Bite Me! Literary Criticism of Twilight

by Kim on February 3, 2009 · 50 comments

My friend Phil pointed out an article in bitch magazine called “Bite Me (or Don’t)” which is a feministy literary criticism of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series.

Do not read the article if you hate spoilers, the article covers events that happened throughout the entire series.  I’m not much worried about spoilers, so I didn’t mind, but I know other people might.  Stop reading here if you hate spoilers… you have been warned.

The article presents the Twilight series as an example of of “abstinence porn” or a story that “convinces us that self-denial is hot.”  It asks whether this messages is one we want to send home, points to some of the real-life implications of the apparent message, and also discusses how the book inverts messages about sex through Edward and Bella’s relationship.  The article argues that the thrill of the first three books is, in part, because of the tension that Edward and Bella haven’t had sex yet.  Once they do, the relationship fizzles out and the story becomes much more traditional:

Perhaps some of this bitter disappointment stems from book four’s departure into adult territory, where Bella becomes a traditional—and boring—teenaged mom. The removal of the couple’s sexual tension reveals two tepid, unenlightened people. Neither character has much to offer outside the initial high school romance storyline: Bella doesn’t have any interesting hobbies, nor is she particularly engaged in the world around her. Her only activity outside her relationship with Edward seems to be cooking dinner for her father. Edward hangs out with his family, but the bulk of his 24 hours a day of wakefulness seems to go to either saving Bella from danger or watching her when she sleeps—you know, that age-old savior/stalker duality. Romantic!

As someone not finished with the series, I don’t feel comfortable commenting on the article much.  I will admit that the feminist part of my brain kept feeling uncomfortable as I listened to Twilight because I didn’t like the dominant and submissive dynamic between Edward and Bella.  As much as its romantic to have a big strong vampire to get your out of jams, Edward can be more than a little condescending (in my humble opinion).  I don’t know if I’d go as far as this author on her criticism, but maybe you have an opinion?

What do you think about the argument of this article?  Does it change what you thought of the Twilight series? Do you think the author is just reading too much into the whole thing?

Updated September 10, 2009: There’s been a lot of discussion and comments on this post, so I’m updating it to add links to a few other feminist and literary criticisms of Twilight and vampire stories in general. I also want to comment on one criticism that’s come up in the comments on this post — that Twilight is just pop culture crap so it doesn’t merit literary criticism.

I strongly disagree with that argument; anything that is a cultural phenomenon deserves to be looked at critically. In the case of Twilight, I think it’s important to consider the underlying values the novel is predicated on (not Mormonism, but the values Meyer sets up as acceptable in the world of the story). Those values should be talked about because it’s always important to think about what we’re being told. Even if you think Twilight is fluff, there are still people reading it and it’s important to talk more deeply about what the books are saying. </Soapbox>

Anyway, here are some other articles or posts I’ve found interesting on this particular topic that you might enjoy too:

If you have more Twilight literary criticism, please feel free to send it my way. I’ll continue to update this post for a little bit longer because I feel like it could use some more defenses to make the post more balanced. Enjoy the updates!

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