Thursday, August 06, 2009

And I hated Scarlett O'Hara! (part I)

I'm working my way through "Twilight" (2005), by Stephenie Meyer. I had decided that I was going to reserve the bulk of my commentary until after I've finished it. It seems fitting to do this (as I haven't read the entire thing), but it was quite a controversy in my own mind. Specifically, I came close to washing my hands of the book after finishing the first chapter. What follows, then, is the story of why, after seven days and another read-through, I decided to move on to chapter two.

I'm not used to having my reading routine subjected to such... perturbed impulses. Then again, I'm not used to spending time reading a "project book" like this. As I mentioned before, this is a book I picked up primarily to discover what the fuss was about. It wasn't due to any particular interest in the author or plot, so perhaps that explains my flighty commitment.

Or maybe my reticence to continue reading was due to my near-pathological dislike of the protagonist.

--- --- ---

Several years ago, I decided I wanted to see "Gone With the Wind" for the first time. I remember being at my parents' house and picking out a copy from the local library. I knew vague bits about the story, knew she shot a Yankee, knew Atlanta burned, and knew that Clark Gable turned at some point and said one of (if not THE) most famous line in movie history.

That's not really a lot to go on, though. Even "the line" is largely inscrutable outside of the context of the film, and it's usually quoted without even the line that precedes it. What doesn't he give a damn about? Is he blowing her off, or running off to counter the whims of society and ask her father for permission to marry her? I had no idea.

So I watched it through. And by the end, I had answers to all the questions. More importantly, I knew that I had a passionate dislike of Scarlett O'Hara. So much so that it soured the film for me: this was the masterful epic that people went on and on about? Feh!

I can appreciate that this heroine was unlike all the others who came before. She certainly doesn't get tossed around like a damsel in distress. But I found her calculating, manipulative, dishonest, and self-serving. Her two character poles are selfishness (her active trait) and self-pity (her defensive trait). Maybe that's her "point", but I just spent a few hours watching a brat manipulate everyone she ever cares about and complain about everything else. It left an awful taste.

Good score, though.

Scarlett is often described as a strong-willed woman. Not willing to let the plot push her around, she puts life around her into motion with her actions. I can respect that: the women I'm attracted to tend to be similarly decisive. But Scarlet burns up all my goodwill by around the fourth or fifth time she manipulates the relations of other people due to her pride.

I'm more than willing to admit that I'm not seeing the greatness of the movie. Maybe watching her resolve to get Rhett back right before the credits roll is supposed to indicate character growth. As it stands, I don't see it. So it puts her on the list of women I couldn't care less about, which doesn't seem that great of a place to be forced to put the protagonist.

--- --- ---

And that's why I had trouble with the protagonist in the first chapter of "Twilight": Bella Swan has bewildering levels of self-pity and I could care less about her. Her lack of appeal is almost shocking, given that the best way for readers to immerse in the book is to identify with the lead character. Maybe it's just because I've never been a 15-year old girl... I've heard of the literary technique of the Unreliable Narrator, but the Unlikeable Narrator is a new one to me.

As I worked my way through the chapter, I tried to decide if the author was in on it. Is she writing Bella this way to ... emphasize that she's a really unlikeable and sullen teenager in the beginning, so that she can make a transformation to the ... ahem ... swan that she'll eventually be? That'd be one way of showing change in a character over time. Hard to imagine a bigger transformation trip than from scorn to "awwwwwww!"

But if that's the plan, it's subverted by the other characters in the story (ALL of the others), who meet Bella and think she's great. Every girl wants to be her friend, every guy wants to take her to dances and dates. So... it's obvious that she's not unlikeable in the reality of the story. So... maybe we're supposed to look down on all the supporting characters too, as being "fooled" by her in the beginning, so that they also go on a path of discovery? Hmm. Or maybe we're not supposed to like her EVEN MORE, because she wants nothing to do with all these shiny happy people around her. But then Bella points out the flaws in the supporting characters' character, so I guess we're supposed to armchair-analyze along with her and see that the others are really false. Or...hmm.

I begin to feel a certain stretching in the cloth I'm trying to use to encircle this plot. Better ease off.

Next time, we'll head back to the beginning of the story. We'll meet Bella on her terrible, horrible, no-good very bad day -- where she moves to this pristine and beautiful town she "pre-loathes", feels uncomfortable at her new school (as she KNEW she would) while all her new "friends" act friendly and do nice things for her, and eventually finds ONE guy who doesn't trip over himself making her feel special. This last guy seems to DISlike her right away, instead of liking her. She's mortified, finding that all her fears (that were completely disproved) came true at the very end of the day with regards to one anti-social loner kid who (her friends explain) doesn't actually like or associate with ANY other student.

She has tears all the way home because the weird high school guy who keeps to himself doesn't like her. Ladies and gentlemen: our heroine.

1 comment:

  1. just you wait.... the author LOVES, I mean LOVES using the word incredulous. Now that I have brought this up, every single time you see that word in her books, you are going to cringe just like we did. Trust me, after a while it almost becomes a game.