Twilight – Lions and Lambs: the re-instigation of Original Sin

Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series has brought the vampire kicking, screaming and sparkling into the 21st century. The books have sold in excess of 100 million copies globally, and the obsession continues to grow with the promise of further film adaptations. The series has altered the perception of vampires, and their appeal. The fan-base of the novels is primarily female, and the genre boundaries of the vampire have shifted. The pre-occupation of the story, as many critics have irritably noted, is the melodramatic romance of Bella Swan and Edward Cullen, vampire. Yet, this is not what the issue is at stake; the odd family constructs and disturbing lack of identity within the novel pose many questions. For example, why has there been a return to values we would perceive as traditional, rather than contemporary? Why has the teen been re-installed into Breakfast Club clichés? And why has there been a re-instigation of Original Sin? It is not to say that every modern vampire novel is concerned with these issues, but vampires have fast become a staple of the teen fiction market. Twilight represents the “most conservative example of an established young adult fantasy milieu of vampire subculture and teen wolves.”[1] And it is precisely because of its immense popularity that we should be paying attention to it. Compared to the texts of the previous chapters, there has been a massive shift in tone, issues, and I would argue, a regression in values. The situation in Twilight has been dealt with before to an extent in the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. High school and vampires were combined to create a show that had the mystery and threat that came with monstrous vampires, and the somewhat trivial concerns of a high school student, struggling to find her place. Buffy’s “melodramatic structure” and concern with the “personal sphere”[2] are similar to that of Twilight. The teen angle is being played upon heavily, but with the ‘twist’ of the supernatural in the form of the vampire. The vampire is a formidable choice – especially now it has been given the possibility of redemption. It plays on age-old dilemmas of good-versus-evil, neatly inserting them into a drama about teen angst. The vampire is thus a vehicle for moral education.[3]

Buffy was huge, providing the small screen with a post-feminist hero who could kick ass and still care about how she looked. The aesthetics of the vampires in the series were somewhat similar to those in The Lost Boys, their faces noticeably altering whenever they ‘morphed’ into vampire-mode, clearly marking them out as inhuman. In this way, aesthetic identity became more complex. Whilst in ‘human’ mode, the vampires could move about among the humans, wearing the mask of humanity while it was required. A vampire was only identifiable when unmasked, in its primitive state, which left it stripped of humanity and exposed as the monster it purported to be. But, in both Lost Souls and Twilight, the vampires do not visibly change. They are free to imitate humanity, however they see fit. Twilight moves on from Buffy and thus situates vampires within high school, using their lack of (grotesque) aesthetic identification as a disguise in which they can imitate the teen, illuminating the social structures within teen identity. Whereas within Lost Souls we saw the dominance of the pack mentality and the absence of strong family structures, in Twilight, there is the return of the All-American family, and like The Lost Boys, we see a return of hetero-normativity, subtly coded in the family structures.

The vampires within the Twilight series arguably subvert both modern representations of the teen and modern interpretations of the vampire figure. For, according to Senf, modern interpretations are “more light and playful” than in “earlier literature.”[4] Regardless of the opinion of some critics that the series is merely a “resurrection of the most old-fashioned incarnation of the [romance]genre,”[5] the underlying message of the series is frighteningly dogmatic. The reader will perceive that both men, and sex, are dangerous, fatally so in some cases. It warns against female assertiveness, and advocates a lack of identity along with the promotion of the rigid ideological construct of the family.

Twilight sees the return of the traditional family structure; an idealised view of societal structures fitting neatly into the town of Forks, where it is always overcast, and where people live out their lives, relatively untouched by the world around them. The teens that reside in the novel in Forks are reminiscent of those in Lost Souls, consumed by ennui and mediocrity, exaggerating their limited social lives in order to find meaning. The Cullen family provide an interesting focal point for the locals to speculate upon. They are the designated outsiders; achingly beautiful, talented, neatly perfect. Their self-imposed distance from others allows the inhabitants of Forks to impose the identity they require the outsiders to have. In this case, it is perfection. Vampires, it appears, are the new humans. Or, rather, in the technological age we live in, ‘human version 2.0’. The mythology returns in this series to vampires being able to create other vampires, thereby simultaneously expanding and restricting vampires’ choice of identity. For the creator, they have the option of whose identity they wish to alter. But, for the human altered, they are inflicted (usually, it is however different in Bella’s case) with their new condition, destined to be set aside by the change in their physical appearance, marred by perfection. Auerbach’s assertion that vampires are different, but “disturbingly close to the mortals they prey on,”[6] has been challenged by the Twilight series. The Cullen family are often described as angelic, model-like, anything but average, or human. Bella appears to over-compensate for this; she is extremely clumsy and over-emotional, exaggerating the traits of humanity – our flaws and our emotions. The Cullens may try and assimilate themselves into society, but they are always segregated (positively or negatively).

What Twilight has done is taken the problem of killing humans, first noted in Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, with the character of Lestat, who feeds off rats for a time to suppress his thirst for blood as he refuses to kill humans, and posits it as a lifestyle choice.[7] The Cullens dub themselves ‘vegetarians’ on account of them existing not on their natural food source, but a substitute, which Edward likens to “humans living on tofu.”[8] These vampires have been defanged. Instead of staying up all night, partying, living as enigmatic loners and exhibiting promiscuous and dangerous behaviour, the vampires of Twilight conform to idealised social standards. They hold together a family dynamic better than most humans, set an example to others by their behaviour. Their aim is to fit in with society, yet even the way they function as a family sets them aside from other humans. It isn’t a family structure that is as common in modern day society. And thus, by striving to fit in, they achieve the opposite. They have created an impossible role model for humans to follow, much like in Lost Souls, where the vampires figure as role models for goth culture. In attempting to imitate the human, they surpass expectations and set impossibly high standards, creating an imbalanced dynamic in which those they attempt to emulate wish to emulate them. To go along with a popular consumerist phrase, vampires have sold out. They have evolved, becoming monsters without bite. Part of that evolution sees the once dangerous lone figure needing the company of others. So it is that the traditional family unit is the logical evolutionary step for the vampires who have firmly got their foot in the door of literary tradition. Being such a prominent and well used character, it can only have been a matter of time before the figure starting enshrining all the traditional and conventional ideologies of our society. The family dynamic of the Cullens is a confusing one; part incestuous, part nuclear family, what is evident is that family identity is driven by a return to hetero-normativity. The construction of the family began with Carlisle’s need for company; once established, a pattern formed and vampires were paired off. Interestingly in the film adaptation, Carlisle is described as a “foster dad slash match-maker.” His pairing off of those he has “created”, or “saved” (New Moon, p.37) as he puts it, enforces the series’ message of family and the link to hetero-normativity. The Cullen’s response to Bella when Edward brings her home to meet the family is proof of this. Esme, Edward’s ‘mother’ “chokes with satisfaction” (Twilight, p.286) every time he touches her. Later she explains:

“He’s been the odd man out for far too long; it’s hurt me to see him alone.” (p322)

Edward’s aloneness has unbalanced what Carlisle tried to create, and what Esme wishes for. His lack of hetero-normative behaviour disrupts their view on how society should operate, creating an uneasy dynamic within the family until Bella comes along. Yet, again, this behaviour sets them apart – the family paired off into couples hints at a feral pack again, like Lost Souls and Lost Boys. The truth is, the family dynamic, and relations amongst humans in general are obviously a lot more complex than those the Cullens try to emulate. Much like us, the reader, taking the Cullen dynamic as a template for other vampires in Meyer’s world, the vampires have adopted a very specific human dynamic which has become rare in society. Meyer’s re-establishment of the All-American family and the vast popularity of Twilight illuminates the need we have for a structure, and an identity.

To some critics, Bella is “more of a place holder than a character,” ordinary as to be a “vacant, flexible skin in which the reader can insert herself.”[9]As a character, we are told very little of Bella’s identity. Her story is all about “the experience of being loved by Edward Cullen.”[10] At school, she doesn’t struggle to be noticed; the only distinction she possesses is novelty.[11] She keeps her head down, has a limited social life and makes no discernible effort to assimilate with her peers. This is where Twilight differs to Buffy, as because “her story [Buffy’s] always belonged to her.”[12]

The Re-Instigation of Original Sin

With the All-American family comes the religious ideology behind it. So it is that we see a return of Original Sin and many biblical parallels. For starters, the cover of the first novel shows a pair of hands offering an apple. Many critics have picked up on the obvious conflation of carnal and vampiric urges: “It doesn’t take a Freudian to read Edward’s pulsating, insistent vampire lips pressed against Bella’s pale, innocent neck as an analogy for, well, something else.”[21] Bella is Edward’s forbidden fruit in more ways than one. Edward says “They have a name for someone who smells the way Bella does to me. They call her my singer – because her blood sings for me.” (New Moon, p432) Most of the series is taken up with the couple’s abstinent relationship because Edward “cannot afford to lose control” (Twilight, p271) around Bella. The dangers of sex and bloodlust are evident, overly so at times.

The very nature of the Cullen family is much like a biblical family. In discussing Rice’s chronicles, Gelder remarks on the religious parallels in vampirism within the novels. He notes that Rice is “imagining two original vampire ‘parents’” much like Adam and Eve.”[22] A similar thing returns in Twilight, with Carlisle Cullen being the ‘creator’ of a family of ‘conscience’, having turned away from his previous vampire family of Arro, Marcus, and Caius. He “saves” members of his family, like a true Messiah figure, who also works in a hospital regularly saving those that could be counted as his natural enemies.

Day argues that sex is no longer Original Sin but “a personal and psychological issue, a matter of our relation to ourselves and others rather than to god.”[23] Meyer clearly doesn’t see this as the case. The entire series is a promotion of abstinence, or, as some critics call it, a “pro-chastity romance.”[24] Edward strenuously prohibits any kind of sexual activity with Bella, pushing her away when she loses control. When she finally questions him about it, he claims he is “protecting her virtue” (Eclipse, p.402) and is afraid that giving in may risk her soul. Even post-marriage, and post-coital, Bella is punished for the act. She is left covered in bruises from Edward’s attempt at ‘making love’, as Meyer describes:

“There was a faint shadow across one of my cheekbones, and my lips were a little swollen….The rest of me was decorated with patches of blue and purple.” (Breaking Dawn, p.87)

Further to this, she falls pregnant[25], suffering as the child literally drains the life from her. The pregnancy concludes in a brutal fashion: after a near death experience, the child is literally torn from her womb and her human life is ended. The pain of childbirth, a curse from the garden of Eden, is here heightened to extremes. Oddly, the males in the novel try and protect Bella from this fate; yet Meyer’s somewhat sadistic characterisation of Bella has her punishing herself.

The change of values is startling; particularly in this age, where sex is everywhere. We have surpassed the ‘repressive hypothesis’ that Foucault spoke of, and openly speculate about sex, sexuality and the accompanying identities that come with them. Twilight sees a return to the repression of sex, despite the focus of the novel being hormonal teens. Even Bella cringes at discussing safety with her father, only just managing to blurt out “I’m…a virgin.” (Eclipse, p.53) The subject is rarely mentioned, until the act is officially sanctioned by Edward and Bella’s nuptials. Meyer has never said she believes in abstinence, but many articles seem to focus on the religious background she writes from. She is a Mormon, and says that because of this her characters “tend to think more about where they came from, and where they are going, than might be typical.”[26] Whether consciously or not, she advocates many religious ideals in the text through the Cullen family. In Buffy the vampires also have the possibility of redemption, and the hope of a soul but “religion is rarely mentioned overtly”[27]. Twilight on the other hand, raises the question of belief on many occasions, particularly through the dominant male characters of the series, Edward and Carlisle Cullen. Carlisle, when talking to Bella, reveals that “never, in the nearly four hundred years now since I was born, have I ever seen anything to make me doubt whether God exists in some form or other.” (New Moon, p32) Bella muses that “my own life was fairly devoid of belief.” (ibid.) What is clear here is that it is not a specific religion that defines faith; Bella is one of the few for whom “vampires represent a sort of substitute religion with abundant allusions to immortality and enduring love.”[28] Of course, in any faith, there are rules.

The possibility of redemption is one thing that occurs often in faith systems; Edward strives for redemption with his self-assigned guardianship of Bella’s soul. How faith and the family fit together is another issue. Interestingly, Scanlan points out the paradoxical status of the children in Puritan families, (who appear to be similar to the Cullens in the ideological reinforcement of the family) noting that “the child was an individual with his own soul and destiny, but the father was the patriarch. Full of sin, the child needed to be brought to grace.”[29] The bringing to grace co-incides with finding an identity in The Lost Boys, and for Twilight, it was literal: being saved by Carlisle. Edward is tentatively figured as a child still, the youngest of the group, frozen at 17. Carlisle stands as the patriarch, offering those he chooses a second chance, a shot at redemption. None of the vampires he created chose their lifestyle. Bella however, chooses it for herself. Perhaps this is what her self-sacrifice in the finale of the series is about: redemption.[30]  Bella’s ardent desire to become a vampire and the stellar example of good citizenship the Cullens present display a different view of ‘damnation’ than the one Edward touts. Grace appears to reside in the Cullen’s own brand of vampirism; Edward, with his seductive charms, may attempt to offer Bella and the reader an alternative choice, but ultimately, we are led to believe Bella belongs in the vampire world, because she seems to be incompatible in the human one. Being a vampire will negate all her unfortunate human traits such as clumsiness, and offer her the beauty she so lusts after in her paramour. Every teenager’s dream.

Regardless of where Bella belongs, she is not in control of her own destiny or soul. The male dominated world of Twilight offers her only the experience of running with vampires, not the freedom to enjoy it.[31] Lost Boys¸ however, posit the children as being able to change their destiny, but only if they dominate their paradoxical patriarch. In a sense, teens become more restricted, the parental grip growing stronger, just as capitalism boldly reinforces its effects on the youth of today. After all, one aspect of Twilight is the mass-marketing machine; it cleverly markets the Cullen brand to angsty teen girls, reeling in fans and profit by hitting the right nerve (feeling as though you have a lack of identity or belonging). Just why it has captured the interest of so many teens is another matter. What is relevant is how effective the marketing machine is, and why, in our relatively secular society, a text with the strong religious undercurrent of Twilight can have such huge success.

The traditional patriarchy firmly re-establishes itself in Twilight after its absence in many vampire fictions. Firm structure is in place, contrary to Day’s limited assumption that the vampire remains “in opposition to humanity and the world of order and meaning we have created.”[32] Yet it is the vampires within this novel who appear to have a world of order. Regardless of whether their very existence subverts the natural order of things, their world is rigidly defined by rules. The Volturi, who are “vampire royalty”, oversee the lives of the vampires in the world, fiercely controlling their actions. The existence of vampires must be kept a secret, yet the Cullens openly flaunt themselves because they feel confident enough as passing for human. They show more caring and compassion for others than many of the human characters in the book. The Cullens subvert the traditional incarnation of the vampire. In many ways though, they still conform to it. The male dominated world of Twilight shows the typical view of the vampire as male, despite the female vampires within the novel. The saga offers a series of relationships which are “disturbingly old fashioned”.[33] The men are the protectorate, whilst the women vary from “scatter-brained” (Eclipse, p.40) to “absurd” (Twilight, p.70), despite their ability to see through their men’s lies. Again, this displays a return to the traditional values that Meyer has instilled in the series. Men, the traditional head of the family, and society en masse, are firmly re-instated, and hetero-normativity along with it. Unlike most vampire fiction, which often has some homosexual behaviour[34], Twilight completely disregards sexuality and posits heterosexuality as the norm, with Carlisle pairing off members of his family, and even from the werewolf side, the phenomenon of ‘imprinting’, where the werewolf finds his true love (which is always the opposite sex, obviously) and becomes instantly devoted to her forever.

What Twilight has done, due to its overwhelming popularity, is position the vampire firmly in the genre of romance. Now the danger has been removed, the focus of the tale is winning the once-terrifying vampire’s affections. As such, identity is reduced to stereotypical roles, more often than not based on gender. The traditional feminine fantasy of being delivered from obscurity by a dazzling, powerful man is still there – “vampires have long served to remind us of the parts of our own psyches that seduce us, sapping our will and autonomy, dragging us back into the past.”[35] Whilst one critic wonders if “somewhere in the cult of Edward Cullen there isn’t a symptom of large cultural crisis of masculinity as well.”[36]

And with a return to the past, we see a nostalgic return to the older family values.[37] Scanlan argues that popular drama “embodies our yearnings and fears for family life.”[38] Meyer’s fictional vampires, whilst not popular drama, are popular melodramatic fiction, and her writing reflects our need for a structured, stable family. Placing the vampire at the centre of family life mythicises the ideal of the ‘perfect’ family. Because they are unreal, they are perfect to capture the family we as a society aspire to, that we the reader, like the flawed human Bella, yearn to be a part of. These values and beliefs also pertain to the religious undertones that Meyer has provided. Those with religion and faith appear to have stronger morals in the novel. The division between good and bad is made painfully clear. What’s different this time is that, for once, vampires appear to be the good guys.

[1] Bidisha Bandyopadhyay, ‘All Fangs, no Bite’, The Guardian (2008) <> [accessed 25 August 2010] (para. 5 of 6)

[2] Williamson, p78

[3] Only recently there has been an example of the vampire being used to instil correct behaviour into teens (and others) – in Oregon, a Twilight themed road sign was displayed, proclaiming: ‘You are not immortal. Buckle up.’

[4] Senf, p.28

[5] Laura Miller, ‘Touched by a Vampire’, <> [accessed 25 August 2010] (para. 2 of 18)

[6] Auerbach, p.6

[7] Which appears to stem from a religious belief in a soul and the strong ethical beliefs of Carlisle.

[8] Stephenie Meyer, Twilight (London: Atom,2006) p.164 subsequent references to the novels will be denoted by the title and page number within the text.

[9] Miller, 2008 (para. 6 of 18)

[10] Ibid.

[11] She begins the series as a newcomer to Forks, a self-imposed exile from Arizona in order that her mother can better pursue her relationship with a new husband.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Bandyopadhyay, 2008 (para. 4 of 6)

[14] J. Howinski, The Identity Trap (NY: Amacom,2007) p.x.i

[15] Bacon, Simon, ‘The Eternal Teen: The configuration of teenage identity in the American teen-vamp’ presented at ‘Open Graves, Open Minds’ April 2010, University of Hertfordshire

[16] Miller, 2008

[17] Such as the forum ‘Twilight Moms’, where older women obsess over the book, posting their stories of how absorbed they are, and how real life doesn’t compare.

[18] Julie Plec, quoted in La Ferla, R. ‘A Trend with Teeth’, The New York Times, <> [accessed 13 July 2010] (para. 5 of 24)

[19] W.Janes, ‘The Might of Bite’, The Toronto Sun, <> [accessed 25 August 2010] (para. 7 of 21)

[20] Gelder, K., Reading the Vampire (London: Routledge,1994) p.109

[21] Christine Seifert, ‘Bite me! (or don’t)’, Bitch Magazine, (2008) <> [accessed 25 August 2010] (para. 14 of 20)

[22] Gelder, p.115

[23] Day, p.27

[24] Stephen Greydanus, ‘Twilight Appeal: The Cult of Edward Cullen and Vampire Love in Stephenie Meyer’s novels and the new film’,  <> [accessed 25 August 2010] (para. 5 of 22)

[25] As always, in tales tinged with moral undertones such as these, very soon after having sex. Pregnancy appears as a punishment to the females whose bodies must be contorted by the aftermath of their choices.

[26] Stephenie Meyer, quoted in Jeffrey Trachtenberg, ‘Booksellers find life after Harry in a vampire novel’, Wall Street Journal, (2007) <> [accessed 25/08/2010] (para. 16 of 22)

[27] Schofield, p.47

[28] Scott LaFee, ‘Society can count on vampires’, San Diego Union Tribune (2008) <> [accessed 25 August 2010] (para. 10 of 25)

[29] Scanlan, p.21

[30] That is, giving her life for her child.

[31] Although the female character of Alice Cullen can ‘see’ other’s destinies, and aid them in getting the future they desire, it is still male-controlled. Edward can read other’s minds, so if he sees something disagreeable in Bella’s mind (which happens often in New Moon, the second in the series) then he moves to change her future.

[32] Day, p.4

[33] Bandyopadhyay, 2008 (para. 3 of 6)

[34] Particularly more recent narratives, such as True Blood, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Lost Souls.

[35] Miller, 2008 (para. 18 of 18)

[36] Greydanus, 2008 (para. 20 of 22)

[37] Our capitalist, convenience-fuelled society encourages us to use what we can to achieve our end. As such, traditional units such as the family are reducing in popularity and need, as the masses put their needs first, rather than the collective.

[38] Scanlan, p.50

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