary the series enacts. Echoing traditional representations of colonized peoples Jacob (and the other wolves) are perpetually in a state of undress. This, too, is in keeping with historical representations. As Peter van Lent argues in “Her Beautiful Savage,” sexuality pervaded captivity narratives with native men framed as dangerous, yet desirable.

Analyzing the popularity of “Indian Romances,” van Lent suggests that turning the native male into a romantic hero renders his supposed violence sexy and ameliorates the history of colonization. “Loving him,” van Lent writes, “a minority and a victim of much we regret—makes American dominant culture feel less guilty.”

Taylor Lautner and his packing on of 30 pounds of muscle in the space of one month might be read in this context. Moreover, the fact he is only “playing native”  underscores the fact that real life indigenous males cannot live up to their media representations – instead, as Lautner’s casting portends, non-natives are “better” at being native than real natives1

Taken together, these representations in Twilight communicate to readers rather disturbing messages about race. In particular, Jacob’s character  perpetuates the dominant racial ideology which constructs the indigenous as “Other.”

Jacob, as a stereotypical “good Indian” tells Bella his cultural “legends” but does not place much stock in them, characterizing Quileutes as overly superstitious. Before his turn to wolf, he is very critical of the “La Push gang,” calling it a cult and mocking the fact they are “all about our land and tribe pride.” Referring to what is happening as “like a bad western”, Jacob has adopted a white, Westernized view of his culture and heritage.

When he asks Bella, “So do you think we’re a bunch of superstitious natives, or what?” with “a hint of worry” in his voice, he emphasizes his own fear that this is indeed the case. His westernized view, or colonial viewpoint, results in negative views of himself and other tribe members. His turn to wolf is redolent of forced colonization – a turn caused, significantly, by the presence of the white Cullen vampires.

And, while Jacob is especially reluctant to serve his wolf-mates and follow Sam’s orders, he, in keeping with the colonial viewpoint the text enacts, he seems happy to be at the beck and call of the white girl he has fallen in love with, reminding Bella, “I offered eternal servitude, remember, I’m your slave for life”

We might also read Jacob’s forced turn to wolf in relation to white conquest – he does not want to fight, to be an animal, but the Cullen intrusion forces him to do so. Yet, rather than a justified warrior hero, he is presented as “a monster who might hurt somebody.”

Compared to the high-culture Edward who, fittingly looks like a classically beautiful statue, Jacob is childlike, irrational, temperamental, impulsive, and beastly. Edward is a white vampire god – Jacob, in contrast, is a lowly teen wolf, with “russet-colored” skin and anger management problems. He is framed as the real and more dangerous monster, just as men of color are framed as a danger to society, to their families, to themselves. Post-racial society my ass. More like “Twilight society” where white guys are the heroes, males of color are violent cads, white girls are desired booty, and women of color are victims. But it’s “just fiction” and “only entertainment” – kind of like the Western movies that gave us the enduring image of indigenous men as monstrous.

(Up next, PART 5: It’s not “just fantasy”: why Twilight’s representation of race matters)

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. edwardporsiempre permalink
    April 24, 2010 3:16 am

    You know the TVtropes pages has a Power Trio (Id, Ego and Superego) for fictional characters entrance and it they state that:
    Jacob: Id
    Bella: Ego
    Edward: Superego

    Just FYI, I think this fits this article.

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