by Latoya Peterson
I would have missed the Twilight phenomenon completely had it not been for my boyfriend’s younger sisters. As the tale of Bella and Edward swept bookstores, ravaged Hot Topic, and launched a thousand live journal wars, I was blissfully unaware. It wasn’t until the book Eclipse popped up on two adolescent wish lists that I decided to take a closer look into the much debated saga.
Back in 2008, we published a piece from Alyssa Valdes-Rodriguez on the Politics of Wizards and Vampires, though this mentioned race only lightly. Most of what people view problematic with the books is based in gender. While I am certainly in no position to judge anyone else’s particular brand of paranormal escapism, I have to admit that the Twilight books don’t hold much appeal for me. The reason? Bella, herself. I can’t really deal with bland protagonists, especially women who seem to have nothing else to do but wait around to be saved.* I also have an issue reading long, drawn out virginity narratives – I’ve already had sex, so I’ve lost my patience for that kind of thing. Still, something in the second book piqued my interest: Jacob Black.
Maerhys writes about all the reasons to love Jacob Black:
I came into the books interested in the Edward/Bella romance but was happily surprised to see that Jacob Black was a prominent character, in purpose and/or dialogue, through out the entire series. I liked that these were modern Indians, the pre-werewolf Jacob seemed real enough, or common enough, a good kid interested in auto-mechanics, strong relationship with his father and friends. He had a sense of humor that made me laugh out loud often. I applauded when Meyer was clever enough to make Charlie and Billy best friends so that Jacob taking Bella on as a friend so quickly made sense to me. Of all the scenes at La Push, the time in the garage building the bikes, the Spaghetti Party with the Blacks and Clearwaters, and Breakfast Muffins with Emily felt the most authentic to me. I didn’t mind the muffins over frybread because it was morning and it would have seemed heavy-handed to me to use frybread.
Which is true. Jacob and his family live on a reservation, but they are not perpetually in a time warp. Jacob is a prominent character – he is an established presence in New Moon, is a major part of the plot in Eclipse, and even assumes some of the narrative in Breaking Dawn. However, while there was much to love about the inclusion of Jacob, Meyer’s portrayal of Jacob and the other Quileutes raised quite a few eyebrows.
Conversely, I wondered how every single Quileute was russet-colored (and if I never ever read “russet-colored” again it won’t be a moment too soon). I live in the Southeast and in my family alone we range from every shade of brown to quite pale (like me) to Black like many of my cousins and other extended family. I would be lying if I did not think we’re a good lookin’ bunch of folks but we’re not all insanely gorgeous like all of Meyer’s Indians, aside from Kim. The exotification of was heavy-handed, most likely in Meyer’s attempt to show that she thinks Indians are beautiful, strong, and we all but walk on water, *lol*, but, instead, it shoved me out of the story and reminded me that this was a non-Native writing Indian characters. [...]
My largest issues with the characterization of the Quileute Peoples in the novels are two-fold. The first is the complete acceptance of Bella in every aspect of Indian life and that no one had a problem with a red/white relationship between them. Fed/state recognized Nations have to deal with enrollment and most enrollment processes say something about blood quantum, that sort of thing is thought about where I am from, and Alexie has mentioned it more than once in his writings so I think Washington Indians think about it too, even if their dads are best buddies. I found it maddening that no one ever said anything about it, and even with first-person narration through Bella, I doubt that she would not have thought of it, overheard something or had conversation about it. It would not be beyond the pale sine Charlie and Billy were best friends, but to have never mentioned it? And there are no other interracial relationships mentioned? Maddening, I tell you. *lol* And, while, I could buy that Bella would be well-known in La Push and possibly accepted due to the Charlie/Billy connection, I cannot believe that she would be invited to the storytelling event or be taken to so quickly by Emily, and eventually, the rest of the pack. The second, possibly more annoying than the aforementioned, is rez-born and bred Jacob not understanding the role of Billy as an elder and not having a clue as to his clan or that he is the true Alpha. Again, if he had known but chosen to tell Bella something different in order not to reveal to much, to play stupid, I would find that conceivable, but true ignorance? I was dumbfounded and completely thrown from the story.
Indians as werewolves or otherworldly is old meme, but through out the first two novels and most of the third, I found the characters compelling enough to forgive the recapitulation of myth. I enjoyed the development of Jacob’s psyche and the friendship between Bella and Jacob. However, when Meyer went there — the continuous over-bearing game-playing by Jacob for Bella’s affections and, finally, culminating in the forced kiss and then the “suicide mission” manipulation in Eclipse, I felt like Meyer wanted me to hate Jacob and I admit that I did. [Bella as well, for all the Christian morality infused in these tales, the engaged woman seeking another man's kiss didn't do a whole lot for me.] I understand Jacob’s motivations but the execution was beyond flawed. Possibly even older meme than Indians as werewolves is the Indian man so hot for the white girl that he manipulates her and finally forces her sexually. My estimation for the saga as a whole plummeted with these machinations to character and plot, possibly even more so when Bella decides that she is in love with Jacob as well as Edward. Perhaps it is my utter disbelief that so many men find Bella irresistible? If Jacob had imprinted on Bella, perhaps, I could suspend my disbelief, but he did not and he still fights for her, while simultaneously aware that he could imprint on another woman and that Bella is essentially addicted to Edward. Why does he go to all of the trouble? Further, I found it irritating that Jacob and Bella’s relationship was used as a prop to illustrate that Bella had other choices but still chooses Edward, and conceivably, immortality.
Indeed. I read Marhys’ summary before I read all the books, so at the time it didn’t make much sense to me. However, I completed the full series over the weekend, and noticed a lot more than Marhys had time to cover. Continue reading