Twilight first became popular in my early middle school years. As I entered high school, I watched it transform from something every teen girl was excited about, to something scoffed at, scorned, and belittled. It became cool to make fun of Twilight and anything associated with it and has since become the target of many many jokes, and criticism. Academic criticism has stemmed largely from Bella Swan’s (the main character) inability to save herself and her huge dependence on Edward (the love interest) to fully live life.
Critics have called Bella a “weak character” and have specifically criticized her as a role model for teenage girls, saying that she is representative of a step backward in the face of current feminist movements. And it doesn’t take too deep of a reading of Twilight to find evidence for all these arguments.
However, in the face of such heated criticism, Stephanie Meyer has countered that Bella does not have a “female problem” but rather a “human problem.” Bella is not weak because she is female, but because she is human.
To support her claim, Meyer wrote Life and Death, a version of Twilight where the genders are switched for almost all the characters.
What resulted was a fresh take on the traditional love story. While this new version of Twilight was not as polished as its original (due to a quick deadline to publish on the 10th anniversary of Twilight), I found it to be an excellent rebuttal. I enjoyed reading Life and Death from Beau’s (the male Bella) perspective, and I found Meyer’s argument convincing.
However, while the gender role reversal solved some of the problems critics have pointed out in Bella, the majority of characters still came across as static, and shallow. I suggest that this might be, in part, due to the genre to which this book largely belongs: romance. Because this story is about a romance, with a tiny bit of action at the end, there is little substance in these books, Life and Death and Twilight, that does not pertain solely to Bella and Edward’s/Beau and Edythe’s relationship. For many readers, this kind of substance is not substance at all. Many readers crave something more, while others are content to relish Bella/Beau’s thoughts and the tiniest details of her/his relationship with Edward/Edythe.
While I am not arguing that Twilight or Life and Death should be considered among the great American novels, I am suggesting that Twilight may not be as bad as so many people say it is, and perhaps it is time to take a step back and see it for what it really is—no more and no less.