Freudian Friday: Bella Swann

Oh, come on. You knew we’d get to Bella Swann for Freudian Friday. She may not have serious daddy issues, but she has a lot of other issues worth discussing.

Before we get started, though, I want to issue an open call for nominations: Who would you like to see on the couch for future Freudian Fridays? Male, female, alien, you name it. I’ll continue with the urban fantasy theme for awhile yet, but I’d like to get to the wider fantasy and sci-fi genres as well. We haven’t even talked about Harry Dresden yet, so we’ll get to him, as well as some other male urban fantasy stars.

Why is her mouth always open?

So. Let’s talk Twilight. I read these books in 2009 when my fiance (then boyfriend) and I were moving from California to Illinois. We moved to California from Indiana after I finished graduate school in 2008, with all the high hopes that an internship at a newspaper in Berkeley and plenty of job prospects bring. But in the fall of 2008, the economy went down the toilet, taking all our job opportunities with it. Suddenly $1200/month rent for a one-bedroom apartment in a not-pleasant suburb of Oakland seemed dire as well as outrageous.

We packed up to move to rural Illinois, where we could live cheaply and help some family with financial issues.

It was not the happiest time for either of us.

I needed a distraction on the cross-country drive, so I picked up Twilight. It was blandly written, it promoted abusive relationships, and it was completely captivating. I bought the next three books at various stops along Interstate 80, and they kept my mind enthralled until we’d settled into the house in Illinois.

Because of this, I am and will always be a little fond of Twilight. 

Still, the series has its issues. More knowledgeable analysts than I have discussed Bella’s relationship with Edward and how it meets the National Domestic Violence Hotline’s criteria for an abusive relationship, so I won’t go into too much depth about their relationship. Other writers have also discussed how Bella as a character is essentially a mask, an unformed mold into which young girls can pour their own personalities and live vicariously through Bella’s romantic adventures.

That’s true, I think, but also not true. Bella does have a personality, defined by her relationships with others and her intense desire to sacrifice herself for those she loves.

Always putting her life on the line.

In the first book, Bella is willing to die to save her mother. In the second, she’s willing to die to save Edward. In the third, she’s willing to die to save, well, everyone. In the fourth, she’s more than willing to die to save her vampire-baby and, later, everyone else.

Selflessness can be a good trait, and unconditional love for your family is wonderful… but it’s easy to take these traits beyond nobility and into desperation. Bella’s only defining characteristic is a martyr complex, which Wikipedia tells me is often considered a form of masochism—unsurprising in this case, given Bella’s physical relationship with Edward. Bella lives to die, which she even says in the final books: it’s like she was born to be a vampire. Even after she becomes supernatural, her superpower is the ability to protect those she loves. She is a human shield… her purpose is to protect.

On a simpler level—which kind of makes it more disturbing—Bella defines herself in relation to those around her. She’s her mother’s protector, her father’s caretaker, Jacob’s best friend, Edward’s girlfriend/wife, Renesmee’s mother. Edward turns her into a living zombie, Jacob brings her back to life. There is very little time in the book when Bella is just herself, and when she is, she’s, well, boring. And she knows it.

And that is perhaps the saddest, most upsetting thing about her. Young girls are learning that they are nothing without the people (particularly the men) she cares about. Her only role is forming half a relationship.

Is this a happy ending?

I’m not sure we know enough about her to consider why she lives this way. her parents split up when she was young, sure, and that’s perhaps why she adopts a caretaker role for both of them. But all of Bella’s decisions, actions, and even her super powers are reactionary: she rarely does something because she wants to… except, perhaps, becoming a vampire.


What do you think, readers? Why is Bella Swan so determined to die? What upsets you about her? What do you like about her? Anything?

And don’t forget to tell me what other characters you’d like to see appear on future Freudian Fridays!