"What’s wrong with Edward?" fans screamed all over the world when, in Chapter 3, Edward breaks up with Bella. Cynics of love would probably grin and say, "I told you so. True love doesn’t exist. Edward probably got tired of Bella, or found some other ‘distraction‘ to bide his eternal time with."
But according to Stephenie Meyer, that's just not the case. Edward leaves because his love for Bella is true. In our introduction to New Moon (check out "In a Nutshell"), we mention that Meyer claims that Edward literally forced her to make him leave. Here’s what she had to say about her character’s motivations:
See, just as Bella doesn't think she's good enough for Edward, Edward sees himself as a soulless monster destroying Bella's life and endangering her afterlife. The incident with Jasper acts as a catalyst, forcing him to act. He is determined to save Bella. He thinks the best way to do this is to take the vampires out of her life." (source)
So, in short, Edward seems to act out of selflessness. That’s expected. From Twilight, we know Edward as the savior, the self-hater, the self-sacrificer, always composed, always humble, always perfectly handsome. That’s one way of looking at him. But, to play devil’s advocate a little, could Edward’s decision to leave Bella to safely live and die her human life be construed as selfish, immature, and even cowardly instead? Let’s play with that idea a bit…
After Edward and Bella admit their love for each other in Twilight, there’s no doubt that their lives have forever changed. And they have changed each other – irrevocably. Yet, Edward promises Bella that he will disappear out of her life "as if [he]’d never existed" (3.191).
Ridiculous. As Bella later points out, it’s a promise he can’t keep because he has become part of her life, not only physically but also emotionally. And getting rid of birthday presents and pictures is not going to help her forget him either. Actually, his choice seems kind of immature – not something we would expect from an 109-year-old man.
Edward might also come off as a bit of a know-it-all. We might have expected him to have good perspective on human relationships, having seen countless ones over his life so far. But, because of all that time watching humans, he feels he knows them better than they know themselves. Let’s recall his idea that time heals all wounds for humans, because their memory is like a sieve.
That’s a tad condescending, don’t you think? It’s a little bit like saying to Bella, "Yes, you’re special, but you’re still only human."
Of course, Bella completely defeats Edward’s argument. She not only demonstrates that her love for him stands the test of time, but she also embarks on a superhuman rescue mission, risking her life for Edward without a second thought.
And now on to our harshest accusation. Well, actually, it’s Bella who does the accusing when she wonders,
[…] would it make any difference if I did become a vampire when the idea was so repulsive to Edward? If death was, to him, a better alternative than having me around forever, an immortal annoyance? (21.126)
Basically, Bella wonders if Edward doesn’t want to make her a vampire because he’s actually afraid he’ll get annoyed with having her around forever. Or maybe he's worried he won't be attracted to her after she becomes a vampire.
OK now, let’s give the guy a break. After all, he does propose to Bella in the end. That’s worth something, right? And to cut Edward some more slack, he apologizes profusely for all his mistakes, top to bottom: making fun of Romeo, leaving, dismissing Victoria as a threat and thus putting Bella in danger, and so on. He finally vows to regain Bella’s trust, even if it takes eternity, and he sounds sincere.
After leaving Bella at the end of Chapter 3, Edward doesn’t return until Bella saves him in Italy in Chapter 20. Nevertheless, Bella hears Edward’s voice all throughout the story when she has her "episodes."
On her website, Stephenie Meyer clearly explains that Edward’s voice is simply a projection of Bella’s desires:
So powerfully was Bella's subconscious knowledge trying to break through her wrong-headed notions, that it produced some very convincing delusions. (source)
The meadow scene, when Laurent confronts Bella, proves Meyer’s point: if Edward knew the trouble Bella was in, he would have been there to protect Bella ASAP.
Yet, it is hearing Edward’s voice that later makes Bella realize the truth of his eternal love for her. What else does Edward’s voice do for the story? On an emotional level, it keeps Edward on our minds and in our hearts. On a plot level, it drives Bella to become a bad girl. The over-protective presence of Edward’s voice provides a counterpart to Jacob who, despite being protective of Bella, allows her to get in a bit more trouble and to take more responsibility for her own life.
When Bella asks Alice about the chances of them stopping Edward's suicide mission before it’s too late, Alice says, "If he gives into his more theatrical tendencies… we might have time" (18.185).
Theatrical tendencies? Now that sounds like news to us. Isn’t it more like Edward to stay out of the limelight, to be reasonable, and to never ever get too emotional?
After all, when he watches Romeo and Juliet with Bella, he points out that he thinks Romeo is "fickle" (1.122) and that the character made a lot of rash decisions that ultimately destroyed his own happiness. Then why, when Bella saves him, does Edward recite Romeo’s words from the scene when Romeo is in Juliet's tomb? "Death that hath sucked the honey of thy breath, hath no power yet upon thy beauty" (20.71). That's certainly a bit dramatic.
In any case, what might have changed Edward’s mind about Romeo? Well, maybe the fact that Edward believed he was being reunited with Bella in heaven. That would probably cause any man to become a bit sentimental. Or what if Edward’s had a tendency for sweeping emotions and drama all along, but keeps it bottled up? Maybe the only reason he’s not more of an emotional hothead like Romeo is that he’s afraid of getting carried away in the wrong direction, losing control, and accidentally hurting people. What do you think?
For more on Edward’s story, check out our "Character Analysis" of him in Twilight.