The Guardian blog posted an article naming the five most pathetic female film characters of all time. And, as is the current trend, the author cited Bella from the Twilight franchise. It’s a cop-out.
I love strong, kick-ass heroines both in book and on screen. I love female characters who are smart and strong. But there’s more to strength than seeking out the bad guy and punching him in the face. Let’s use Buffy the Vampire Slayer as an example here. Buffy is strong both physically and emotionally. She has breakdowns, but she does what’s necessary regardless. She’s not going to bail on her friends. She’s not going to let others destroy the things she loves — or, you know, snack on her.
Willow, even in the very early episodes, though, is one strong woman, too. She’s smart. She can’t fight, but she can research. And she will. Her mental fortitude and will to stay when things get difficult make her a strong character.
Right about now you’re wondering why I’m putting Bella Swan and Willow Rosenberg in the same post. Stick with me.
Bella’s love-before-everything may rub people the wrong way, but the girl doesn’t run when others are in danger except to lure the Big Bad away. She wants to help fight, in whatever way she can. She may have been crushed in New Moon when Edward left, but when it comes to dealing with Volturi and Victoria, she does what she can to protect her family and friends. (Eventually, the baby’s interests override others’ safety and that’s OK.)
Some female characters we give up on because they come across as too stupid to live. Despite what the Guardian’s post says, Bella isn’t that girl.
I’ve had my own opinion about Bella, both good and bad. Despite that, I can understand why Bella is always in the center of things. If we can see from her point of view, that would be a good idea. But sometimes certain jerks in life think they see someone who is not suppose to be that way. A strong, independent woman like Bella should be revered as someone we can depend on, but sometimes I wonder if maybe Edward is the wrong type of guy for Bella. I don’t know about Jacob either. Both guys seem like they have lost of issues so….why not try s girlfriend instead? But that’s my own opinion and I’m sticking with it. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of guys and girls out there for Bella so Edward shouldn’t be the only thing out there. He’s not my favorite type of guy, unfortunately.
I find Bella a boring and flat lead. Plus the idea of going into months of depression because your boyfriend leaves is so insulting.
Willow is a bad comparison as well. Willow had character, and growth. Bella has… Endless devotion. Blegh.
She may be self-destructive — as her behavior in New Moon demonstrates — but Bella puts those she loves ahead of herself. She doesn’t always make the smartest decisions, and the relationship is a whole OTHER discussion, but the girl still has convictions.
I may not always agree with her choices, but I appreciate that when she makes a decision, Bella sticks to it.
I would agree that Bella has conviction, but isn’t a part of being strong making the hard decisions? I felt that she often lacked perspective and should have taken more time to consider the opinions of those around her, like Charlie, Jacob, Roaslee and even Edward.
I’m not sure that i consider stubborness and and conviction as strength. Bella will never be one of my favorite heroines.
I’m with you on part of that, Kate. Bella isn’t one of my favorite heroines. (I always really liked Alice, though.)
When it comes to favorites I tend to pick those with emotional strength, tenacity and the craziness to act on things they probably shouldn’t. So: Rose Hathaway (Vampire Academy), Calla (Nightshade), Cat (Night Huntress) and MacKayla (Fever).
Awesome post Chelsea! I’ve had this topic rattling around in my head for a post since the YA heroine tourney where everyone was arguing over what makes a heroine.
Wallowing in the woods crying because a guy left you is not heroic and shouldn’t be something that we emulate but there’s no way that Bella can be considered weak when the time comes to save her friends, family and loved ones.
She does whatever it takes. I can’t imagine how scary that was facing off with the Volturi.
Is she my favorite heroine? No – I have a lot of issues with that series (& both of the guys) but she does demonstrate bravery and loyalty.
A lot of the popular girls who are considered brave heroines to others annoy me for being so bullheaded so who’s to say what makes the best heroine?
For me standing up for your convictions and doing something that may kill you even though it scares the hell out of you makes you one. And Bella has that.
You can make poor choices in some areas but still be a heroine.
Karen i’m not saying that making a poor choice makes you a bad heroine but the inability to recognise it as such is what annoys me.
Chelsea i’m with you on Cat and Rose and i’d like to add Kate Daniels. The Fever series is still in my TBR pile.
I completely agree. I have given up many a series because of that.
I was just speaking to her loyalty and brave actions – like I said she’s definitely not a favorite of mine but I don’t think she deserves all the hits she gets.
You can make poor choices in some areas but still be a heroine.
This. That’s exactly what I was getting at. I think it’s easy to let Bella’s romantic life cloud our overall view of her.
@Kate – You won’t like MacKayla in the first Fever book, but she’s a character that grows. It won’t be long until she calls herself Mac 2.0, and you LOVE her.
I believe Bella is a strong (heroic!) heroine and here’s why:
1. Bella epitomizes feminine strength. My favorite aspect of this is that she surrenders to love.
Strength as aggressive physical power (a la Buffy. I love Buffy, btw, but that’s another topic) and independence (of the “who needs you anyway” type) is a very masculine definition of strength. In contrast, here are a number of examples of Bella’s feminine strength:
A) She trusts herself. (← I read this in a K Stew interview and it stuck with me.) Bella inherently trusts that Edward would never harm her and she follows that trust.
B) As mentioned above, she is capable of surrendering to love. In my opinion, that takes way more courage than holding yourself apart from love—“Who cares. I’ll be fine without you,” and so on.
C) She always does everything she can to protect her loved ones. She has a very feminine value system. To assume that a heroine who puts relationship/family/marriage first is automatically weak is, in my opinion, a devaluing of the feminine.
D) [Spoiler] When she becomes a vampire and gets her “gift,” she is able to shield/shelter her family, protecting them from the Volturi. It is Bella’s—very feminine—gift that turns the tide of that battle.
2. In New Moon Bella is grieving, not moping.
I think the judgment of Bella in New Moon comes from a fear that teenage girls will start acting like this after break-ups. But I think it’s important to remember that the Twilight Saga is intended as a love story on par with Romeo & Juliet. In other words, we’re talking about archetypal True Love here. Do we propose that if we had that love and lost it—or even thought we had lost it—that we would not feel such grief? Moreover, I think those who reject this aspect of Bella simply have never experienced this kind of grief. I challenge you to find a woman who had that kind of earth-shattering love with her husband and then he died and she didn’t end up the equivalent of crying in the woods. Yes, that’s being widowed rather than left, but loss is loss. Grief is grief. And I can tell you that in that kind of deep grief just getting out of bed, getting dressed and eating something requires tremendous strength.
3. Stories like this are not meant to be taken as instruction for living in the outer world. They are instructions (by nature of Story, not necessarily by intent of the author) for navigating the inner world. They are metaphors.
And in the inner world being able to trust yourself, being courageous in love, the capacity to surrender, the capacity to grieve, the capacity to protect without destroying, the ability to relate…all these things are very essential skills. Much more useful than the capacity to destroy with brute strength or the capacity to be a woman-as-an-island.
From this perspective Edward is a classic animus figure—i.e. a representation of the inner-masculine in a woman’s psyche. And so the question is not whether Bella relates to him as a girl-in-the-world ought to relate to her boyfriend (which I think she does just fine, by the way). The real question is whether she relates to him in the way that a woman’s ego (self-concept) ought to relate to her inner masculine, and here I believe she succeeds in spades.
Great post, Chelsea! It’s so true that strength doesn’t have to be just physical. Emotional and mental strength are just as important.
@Layla So true.
@ Chelsea Great post!
I hate it when people start comparing Bella to for instance Hermoine Granger. Especially because of the way she acted in New Moon. If you have never lost love, you can’t relate. She griefs, and she picks up the pieces. She doesn’t run back to Phoenix. She’s tough. (Edward said it himself) Twilight is a sort of Bildung romance. The character Bella needs the grief of New Moon to become the force she is in Breaking Dawn (see .d in Layla’s post)
And people please, although we sometimes wish it’s true, its fictional fantasy. Not a selfhelp guide for teenage girls. Give them some credit too, not all of them are at risk of becoming a “Bella”.