The Imaginary Heroine

searching for the plot

A New Dawn part 3: “Romeo, Ripley, and Bella Swan” by Rosemary Clement-Moore March 5, 2010

[Part of a series discussing the essays in A New Dawn edited by Ellen Hopkins. These posts may contain spoilers about all four Twilight novels and Midnight Sun.]

A theatre expert, Clement-Moore analyzes the Twilight Saga as an Aristotelian tragedy. According to Aristotle, the point of tragedy is to inspire pity and fear in the audience through sympathy for the doomed hero. This sympathy has a therapeutic effect on the audience, allowing us to achieve catharsis.

Twilight in Greek! How cool is that?!

Twilight in Greek! How cool is that?!

In this analysis, Bella is interpreted as a Classic Hero with a tragic flaw of being in love with a monster-boy and a tragic fate of being a danger magnet for less benevolent monsters. We feel sympathy for her through the novels as she suffers for her love. We fear no matter what she does, Bella may be fated to lose the ones she loves – her human and vampire families, her friends, Jacob, and Edward. By evoking these feelings, the novels allow us to connect with the fears we have about our own destiny and release some of the tensions they cause.

It all breaks down for Clement-Moore in Breaking Dawn as it did for many Twilight readers. Bella seems to escape her tragic fate and achieve a rapturous ending for all involved. The author decides to throw Meyer’s zillion page finale out because, for her, it doesn’t fit the pattern of the other books.

I will admit that this was my first instinct when I read Breaking Dawn. Actually my first instinct was to throw the book across the room. I think I may have done so a couple times. My cat was not amused.

What may be the problem here is that Clement-Moore is working with a philosophical framework that isn’t a fit for the subject matter. Stephenie Meyer was brought up in the Mormon church, attended Brigham Young University, and is still an active member of the LDS community. What Meyer created in Breaking Dawn is not a subverted Greek tragedy with a daring escape from fate, but instead a tale of triumphant ascension with a uniquely Mormon philosophical framework. In marrying Edward, consummating their marriage, and bearing his child, Bella is transformed into a powerful immortal being. This pattern closely matches the process of conversion to Mormonism and the path to redemption and union with God as promised in LDS teachings.

Low blow, but I couldn't resist

It’s important to note that my argument here is NOT that SMeyer set out to write a book to convert everyone to Mormonism. It is not that Mormonism is a good thing or a bad thing. It is not that Twilight having a Mormon moral to the story is a good or a bad thing. These are all debatable points and some of them depend on subjective personal beliefs.

My point is simply that Meyer has  a strong philosophical point of view and it inherently defines her writing. It would be interesting to speculate how intentionally she crafted her finale  – is it a very Mormon conclusion because she is very Mormon and that’s the framework by which she defines a happy ending or did she set out to write a characteristically Mormon happy ending from the beginning?

We will never know for sure and in some ways it less important than other questions. Questions like what does it mean that there has been so much backlash to Breaking Dawn from loyal readers? What does it mean that despite that backlash, it still sat atop the best seller lists for record amounts of time? Is Meyer a Mormon apologetic? Are some elements of the Saga a critique of Mormon thought? What does this mean for the stigmatization of Mormonism in American culture?

If it’s not already obvious, I find the Twilight Saga more interesting as a Mormon allegory than I do as a vampire adventure or a romance novel.

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