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Twilight: The Life and Death of Gender Norms 

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Traditional gender norms play a large part to how text is formulated and presented in popular literature. Regarding gender roles, literary texts often reinforce the roles of men and women. The novel Twilight by Stephenie Meyer follows stereotypical gender roles that have already been normalized. This became apparent in the reimagined version, Life and Death, which Meyer released for the ten-year anniversary of her break out series. In the original text, Twilight, the role of Bella Swan is made to be inferior to her male counterpart Edward Cullen. However, in the ten-year anniversary edition Life and Death, when Bella Swan becomes Beau Swan, and Edward Cullen becomes Edythe Cullen, they are more or less seen as equals. This gender swap changes the overall outcome of the story and how it develops. Stephenie Meyer makes the argument that these stories are about humanity, often pictured as in distress, rather than about the stereotype of a “damsel in distress.” However, it is clear, through the swapping of gender roles in Life and Death, that the gender of the characters does matter and is the basis for how readers’ reactions to Bella/Edward differ from their perspectives on Beau/Edyth.

In today’s society there is a distinct difference made between masculinity and femininity. Each term can be defined in various ways within different context. In this paper each term will be defined. One definition of “femininity” is “the quality or nature of the female sex” (Webster Dictionary). For the purpose of this paper the definition of “femininity” will be defined as the “predetermined and fixed qualities that are believed to make up the identity or nature of a woman”. Characteristics of femininity include things such as gentleness, empathy, sensitivity, dependence, and submissiveness. As for masculinity, one definition is “having qualities appropriate to or usually associated with a man” (Webster Dictionary). This will be the definition used within the text to describe the attributions of the male gender that are implied within society. The characteristics of masculinity include things such as strength, courage, independence, leadership, violence, and dominance. These two terms are often used in correlation to heteronormative relationships. In reference to “The Twilight of Feminism? Stephenie Meyer’s Saga and the Contradictions of Contemporary Girlhood” by Christine Jarvis, contemporary romances often reflect the changed social position of women and changes within heterosexual relationships (Jarvis 103).

In the novel Twilight/ Life and Death who the hero was never come into question, Edward/ Edythe Cullen is always there to prevent or protect their unexpecting counterparts Bella/ Beau Swan. The characters of Bella and Beau are used as martyrs for the sake of conflict within the novels. Due to change in gender the only difference is the place of conflict changes from a dance studio to their mother’s house. The change in location implies that Beau could not dance as hobby like the original female character Bella Swan. Both Edythe and Edward scoured the town of Forks trying to get the tracker off the scent of their beloved counterparts. One of the major differences of the text occurs within the resolution of the texts. Edward/Edythe has to decide whether or not to let Bella/Beau transform into the monster they never wanted to become. Edward Cullen without question made the decision for Bella Swan, she would not be a vampire if it were up to him. The “seventeen-year-old’ vampire states his distain at the thought of his significant other becoming immortal. As for Edythe, she let her significant other make the choice on his own, stating “wait, wait he deserves a choice”.

According to Alexandra Owens, Meyer portrays many of the characters in her series using typical gender stereotypes, which hinders the reader’s ability to identify with those characters (Owens 124). Often within literary text women are depicted as being distressed, so much so that the term “Damsel in Distress” was developed. Stephenie Meyer argues that Bella was not a damsel in distress but a human in distress. This was a part of the reason the author started the reimagined fantasy of Twilight. Meyer places the argument that the story isn’t doesn’t develop due to gender but due the presence of humanity. The presence of humanity is received through the characters predetermined genders. The best example of this becomes present through Edward Cullen and Bella Swan. Edward Cullen became dependent on the idea of keeping his love interest, Bella Swan, safe. For example, Edward becomes seemingly obsessed with the safety of his love interest, this includes her soul. Unlike Edward, Edythe is less concerned with Beau’s soul but more of his earthly desires and how they can be fulfilled.

Bella Swan’s as a character is developing through her adolescence to emotional and sexual maturity by finding her significant other Edward Cullen. Bella is a strongly emotional character. However, she also has a strong intellectual side – she enjoys and excels in her academia. As well as intelligent the female protagonist is also described as clumsy, unathletic, insecure, and shy. One positive character trait Bella was the presence of her determination throughout the novel Twilight. This determination, this force of will, is evident in both the Prologue and in the beginning of the first chapter. Bella is determined to stay with Edward. Even though he could be a dangerous to her and her family.

Beau is similar to his Twilight counterpart, Bella, in personality, but Beau doesn’t articulate himself as well as Bella. Beau is seemingly more anal than Bella when it comes to organizing. Overall, he is also less aggressive and somewhat more obvious with his obsession with Edythe. Bella and Beau are both exceptionally clumsy, dropping and tripping over anything sight. Beau is also described as reclusive, quiet, insecure but kind-hearted, compassionate and caring towards others. Much like his counterpart Bella, he hates being noticed from others, and dislikes his full name, ‘Beaufort’. Unlike Bella, Beau was bullied as child, this leading to him using his free time to listen to music and reading novels, like his favorite book Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Due to Beau taking care of his mother he appears to be more mature and responsible than his peers.

Edward Cullen is as complex a figure in Twilight, but this more because of his history more than his development throughout the novel. His growth is centered in his love for Bella Swan. By falling in love with a human, Edward Cullen is going against his predatory instinct as an immortal. Through falling in love with Bella Swan, Edward was forced to reconnect with his humanity. His active choice to be with Bella, is a reflection of his upbringing as vampire, his non-traditional family had pledge to hunt animals rather than humans. Through finding and falling in love with Bella he found a source of redemption, in his want to obtain humanity. Through maintaining his humanity, he is solidifying Bella’s sense of normalcy in her life.

Edythe is also like Edward Cullen in personality, but she appears to be is slightly less patient. Edythe can be described brooding and stubborn, but is also simultaneously kind and compassionate. Due to being a vampire, she easily charms human males with her beauty, scent and body, and persuades them to do her bidding. For this reason, she pushes a little more than, Edward does with Bella, to make Beau see what she is capable of. Much like Edward, she retains some of the traditional mindset and outdated speech from her human life in the early 20th century. Since vampires do not sleep, she uses her time to read books, studying languages, science, business and music, and playing piano. Edythe has a diverse taste in music raging from music classical to punk rock. She also shows great skill in playing the piano. She prefers indie rock to mainstream and appreciates rock and classical music equally.

One of the conflicts among the characters is the importance of Bella’s mortality. This is among the differences between the novels. Bella, much like Beau just wants to be with their immortal other half. Much like Edward, Edythe wants her mortal counterpart to have full life, but she lets Beau decide his own fate unlike Bella decided fate. Edythe would never have to sacrifice her own needs into regards of Beau’s. Unlike Edward who made a similar sacrifice to Bella with her mother, who gave up her life so her mother could continue hers.

Through these predetermined gender roles, the capability of characters in popular literature are lessened. A good example of this is the parents of Bella Swan or Beau Swan. These two characters are the only two not to be reimagined within the text. Renee Dwyer, the mother of Bella (Beau) Swan is made out to be incapable of caring for herself by seventeen-year-old Bella. Her daughter’s thoughts allude to this stating “How could I leave my loving, erratic harebrained mother to fend for herself”? The young adult even went as far as saying her mother’s basic necessities and responsibilities would be taken care of such as paying the bills or keeping food in the refrigerator, because of her step-father Phil Dwyer. In comparison to her mother, her father, Charlie Swan is made out to be the more responsible parent. Meyer included his profession as police chief, showing that he is responsible and has kept a steady job, whereas Renee Dwyer’s career is not stated. In fact most of the significant male characters presume role as protectors: Bella’s father is chief of police as stated above and her suitor, Edward Cullen as her overall protector in the original text. Charlie Swan and Renee Dwyer also vary in emotional stability and standing. When Bella/Beau came into harm’s way, they expressed their emotions in two different ways. Charlie Swan after Bella/Beau’s car wreck was calm and angry, and Renee was overly worried and stressed at the occurrence.

Through literary text, gender roles are reinforced through the characters and the storyline fabricated to include these characters. Fictional novels like Twilight and Life and Death take in the predetermined gender roles and solidify them into the culture of the present day. By continuing set gender roles society is declaring the values and quality of an other’s personhood. Stephenie Meyer created two text, one an original and the other reimagine, solely on the bases of gender and the “characteristics” of those genders.

Works Cited

  • Guanio-Uluru, Lykke. “Female Focalizers and Masculine Ideals: Gender as Performance in Twilight and The Hunger Games.” Children’s Literature in Education, vol. 47, no. 3, Sept. 2016, pp. 209–224. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1007/s10583-015-9263-1.
  • Jarvis, Christine. “The Twilight of Feminism? Stephenie Meyer’s Saga and the Contradictions of Contemporary Girlhood.” Children’s Literature in Education, vol. 45, no. 2, June 2014, pp. 101–115. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1007/s10583-013-9212-9.
  • Meyer, Stephenie. (2015). Life and Death. London: Atom.
  • Meyer, Stephenie. (2005). Twilight. London: Atom.
  • Owens, Alexandra. “Limited by Stereotypes: Gender Bias in Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Series.” LOGOS: A Journal of Undergraduate Research, vol. 4, Fall 2011, pp. 124–137. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=76110507&site=ehost-live 

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Twilight: The Life And Death Of Gender Norms . (2021, Jun 09). GradesFixer. Retrieved January 19, 2022, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/twilight-the-life-and-death-of-gender-norms/
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