Isabella "Bella" Swan
Bella as an “Everygirl”
Here's how our narrator Bella describes herself: "I'm absolutely ordinary – well, except for bad things like all the near-death experiences and being so clumsy that I'm almost disabled" (10.171).
We want to let you in on a little secret: Bella’s average-ness was no mistake. Stephenie Meyer says, "I left out a detailed description of Bella in the book so that the reader could more easily step into her shoes" (source).
In addition to not having a specific physical appearance, Bella isn't really exceptional in any way. She's not an Olympic-caliber athlete (in fact, she's quite uncoordinated), she's not a genius (although she seems to do well in school), and she has no particularly remarkable skills. In essence, she's like most people – "absolutely ordinary." When asked in an Entertainment Weekly interview why she thought Twilight was so popular, Stephenie Meyer responded:
I think some of it's because Bella is an everygirl. She's not a hero […]. She doesn't always have to be cool, or wear the coolest clothes ever. She's normal. And there aren't a lot of girls in literature that are normal. Another thing is that Bella's a good girl, which is just sort of how I imagine teenagers, because that's how my teenage years were. (Source)
Meyer said it herself: she intended Bella to be an "everygirl." Ideally, that means anyone can relate to Bella, so it's all the more exciting when something incredible and magical happens to her – a gorgeous boy/man of mythic proportions sees her as unique and completely irresistible. She becomes so precious to this man that he's willing to sacrifice anything for her. And maybe, through the average Bella, we can imagine that it's possible for something magical to happen to us, too.
Meyer isn't the first storyteller to use the device of the "everygirl" effectively – this is actually a tried and true storytelling technique. Let's take a look at some other "Bellas" that we've encountered:
- Jane Eyre of Jane Eyre: Plain Jane Eyre is an 18-year-old orphan girl who is scrawny and not particularly attractive. When employed as a governess by the mysterious and wealthy Mr. Rochester, Jane becomes obsessed with him (kind of like Bella is with the mysterious Edward Cullen). And the impossible happens: Mr. Rochester falls completely in love with her, too. (Interestingly, Mr. Rochester has a lot in common with Edward. Check out Edward's "Character Analysis" for more.)
- Fanny Price of Mansfield Park: Fanny comes from a not-so-wealthy family, is raised in her wealthy aunt's family, isn't very pretty (especially compared to her cousins), is quiet and shy, and is only unique in that she's a very nice girl and has good morals. Yet two amazing men fall in love with her. Similar to Bella, she's an "average" girl who ends up with the man of her dreams (Edmund Bertram).
- Bridget Jones in Bridget Jones's Diary: Bridget is absolutely average—30-ish years old, single, and smokes too much. While Bella is the "average" teen girl, Bridget is supposed to be the average 30-something-year-old. She ends up with Mr. Perfect.
- Meg Murry in A Wrinkle in Time: Meg Murry might be considered run-of-the-mill. She's not very good at school, she's plain looking, and she feels like she doesn't fit in very well at school or in her family. But, she's smart, brave, and loves her family. Unlike some of these other stories, Meg doesn't end up with her dream man, but she does enter into a magical world, and ends up a hero, saving her father and younger brother.
Bella's Coming-of-Age, and How She Changes
Whether or not you see Bella as more of a teenager or thirty-year-old, Bella changes quite a bit throughout Twilight. In the story she's a junior in high school and on the brink of becoming an adult. She's moving across the country from her mom, and starting a new life in rainy Forks, Washington with her father. And she's about to have her first romantic relationship (though she isn't expecting it).
Overall, Bella begins the story as a quiet and solitary individual. She's also quite responsible for her age, having looked after her mother (to make sure she paid the bills on time, and such) and now taking on a heap of domestic responsibilities in her father's house (according to Bella, "he can't cook at all" [24.106]). Bella artfully dodges the high school boys who have crushes on her, avoids getting wrapped up in the Forks High social scene, and spends most of her time doing homework and chores. Like her father Charlie, she enjoys solitude.
Just as she's adjusting to her new life – BAM! – there’s Edward in Biology class. From this point on, an ever-increasing amount of Bella’s conscious and subconscious mind are devoted to the beautiful-pale-guy-with-smoldering-eyes.
Bella even admits that she’s embarrassed of how often she thinks of Edward. She’s feels stupid when she starts to dream about him. Yet when their interest in each other becomes clear, Bella clings to Edward and demands that he doesn't ever leave her. "You are my life," Bella states. "You're the only thing it would hurt me to lose" (24.204). By prom, she’s ready to lose herself completely (a.k.a. die to her human life and become a vampire) in order to be with Edward forever.
Bella's transformation begs a question: is she obsessed with Edward to an unhealthy degree, or are her feelings for Edward the typical feelings of infatuation that many experience when falling in love for the first time?
From one perspective, Bella's feelings aren't all together unique. First love for many people is tinged with obsession. Since this is all new for Bella, she doesn't yet know how to be in love and in a relationship while also maintaining her sense of self and individuality.
Even if you haven't personally experienced the feeling, you've probably seen examples obsessive first-love experiences that end up developing into normal relationships. A good example is Jane Eyre, who spends nearly the first half of the novel Jane Eyre obsessed with Mr. Rochester, completely idolizing him, but eventually comes to see him as her equal. So, is that what's going on with Bella and Edward?
We've also seen examples from literature where the obsession is unhealthy. Take James Gatz from The Great Gatsby, as an example. He becomes so consumed with his love for Daisy that he creates a new persona for himself, Jay Gatsby, in order to pursue her. Yet he puts her on a pedestal and she can never meet his high expectations. When his dream of being with her dies, he dies as well. Another example is Heathcliff of Wuthering Heights, who becomes so infatuated with Catherine that he becomes a villain in an attempt to get revenge on her husband. When she dies, Heathcliff gives free reign to his violent tendencies.
The question is: into which category does Bella and Edward's relationship fall? Let us know what you think!
Bella as a... Pretty Bird?
Isabella Swan. That’s quite a name. “Bella” means beautiful in Italian, and since she’s dating a vampire, can’t help but imagine the movie poster for Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, in which the main character is named Belle. Edward certainly considers himself to be a monster, and Bella coaxes him into partaking in some human activity and emotion, just as Belle did with her Beast.
Then there’s the “Swan” part of Bella's name. What do swans make you think of? For us it brings to mind graceful, quietly poised birds that are somewhat fragile. Besides the graceful part (Bella is super clumsy), it sounds like a good description of Bella (at least from Edward's perspective). But what we really think of is the classic "Ugly Duckling" story, and that, friends, applies beautifully to Bella. Before coming to Forks, Bella is kind of awkward and doesn't stand out. But when she gets to Forks, in Edward's eyes at least, she's a swan.
Bedward, or Edwella
So, here’s our big finale: is this thing between Bella and Edward really true love? Oh, man. That's a big question. One that we also ask about the famous Romeo and Juliet, mind you. Let's check out both sides – the negative and the positive – and let you decide.
Bella is initially drawn to Edward only because he’s utterly beautiful. He also saves her from Tyler’s runaway van. He also acts really mysterious...all the time. He repeatedly tells her to be afraid of him. His skin is really cold. His eyes change color. He knows a lot about cell mitosis. Doth this true love maketh?
You could argue that Bella's interest in Edward escalates to love too quickly to be believable. Bella has very few conversations with Edward before she declares herself in love with him. They are discussing risking their lives for each other at about the same time that most of us would be busy wondering, “Hmm, I wish I knew if this was supposed to be a date-date or just a friend-date...”
When was the last time that love was explainable? Have you ever met someone and just had that inexplicable connection right away – that weird zest, that baffling spark, the mystifying fireworks? Have you ever been struck by how Mr./Miss New Guy/Girl in Your Life seems perfectly tailored for you and only you? Have you ever gotten the butterflies for no good reason over someone? Ever gotten the wind knocked out of you; been afraid you might just suddenly die if you can’t see the New Guy/Girl again, and soon?
It’s chemistry, folks. Some sort of connection has zapped both Bella and Edward in a spine-tingling type of way. Also, Edward’s been alone for over 100 years, so presumably he's not making a rash decision by picking Bella.
So what do you think, is it true love?