According to Stephenie Meyer, the title Breaking Dawn is a reference to the beginning of Bella's vampire life, the dawn of her new existence (source). Though we won't get to hear more of Bella's story after Breaking Dawn – the final book in the series – "dawn" as a time of day also seems to suggest that her future with Edward has just begun and looks bright.
Even if you didn't like the ending, Stephenie Meyer sure did. In fact she mentioned in an interview that she especially loved the final two pages:
This is the moment, after all of these years, that Edward really gets to understand how Bella feels about him, and they're finally, truly seeing eye-to-eye for just that moment. For me, it was like four books of buildup for this moment, and it was great. (source)
It seems that with this last moment, all loose ends are tied up. Bella and Edward live happily ever after. Their immortal daughter, Renesmee, lives happily ever after with Jacob. Bella's father Charlie, the father of a vampire, finds his perfect match in Sue Clearwater, the mother of a werewolf. Although the werewolf pack splits, they co-exist happily ever after.
So the only three questions we Shmoopers still have are: Will the Volturi make a comeback? Will there be a love triangle between Jacob, Renesmee, and Nahuel? And finally and most importantly for all Twilight addicts: Will the Twilight universe live on? According to Meyer, Bella's story is definitely finished. But she seems inclined to follow other side characters, like Leah and Renesmee, at some point in the future (source). So deep breath, there's hope…
Most of the story of Breaking Dawn takes place in Forks, Washington at the Cullen house and in Bella and Edward's new cottage in the woods. There's also a short jump to Isle Esme, just off the coast of Brazil, where Edward and Bella spend their honeymoon.
The story begins in fall with Bella and Edward's wedding in Forks. Although Forks itself doesn't change (it still rains), Bella now spends a lot of time at the Cullen house. When she drives through Forks with her new Mercedes Guardian, she feels like she sticks out to people in town. Her association with the Cullens and her upcoming wedding have changed the way the townspeople look at Bella and how she experiences her surroundings.
During the wedding dance, Bella discovers Jacob hiding in the woods. He has disappeared into the woods "to go full wolf" after receiving the wedding announcement. As in all books of the Twilight series, the woods seem to represent a hiding place, a secret, supernatural world where werewolves and vampires do their hunting and fighting. Not necessarily a place for a human.
In fact, whenever Bella used to spent time in the woods, she felt quite out of place, and wasn't able to take two steps without tripping over a branch or rock. As a vampire, however, she no longer feels out of place in the forest. She belongs. She leaps over rivers and races through the trees. Her fear about the woods turns into fear for the woods, because she can't quite control her physical power yet:
I was suddenly sure that if I wanted to tunnel under the river, to claw or beat my way straight through the bedrock, it wouldn't take me very long. The objects around me – the trees, the shrubs, the rocks… the house – had all begun to look very fragile. (20.38)
Her new superior sense of sight allows her to see in the darkness just as well as in daylight, and her sense of smell enables her to find home easily. She's definitely no longer in danger of getting lost in the woods.
The woods also figure prominently in the battle with the Volturi. The Volturi army arrives (as Alice foresaw) as the first snow lies on the ground. The choice of season for the battle might have to do with the fact that in wintertime, the forest looks dead, because life and growth are muffled by ice and snow. It's in this atmosphere in which the Volturi arrive, just as soundlessly: "a dark, unbroken shape that seemed to hover a few inches above the white snow, so smooth was the advance" (36.2). The image of fluidity, of black against white, is very powerful. It seems to evoke a sense of good and evil, a sense of judgment day.
Bella and Edward's cottage looks right out of a fairy tale:
There, nestled into a small clearing in the forest, was a tiny stone cottage… Late summer roses bloomed […] a little path of flat stones […] led up to a wooden door. (24.52)
The inside features an eclectic mix of antique and modern, old and new, which might reflect Bella as she unites her old human life with her new vampire life. She brought all her old books, for example, which features prominently in the story, since Alice later leaves her note in Bella's copy of The Merchant of Venice. So her old life has relevance to her new life.
Bella also realizes that the place exudes a positive vibe. Plus, the fact that this cottage belongs to her and to Edward defies her new husband's idea that "he belonged to the world of horror stories" (24.97). It's a place of love, intimacy, and protection.
There's no doubt that this fictional island off the coast of Brazil is a dream come true. Still, Bella feels stage fright at the thought that this will be the place where she'll first make love to Edward:
[…] I could see a warm light ahead… I realized the light was a house – the two bright, perfect squares were wide open windows, framing a front door […] the stage fright attacked again. (5.33)
The scenery is almost too beautiful and too perfect.
Later, Bella admits to herself that she believes the surreal beauty and the too-bright colors of the island might be the cause of her vivid nightmares. So, despite its dreamy postcard island quality, Isle Esme seems to also introduce an element of danger.
An epigraph accompanies each of the novel's three parts. We'll go into each in detail below.
"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?
"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.
"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?
All of the books in Meyer's Twilight saga have some classical inspiration. Twilight has some Pride and Prejudice elements going on. New Moon is closely tied to Romeo and Juliet. Eclipse pays homage to Wuthering Heights, and Breaking Dawn reflects on two Shakespeare stories, The Merchant of Venice and A Midsummer Night's Dream. Here's what Meyer has to say about the connection between The Merchant of Venice and the last installment of the Twilight series:
I'm not the kind of person who writes a Hamlet ending. If the fight had happened, it would have ended with 90% of the combatants, Cullen and Volturi alike, destroyed… Because I would never finish Bella's story on such a downer – Everybody dies! – I knew that the real battle would be mental. It was a game of maneuvering… Alice tore a page from The Merchant of Venice because the end of Breaking Dawn was going to be somewhat similar: bloodshed appears inevitable, doom approaches, and then the power is reversed and the game is won by some clever verbal strategies; no blood is shed, and the romantic pairings all have a happily ever after. (source)
The Merchant of Venice is a Shakespearean comedy about two Venetian merchants (you might have guessed that piece), Antonio and Bassanio, caught up in a crooked business deal that sparks an unfortunate debt to a moneylender named Shylock. Antonio promises to pay it off with a pound of his own flesh, in case he shouldn't be able to repay it with money. When he fails to get the cash, things look quite bloody for him. But, as in Breaking Dawn, a woman, Portia, saves the day. She's a heiress who has fallen in love with Bassanio. She disguises herself as a lawyer to plead for Antonio's defense before Shylock in court. In a few strategic verbal moves, Portia not only gets Shylock to forfeit everything he owns, but to beg for his life. Shylock leaves, defeated, just like Aro and his whole army do at the end of Breaking Dawn.
As for Breaking Dawn's connection to A Midsummer Night's Dream, Meyer explains:
When I decided to use A Midsummer Night's Dream, it was because I knew that the love triangle that was so painful for everyone involved was going to be flipped around so that everyone was happy. (source)
A reference to A Midsummer Night's Dream appears twice in Breaking Dawn. It's first mentioned in the epigraph to the second book (see "What's Up with the Epigraph?" for more info). The line in the epigraph suggests that love and reason don't go together. That's basically what Bella tries to explain to Jacob in the scene where she tells him that she's convinced things will work out for her and the baby. She senses that some kind of magic fate led her to this point. When Jacob doubts her belief and pretty much tells her she's lost her mind, she appeals to him by saying that once he'll imprint, he'll understand the magic of love:
"Edward told me once what it was like – your imprinting thing. He said it was like A Midsummer Night's Dream, like magic." (10.56)
To put things in context, A Midsummer Night's Dream is a comedy written by Shakespeare. It's partially set in Fairyland and features a lot people falling in and out of love by the power of magic potions. Sometimes magic is used to promote good pairings, other times to make hysterically bad matches (like when the Queen of the Fairies ends up falling for a guy with a donkey head). So Jacob imprinting on Renesmee is kind of like that – instantaneous and magical rather than reasonable. So, in short, A Midsummer Night's Dream stands for the power of love which drives many of the decisions the characters make in Breaking Dawn – even if from an outsider's perspective it looks like they've lost their minds.
Throughout Twilight, New Moon, and Eclipse, we've come to know Bella Swan as our narrator. We see the world through her eyes and experience her emotions. In Breaking Dawn, Meyer chose to let Bella narrate the first part of the book, and then switched to the narrative voice of Jacob, only to return to Bella as the narrator in the last part of the book. Why?
Here's how Meyer explains her choice:
In the first rough draft, it was Bella throughout the entire story. There's this section of the story where Bella's pretty much stuck on a couch and is not part of anything that's going on, and she's just hearing about it from the outside, and it's boring! [...] So when I went back to do this, I realized that where the action was, was something we can only get through the first-person perspective of Jacob. And once I made that decision, I was really glad I had, because that was the most fun section to write out of the whole story. (source)
So the main reason for the point of view shift was not to bore us. Very considerate. Did it work? Does Jacob's perspective add to the story? Or does it take away from us being inside Bella's skin, feeling her pain and her fear for her baby and for her own life? At any rate, Jacob's narration makes us insiders when Jacob imprints on Renesmee, even before Bella learns the news in the last section of the book, which arguably builds suspense about how she'll react.
Also, Jacob's change of heart from wanting to kill Renesmee to devoting his life to her would probably never have been as powerful if narrated by Bella.
Other reasons to consider are that not knowing Bella's perspective could makes us feel more helpless to watch her because we care about her. Or did Meyer think it was too painful for us to experience it with Bella? Or did we need to feel, like Jacob, hostile toward that "monster" that was going to kill "our" Bella, only to fall in love with her, like Jacob?
Meyer's other reason to switch to Jacob is, as she says, the simple fact that she loved writing Jacob. But does she, as an adult woman, do a good job of portraying a teenage werewolf boy? How successful was she at taking on this new personality? Did she make Jacob more real for you?