Twilight and the Dilemma of Desire

Original writing by Mary Kate Murray
Reading Response to Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight
Submitted for ENG 324, Studies in Adolescent Literature
Professor Barbara Tannert-Smith
Winter 2015, Knox College

TwilightbookWhen Bella Swan, the plain, clumsy heroine of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, falls head-over-heels for the mysterious, omnipotent, all-powerful Edward Cullen, she might as well be having a love affair with a god. In fact, she refers to him several times as a portrait of Adonis, her angel, her savior. However, Edward Cullen is anything but the Christian ideal. He is a vampire–not only a murderer, but an inhuman monster. Traditionally, vampires are portrayed as Satan incarnate; they are charming, manipulative, and play on the temptations of their prey, making it seem as though their victims had an equal part in their own demise (not to mention the fangs, akin to that of a venomous serpent). The moral confusion of the vampire in Twilight creates conflict for the protagonist, Bella, who is unable to fulfill the literary tropes of virgin or whore, and thus, exists in a state of moral stagnation.

If Edward were an ordinary vampire, Bella’s intense sexual desire for him would lead to her immediate death–she would be an easy target. Edward, though, is no ordinary vampire. He has a soul, or at least, he desires a soul. He is built from a Christian framework imbedded in the author and the culture which formed him. He, as Petersen posits, is the “personification of sex,” but he is trying not to be.

The Christian themes throughout the text conflate sex and danger, and by extension, restraint. Bella’s sin, her desire for Edward, could kill her if she’s not careful, so she better keep her hands to herself. However, the text also conflates sex and God. As previously mentioned, Edward is a god-like figure who, throughout the novel, saves Bella from both her human faults (her clumsiness) and supernatural evils (James, the bad vampire). This confuses the morality surrounding Bella’s desire for Edward: is her sexual desire wrong because it invites violence, or is it acceptable because he is, in a sense, holy?

To break it down, Bella is constructed as Eve: the virtuous woman who is tempted by desire to fall to her death. Edward is an amalgamation of God, Adam, and the serpent in the garden. He is God in that he is the omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient figure who is capable of saving Bella from her own desire by pushing her away; he is the serpent in the garden in that he is the fanged manifestation of Bella’s desire; and he is Adam in that if Bella succumbs to her desire for him, he will, in turn, succumb to his desire for her and bring his own undoing.

Because Edward’s sexuality encompasses the spectrum of moral archetypes, Bella’s desire becomes a dilemma. She is trapped in moral ambiguity, and therefore, she is unable to fulfill the biblical trope of virgin or whore. Edward’s “goodness,” or his insistence on abstinence before marriage, means that Bella is unable to satiate her human, sexual desire and become the fallen woman; meanwhile, Edward’s inherent sexuality, or sin, means that Bella is unable to achieve spiritual enlightenment, and by remaining chaste, or without the pressure of sexuality in her life.

This confusion puts Bella in a state of moral limbo, which remains the crux of conflict throughout the series untilBreaking Dawn, when she becomes a mother. Bella’s marriage and motherhood saves her from her moral dilemma. By becoming a mother, she commits the sin of having sex, but repents through the pain of childbirth and transforming into a vampire, herself. Her motherhood immortalizes her, and she is able to maintain a state of perpetual bliss, as she is now, like Edward, a vampire, and an encompassment of the spectrum of biblical tropes.