29 December, 2008

Question: Is Edward Cullen an Abusive Boyfriend?

Answer: I don't think so, but we'll see.

Disclaimer: I managed to read all four Twilight books without falling in love with Edward Cullin. I think he's an interesting character, he's just not the kind of guy I'd want (Plus, he's NOT REAL). That being said, I was kind of obsessed with the books for a while, but I got over it. I think this puts me in a unique position. I don't think Stephenie Meyer's saga is "tHE beSt EvEr!" but I enjoyed them, and think they're fun. If you think it's silly to analyze fictional characters, you won't enjoy this, so go away.

If you intend to, but have not yet read the Twilight series, consider this your warning: Spoilers Ahead!

Now, I've been thinking about this since dear Liz, Nicole (miss you!) and I talked about it on Saturday. Is Bella in an abusive relationship? Well, I looked up a few websites, and can easily claim that NO she is not. Of the ten characteristics listed on this site, Edward only has three (as does Bella), so I conclude that he is not abusive....Physically.

Unfortunately, Edward and Bella's relationship is a candidate for Ambient (or Stealth) Abuse.

According to Dr. Sam Vaknin's book, "Malignant Self Love: Narcissism Revisited," ambient abuse is, "...the stealth, subtle, underground currents of maltreatment that sometimes go unnoticed even by the victims themselves, until it is too late. ...It is the outcome of fear."

By subtly introducing fear to a victim (or prey, as Vaknin says) an ambient abuser renders him or her useless and easily manipulated....it's all about control.

Now, here comes the age old debate on Desire. If someone doesn't want to, or intend to hurt you, are they still responsible for it? This will be important.

It is my assertion that Edward can be considered an Ambient Abuser, when who he is, is added to what he is.

Vaknin gives five categories of Ambient Abuse. One can be considered abuse, but, by the nature of his personality, we can assign Edward two or three. In addition, by the nature of his species, we can assign him the other two. So, while he does not seem abusive, it does appear that Bella is being abused.

Let's begin.

I. Inducing Disorientation (Not Edward's Fault)

"The abuser causes the victim to lose faith in her ability to manage and to cope with the world and its demands." Let's face it, Bella has never had much faith in her ability to begin with, Edward didn't cause that.

"The abuser subverts the target's focus by disagreeing with her way of perceiving the world, her judgment, the facts of her existence, by criticizing her incessantly and by offering plausible but specious alternatives. By constantly lying, he blurs the line between reality and nightmare."

Edward does lie to Bella, when he is trying to protect her, but she can usually tell. He often criticizes her, but in a charming way. He has the habit of trying to convince her she is good and beautiful (things she does not believe) but often teases her about her intelligence and logic (things that she is more confident in).

"Bella, you are utterly absurd" (Twilight p. 82). "You don’t see yourself very clearly, you know. I’ll admit you’re dead-on about the bad things, but you didn’t hear what every human male in this school was thinking on your first day" (210). Edward is constantly trying to convince Bella to believe the opposite, to see herself as he sees her. It's not intended malignantly, and Bella never buys it anyway. While Edward often disapproves of Bella's choices (as do many others) she usually is convinced she's done the right thing. However, he does introduce her to a new world, a world where her previous notions and beliefs cannot exist, a world of vampires and mythology. This, more than anything, seems to make Bella reassess herself, her life. She is ready to accept almost anything.

II. Incapacitating (Both Edward's Fault and Not Edward's Fault)

"The abuser gradually and surreptitiously takes over functions and chores previously adequately and skilfully performed by the victim. The prey finds itself isolated from the outer world, a hostage to the goodwill or, more often, ill-will of her captor. She is crippled by his encroachment and by the inexorable dissolution of her boundaries and ends up totally dependent on her tormentor's whims and desires, plans and stratagems." Edward is Chivalrous. He drives her to school, he protects her from harm, he makes sure she eats. Here's where intent comes in play. Does he like it when she's helpless and depends solely on him, or is he merely a little old fashioned and service-oriented. After all, he usually drives his whole family to school....but it is his car.

"Moreover, the abuser engineers impossible, dangerous, unpredictable, unprecedented, or highly specific situations in which he is sorely needed. The abuser makes sure that his knowledge, his skills, his connections, or his traits are the only ones applicable and the most useful in the situations that he, himself, wrought. The abuser generates his own indispensability." This Edward has not done purposefully. At first, he is of the greatest danger to Bella, but quickly becomes her best defense. Did he somehow entice enemies (James, Victoria, the Volturi) to Bella in order to have the opportunity to save her? Don't be silly. He defends her completely, hates that he has to, and blames himself for exposing her to his world in the first-place (cue self-loathing).

III. Shared Psychosis (folie a deux) (Not Edward's Fault)

"The abuser creates a fantasy world, inhabited by the victim and himself, and besieged by imaginary enemies. He allocates to the abused the role of defending this invented and unreal Universe. She must swear to secrecy, stand by her abuser no matter what, lie, fight, pretend, obfuscate and do whatever else it takes to preserve this oasis of inanity." The fantasy world that Bella and Edward inhabit is real (at least to them). However, it does call for secrecy and solidarity. This, in part, is what makes Edward so enticing to Bella and other (real) women.

"Her membership in the abuser's "kingdom" is cast as a privilege and a prize. But it is not to be taken for granted. She has to work hard to earn her continued affiliation. She is constantly being tested and evaluated. Inevitably, this interminable stress reduces the victim's resistance and her ability to "see straight"." Again, this is not engineered by Edward, but by the nature of Vampires and Bella herself. She has never fit in anywhere, and suddenly is welcomed in by the most beautiful, strongest, fastest, "coolest," people around. So of course, when Edward leaves and tries to "save" her from herself, she only craves him more. Soon he becomes her be all, end all. She cannot live without him.

Can you imagine what it would have been like if Stephenie Meyer ended her series showing Bella and Edward in some mental institution and you realize that he made the whole thing up! I probably would have been mad, but it would have been awesome in a creepy way.

IV. Abuse of Information (Edward's Fault)

"From the first moments of an encounter with another person, the abuser is on the prowl. He collects information. The more he knows about his potential victim the better able he is to coerce, manipulate, charm, extort or convert it "to the cause"." Edward did this. He wanted to know everything about Bella, partly because he couldn't read her thoughts, and partly because he was in lust with her (at that point, I don't think he loved her, physically he's still seventeen, but I could be wrong). While we know his intention was not manipulation, on page 208 of Twilight Edward says, "I do want to know what you’re thinking — everything," and on 245, "You fascinate me." While he does care what Bella thinks, that doesn't always affect his actions. As long as she is happy and satisfied, where's the harm? Dangerous situation coming to town? Don't tell Bella, just take her to visit her mother.

"The abuser does not hesitate to misuse the information he gleans, regardless of its intimate nature or the circumstances in which he obtained it. This is a powerful tool in his armory." While Edward does not seem manipulative for the sake of manipulation, he is willing to stoop that low if he believes it is for Bella's own good. He insists that she will lose her soul if she becomes a vampire (though he doesn't really know), but she won't drop it, so he offers to make a deal. He offers her what she wants in return for what he wants. Compromise, right? But is it an accident that he asks for something that she is afraid to give? Did he infer this fear, and use it against her? Or was he unaware of it? Even though her fears are unfounded, it makes her rethink her original request. For a while, it looks like he might get his way. (Of course, she later turns things back on him, and proves that she can be just as devious, and in the end they both get what they want almost by accident.)

V. Control by Proxy (Edward's Fault and Not Edward's Fault)

"If all else fails, the abuser recruits friends, colleagues, mates, family members, the authorities, institutions, neighbours, the media, teachers in short, third parties to do his bidding. He uses them to cajole, coerce, threaten, stalk, offer, retreat, tempt, convince, harass, communicate and otherwise manipulate his target. He controls these unaware instruments exactly as he plans to control his ultimate prey. He employs the same mechanisms and devices. And he dumps his props unceremoniously when the job is done." Remember when Alice "kidnaps" Bella for that forced slumber "party?" Remember all those times when Charlie gets over-protective and Edward agrees with him when it keeps Bella where he wants her? True, he is trying to protect her from her own impulsiveness, and he definitely doesn't "dump" his allies (Alice is probably his best friend, and he has a lot of respect for Charlie), but he does overrule her in logical matters. He insists that he knows better.

"Another form of control by proxy is to engineer situations in which abuse is inflicted upon another person. Such carefully crafted scenarios of embarrassment and humiliation provoke social sanctions (condemnation, opprobrium, or even physical punishment) against the victim. Society, or a social group become the instruments of the abuser." This is not Edward, but, as above, we have seen that his world has caused this. The Volturi, random nomadic vampires, and even the local gossip mill all cause Bella grief.


As stated above Edward believes he knows what is best, or rather safest, for Bella, but is he wrong in trying to overrule and protect her? In truth, he is usually (but not always) right. Not because he is a man, not because he is older, but because, as a vampire, his brain works on a higher level. His synapses fire more rapidly, he has a perfect memory, and he's been to college several times. In comparison, Bella's mind is like a child. Is is wrong for you, as an adult, to see a child wandering the streets and take them to Child Protective Services? You have no authority over that child, yet what you did would be seen as heroic, even if the child prefers living on the streets. Many have complained that this kind of behavior is proof that Stephenie Meyer is anti-feminist, but she insists that she is merely, "anti-human." (stepheniemeyer.com) Looking at some of her other characters (Alice for one) does seem to make this argument viable. However, this "anti-human" sentiment is present for three books, books that are written in the first person. This can make it dangerous to those who may misinterpret the author's intentions, as Bella generally seems reasonable to herself and, therefore, the reader.


Despite his inclination to jealousy, self-loathing, and his own acknowledged "God complex" (Midnight Sun, p. 11) Edward Cullen is merely a borderline ambient abuser. He allows his desire to protect Bella to overcome his respect for her individuality. However, when the object of his concern (namely, Bella's human frailty) is extinguished, he begins to trust her more completely. He doesn't like to see her in dangerous situations, but stops being deceitful in order to keep her from them.

While it does seem as though Bella was experiencing all of the above abuses, few of them were actually caused, let alone intended, by Edward. However, had Bella remained human, we can only assume that the inequality of their relationship would have continued.

Perhaps we can assume that any human-vampire relationship would be, by nature, abusive in addition to dangerous.

Arguing that Edward abuses Bella is feasible, but not really fair. We are attempting to judge a cross-species relationship in a fantasy world. Now if you want to try to argue that Bella is abusing herself....

To all you women who wish for an Edward in your life....you may want to think again.


Please don't shoot me:

To fellow fans of Twilight, please allow me the enjoyment I've had playing devil's advocate. As stated above, I like Stephenie Meyer, her books, and characters, but that doesn't mean we should accept everything she's written as a perfect dream to pursue without some serious consideration.

To all you Twilight haters, don't begrudge me the harmless fun of my escapist tendencies. I've overcome my obsession and lived to laugh at myself. I know it's hard to accept that so many people are so obsessed with something you find so valueless, but please, at least it's not High School Musical.


Ms. Liz said...

You are brilliant - and I'm glad you went clinical on the matter and not speculative. And you know what - THIS is the point of books. To make you think, examine and assess what you think and feel.

And ironically - it seems to be a very human relationship after all assessment and observation.

Nicole said...

Ahem! I think you omitted the fact that I was in this discussion too...

Quixotic Healer said...

True, true! It never would have happened if it weren't for you Nicole!

And Liz, I'm glad you recognize the whole "point of books" thing. I was afraid everyone would be all, "Chill, it's just a STORY."

TyroErudition said...

You know, this type of analysis is all we do in graduate school. If this book weren't Twilight, you could expound a little, polish it up, and publish it as an article.

Even though I haven't read the books (and I'm still debating as to whether I want to), it looks like Meyer was doing some interesting things.

I'm curious about the whole anti-feminist/anti-human thing (perhaps I will read the books). I just took a course on Victorian women's writing, and we studied a bit of feminist theory, so that's been on my mind recently.

Quixotic Healer said...

Kellyanne, I'd love to know your thoughts. These may not be the greatest books, but they are highly readable, quick reads. I enjoyed them. I understand your hesitation (I started them before the craze, so it wasn't an issue for me), but I still haven't seen the movie.

Rich Sanders said...

This is an interesting, informed, and thorough post. I'm not qualified to say what is and isn't abuse, except for in obvious cases. But I would point out (and to be fair I've only read the first book) that Edward stalking Bella without her knowledge or permission, and sneaking into her house and watching her is a kind of abuse, that's why such behavior is illegal and the restraining order was invented. Suppose he were hideously ugly and repulsive, I think the audience's reaction would be different. Even though his behavior hasn't changed.

Also, you said wouldn't it be interesting if, in the end, all of the fantasy was imaginary. I've always thought that would be a bad, but fascinating ending to Harry Potter. It turns out he just goes insane and has all these hallucinations, and his family keeps him locked away for fear that he'll hurt himself on his (possibly drug-related) "adventures".

Quixotic Healer said...

Ha ha! Then we would discover that JK in Rowling really did stand for Just Kidding!

Yeah, I didn't go into the whole stalking bit....That's an interesting one because it could be his personality or species. You could argue that he couldn't help it (blood-lust etc) but mostly I think if fall under the creepy/horny teen-aged boy thing.


Rich Sanders said...

Yes creepy teenage wisdom belonging to a hundred-year old man. It really is a creepy situation once you look past the "beautiful charming and rich" surface the book hawks at you from page one to the last.

And I think Just Kidding Rowling is way too catchy to go away any time soon!

Quixotic Healer said...

Someone should write HP parodies under that name, lol.

I nominate you.

SaraW said...

Thank you for making a logical argument and taking the book for what it is. I am a fan of the books and Edward. Never once thought of him as abusive while reading the books. Kind of felt like my perception on abuse was tested while reading some blogs on the topic. Among the articles that support the two extremes of Edward, I think this is a best and the most logical case i have read thus far.