Analysis: What's Up With the Epigraph?
Epigraphs are like little appetizers to the great entrée of a story. They illuminate important aspects of the story, and they get us headed in the right direction.
An epigraph accompanies each of the novel's three parts. We'll go into each in detail below.
Book 1: Bella
"Childhood is not from birth to a certain age and at a certain age
The child is grown, and puts away childish things.
Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies."
– Edna St. Vincent Millay
(An excerpt from a poem titled "Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies.")
Why would Meyer choose this excerpt to lead us into the first book of Breaking Dawn? Well, let's examine what happens in the first part. Bella narrates her wedding and honeymoon, ending with her discovery that she is pregnant. OK, so we understand the connection to "childhood" based on that revelation – Bella is now married and expecting a baby.
Only, when Bella's book ends in Chapter 7, Bella and Edward aren't quite sure just what "that thing" inside her is yet. In contrast to Edward, who's intent on getting rid of the "monster" inside his new wife, she immediately thinks of it as their child. And Bella is determined to sacrifice her life for the life of that child. The excerpt from the poem seems to suggest, for one, that childhood is sacred. It has no boundaries or definitions, but is a magical place where nobody dies. So no matter what the nature of the child is inside of Bella, she believes that she needs to give it every chance to live.
At the same time, the poem also seems to allude to Bella's own childhood. In a way, her childhood ends in Breaking Dawn because she becomes a mother, along with all the responsibilities that entails. On top of it, she's facing her transformation into a vampire, which means the end of her human life altogether.
But does Bella ever grow up? After all, as a vampire, she's reborn into a "kingdom where nobody dies," and will be able to live forever with her loved ones. Since she dies at age eighteen in her human life, it's safe to argue that she never really experiences human adulthood. So, in that sense, Bella dies and is reborn as a child to stay forever frozen in that state, at least physically.
Mentally, though, she grows bounds and leaps. The best case in point is Bella's ability to expand her mental shield to protect all of her loved ones from the Volturi and to eventually save the day, preventing bloodshed. So, it's her mental maturity that allows all her loved ones to continue to live in a kingdom where nobody dies. Happy ending!
Many critics and fans didn't like that conclusion to her story, saying that Bella just had it too easy. She gets to live forever with Edward, the love of her life, and their immortal daughter, and is surrounded by her family of vampires, werewolves, and humans (and they could all be transformed as well in time). She even gets to have supernatural physical and mental powers. Where's the sacrifice? Where's the loss of innocence? Do you think those fans and critics have a valid point?
Book 2: Jacob
"And yet, to say the truth, reason and love keep little company together nowadays."
– William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act 3, Scene 1
When we look at the actions of the main characters in Breaking Dawn, we see that Mr. Shakespeare pretty much nailed it when he wrote A Midsummer Night's Dream. Though the things they do for love might make no sense to an outsider, these characters just can't help themselves.
First we have Bella, who's dead-set on giving her life for the life of her baby, no matter what kind of monster will pop out of her. Then we have Edward, "the burning man," whose guilt over what he has done to Bella drives him mad. He knows that the only way to end Bella's pain is to get rid of the baby inside her, yet he also loves her so much that he wants to respect her wishes. Then there's Jacob who sticks with Bella, although the very thought of her giving birth to Edward's baby tortures him. Once the "monster" is born, Jacob decides that it's his mission to kill the being, but then ends up falling in love with it. Yes, indeed. Love and reason definitely don't seem to come together in this novel.
Book 3: Bella
"Personal affection is a luxury you can have only after all your enemies are eliminated. Until then, everyone you love is a hostage, sapping your courage and corrupting your judgment."
– Orson Scott Card, Empire
The quote stems from Orson Scott Card's speculative fiction novel Empire. The book tells the story of a possible second American Civil War between the right wing politically and left, and taking place in the near future. In Empire, the battle of words turns into an uneven battle of blood between high-technology weapons on one side, and militia foot soldiers on the other. The battle in Breaking Dawn could also be called uneven in respect to the Volturi's sheer mass of soldiers against the Cullens' small group of family, friends, and werewolves.
According to the quote, your personal affection for others influences your decisions in dangerous situations. The fear that your loved ones could get hurt takes away your courage to act and corrupts your ability to make good decisions. Indeed, when the Volturi arrive on the battlefield with the "pace of the invincible," Bella's spirits reach an ultimate low. Her eyes wander over the people she loves, and she realizes, "And we were going to lose" (36.28). So, up to this point, the idea that love makes you lose your courage holds true.
But as Bella realizes that she'll have to witness the deaths of her loved ones, it triggers another emotion: rage. She suddenly experiences a murderous anger replacing her despair, a wish and readiness to rip the Volturi's limbs from their bodies and pile them for burning. It's this raging bloodlust that eventually frees Bella's ability to expand her shield farther than she ever believed possible. In the end, it wraps around everyone on her side. Bella saves the day! Would she have felt that same pain-turned-rage if she had been surrounded by people she didn't care for? Would she have been able to discover the true power of her shield without that intense rage boiling inside of her? What do you think?