Those Subtle Weaknesses

>> Monday, May 4, 2009

Since fiction is one of my favorite topics, I'm keeping with the theme of characters and imperfections. Yesterday, I talked about Wolverine and how, despite his differences, regular people could identify with his limitations and his resilience.

So, what about another popular character right now: Edward Cullen from Twilight? Many of the younger set I've seen don't like him, call him too perfect, as opposed to the sloppy teenager, Jacob, friendly and thoughtless (capable of pushing unwilling kisses), or Bella who makes no sense at all unless you're another teenager. But I get Edward.

Not because I don't age or am effectively made of rock or impervious to most if not all harm. I couldn't identify with that but I don't think that's important because that's not who Edward is (though that immortality has flavored who he is). Edward is the person who looks like it's all too easy. He's the person who's popular without being nasty about it, who makes it look effortless. He's the smartest guy in class who always has his homework in and always has the answer when called on. He's the one who never drops the ball, who is being scouted out in high school when he's still a junior because he's so good. Most people aren't all of these things or even one of these things, but, if you have been any of these things, you know all about Edward.

Because, when it "comes easy," no one's impressed even when you outdo yourself. Because, when you're "the best," you can never let your guard down, never let anything slide. Because, the bar is ever higher (often because of your own achievements) and no one appreciates what it takes to do that level, day in and day out, and even beat it.

And, even knowing what you can do, even knowing how good you are, you never see yourself as good enough. You see the things you could have done better, the traits you don't have (smart, but unpopular or unwieldy for instance). There's a voice that tells you what's wrong with you instead of letting you be satisfied. In Edward, it's a conviction that he's damned, damned for what he had no control over (his being a vampire) and damned for what he did before he developed control.

But that's not enough. He blames himself for what Bella does, takes responsibility for even her stupidest actions (sorry, Bella irritates me), for what she feels, for the things she asks him to do that are so very hard for him. He blames himself for not doing them better.

That, my friend, is a serious flaw and I bet a few of us can identify with that.

Some people are disturbed by his effective stalking of her. Folks, he wants/needs to drink her blood desperately. Stalking someone is most disturbing because of what it can lead to. In his case, it leads to protection of her, even against himself, against her own missteps. True, one can't tell that at first glance, but, in many ways, he plays the parent her parents really aren't. Which is OK, because he's really not a teenager either; he's old, very old. His forbearance is not only practical (really!) but also an offshoot of his upbringing when romance was epitomized by protection of what you loved, even against your own baser instincts. Oh, in reality, even in the early 1900s it really wasn't that pristine, but the perception was there. It's what he once knew.

It makes me reminiscent. Romance novels used to be about that, heroes protecting heroines from the heroine's folly and the hero's baser instincts. It was about loving something more than oneself no matter what the cost, cherishing the happiness of someone else, even if it was uncomfortable for oneself. Romances today have moved away from that and, though women aren't the doormats they once were, we've lost something in equating love with an itch you have to scratch rather than someone so precious you're careful to handle her thoughtfully.

Edward is old school, romantic, unsure of himself, unsure of his worthiness, despite his apparent perfection. Perhaps kids today can't identify with that, but this old broad sure can.


  • flit

    I think my biggest problem with Twilight is that there was NO ONE in it that I particularly liked/identified with. Tamara loves it though

  • Stephanie B

    Well, and that happens, too. I'm sure there are many who don't see this the way I see it. It's a characterization that will appeal to a certain subset, but you shouldn't be surprised it appealed to me. Xander in Beast Within is built on similar lines (and I built him before I'd read any of the Twilight books, as you know).

    One thing I might have done differently (if I'd been Ms. Meyer) is give Edward a questionable mentor - that insecurity is often the result of a driving or a dismissive parent or other authority figure. Carlisle might very well qualify as too good to be true.

    I did give a particularly nasty parent to Xander.

  • flit

    Xander isn't a stalker though LOL

  • Stephanie B

    Isn't he? :)

  • Relax Max

    Because I am not a television watcher, I am unfamiliar with these characters and find it difficult to comment, but I DO like your analysis. I would love to see more of your personal writing though, with regard to character descriptions that originate in your own head. Sometimes.

  • Kelly B

    I like Edward, especially after reading a draft of Midnight Sun - Edward's perspective.

    Sometimes, what appears perfect is far from it. I could see Edward's flaws and I could see that he was fighting himself all the time. Not just his vampire instinct, but his instinct to protect her like a parent. He wanted to protect her so much that he often tried to control her and he had to fight that.

    I agree, Bella could be annoying, but I related to her...I am so clumsy that I would have been Bella in that story. I'm also very proud and have a hard time showing any weakness, just like Bella.

    I like Jacob too, though, once we get to hear from him...his presumptions and pushiness didn't sit well with me until I heard his voice...


  • Stephanie B

    Relax Max, to the best of my knowledge, these characters aren't on TV (I also don't watch), but they are a series of books (aimed at the young adult market) and a movie. If you want to read my fiction, I have quite a bit available via the post "Let's Test Boris' theory" from April 20. Or were you just wanting to know more about how I make characters of my own?

  • Stephanie B

    Kelly, I liked the bit she put on-line in Midnight Sun myself.

    I don't identify with Bella, but then I have a resident teenager and that might flavor my reactions. :)

    Jacob I liked in the I'd-rather-my-daughter-not-hook-up-with-him-except-as-friend sort of way.

  • ettarose

    Stephanie, I think that is what was so popular about the book. I read it long before anyone had heard of Edward and I loved the fact that he was romantic in the old fashioned way. Now Bella, she is a twit.

  • sundcarrie

    Here is what bothers me about Edward he is over a hundred years old and he has not learned how to treat a woman. He hasn't learned that running away won't protect her. He hasn't learned well much of anything about relationships. I also had an issue with both his and Bella's lying, but that is a personal thing I hate liars.

  • Stephanie B

    ettarose, I'm with you.

    sundcarrie, you are certainly welcome to the way you see it. I would counter, if we were discussing it, with the question - when was he supposed to learn about women? He's never interacted with anyone that wasn't indestructible in a romantic way.

    Although I can see what you're saying. I do that all the time in books - what were they thinking? Then I look around in life and see people doing the same dumb thing over and over and realize that learning isn't black and white.

  • Shakespeare

    I think Kelly B has it right. Edward only APPEARS to be perfect, in the same way that a straight-A student SEEMS to have all the right answers. And one can be very mature, yet never be flawless.

    Funny that we dislike his seeming perfection yet also find faults in him. Can we really have it both ways?

    Personally, I like him. I like him that he fights with himself, that he longs for something he thinks he can't have. That he wants something he doesn't deserve. I know the feeling.

  • Stephanie B

    I'm with Kelly B myself - I make no bones about the fact I like Edward and that he's the reason I read the books.

    That appearance of perfection, that drive to attain it (without ever being satisfied) - I sure as heck know that. I think many people do. And part of that perfectionism is never feeling quite good enough - so much so that it's easy for me to see how Edward doesn't think he deserves happiness.

    But, if you don't have that background, you could miss those subtle signs, those things that make Edward, despite the physical changes, still human.

  • sundcarrie

    I am not at all a perfectionist so maybe that has something to do with why I don't get Edward.

  • Stephanie B

    Well, and sundcarrie, that's the down side to character identification. People are different. My daughter identifies with characters that drive me batty. My husband identifies with people that bore me (technogeeks).

    I'm only mentioning why he appealed to me. flit, you'll notice, didn't identify with anyone and that's OK, too.

    Our identification has a lot to do with our experiences and our personalities and, hey, we're each unique.

  • Davida

    Oh, man. I came in on this discussion late. I love vampire stories (you and I have discussed that already), but I really got entangled with this Edward v. Jacob or Vampire v. Werewolf thing while and since reading the Twilight series. I have to say that Jacob really stood out to me and I became a fan of his (and the actor playing him-Taylor Lautner) more than Edward's... yeah, yeah, he's underage...I know. I do understand where you're coming from with Edward's old school romance and I really can appreciate that. There were times, however, when I felt (and maybe this is b/c he's 110 and she's a teenager) that his protectiveness of her seemed overly-protective, like she had no will of her own. And his appearing in her bedroom at night was borderline disrespectful to Charlie and even stalker-ish. Jacob was a great friend, who was loyal-to-a-fault, and... I prefer hot over cold and big, strong, muscular men with long hair and... oh well, that's getting off into something else. I better cut this short. My friend and I read these book weeks ago and STILL cannot help but talk about Edward v. Jacob. ;)

    Great post!


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