If Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez were a student in my sophomore lit class…


…this would be my response to her attempted takedown of Stephenie Meyer and the Twilight series on charges of racism.

First off, I have to say that this will not be a defense of Twilight and its followups. In fact, I think that Breaking Dawn should be called Fucking Lame, and I have deep, abiding problems with the series’ slavish devotion to an especially conservative brand of heteronormativity that one might expect from the deeply religious.

That said, as someone who has devoted her career to the study of literature and someone who gets paid to encourage students to think critically — and carefully — about literature, I can’t let her sloppy analysis stand without comment. Yes, I might have dipped my toe into the commentroversy on that entry and peaced out with an “I think you’re full of shit,” which is totally trollish of me, but rather than continue the trolliness, I decided to post here with my objections to her analysis. And I’m not going to bring her own writing into it like I did in the comments; I’m just going to stick to what she’s turned in to the blogosphere.

So, deep breaths, here we go. **BEWARE OF SPOILERS** You’ve been warned.

After some cover-your-ass qualifications about what a breathtaking writer Meyer is (*snort*), AVR presents her thesis: “[T]here is an underlying racism to the books that deeply disturbs me. I believe this is also the influence of Meyer’s faith – a faith I saw in action when I had breakfast with her at the White House as part of the National Book Festival two years ago.”

Okaay. We’re going into some pretty touchy territory here, because if we want to crucify every writer in the history of literature based on their religion, we’re going to be throwing out some very valuable literature.

AVR writes,

Of primary concern for me is the treatment of Meyer’s main Native American character, Jacob Black. He is presented initially as a sweet, normal teen boy from the Paiute Reservation, but we soon learn that he is a werewolf, and that werewolves are the enemies of vampires. The vampires, at this point in the story, are shown to be European in origin, and as pale as pale can be – and friends to Bella, our human protagonist.

1. Jacob is Quileute, not Paiute. I don’t know how she could have read all four books and still gotten this wrong.

2. The ONLY vampires that are friends to Bella in the series are the Cullens. More on this in a moment.

In the final book, Bella must choose between these two boys. Naturally, she chooses the (white) vampire over the (brown) werewolf.

That Bella will end up with Edward is a foregone conclusion for the bulk of the series, although there are some of us who really wish Bella would have chosen neither, gone on to Dartmouth, gotten her degree, maybe had a few lesbian relationships, and established a career before settling down and making babies, but Meyer really leaves very little doubt that Bella and Edward will be fucking like vampire bunnies for eternity. That they get to do it in their little stone cottage in the woods is a bonus.

But you must consider that in the Book of Mormon 2, 5:23, God is said to have placed “the curse of black skin” upon the Lamanites, in orer to make them unattractive to the Nephites.

She’s citing her source incorrectly here. It’s Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 5:21. And I don’t disagree that Joseph Smith was one racist motherfucker, especially considering that Native Americans are indeed the Lamanites of the 1830 version of the Book of Mormon sort-of cited by AVR.

I should stop here and say that I am not conversant with the details of the Mormon faith, probably about as familiar with them as AVR is. Every rebuttal I’m giving here is the result of hasty web research.

The precise word used is “black,” the name Meyer chose to give her dark-skinned Native American character. The Laminites, meanwhile, are described in the Book of Mormon as being a wild, ferocious, plundering, robbing, and murdering people, and God punishes all Nephites who marry them by cursing their children with dark skin, too. Among the leading Laminites mentioned by name in the Book of Mormon is…Jacob.

Er … no. Jacob gave the aforementioned prophecy of marriage, but according to my research, Jacob is the brother of the prophet Nephi, inherited the title of prophet to the Nephites after Nephi’s death, and forbade polygamy among the Nephites. The most prominent Lamanite I can find mentioned in the Book of Mormon is the prophet Samuel the Lamanite. Also: spelling Lamanite — yr doing it wrong.

Again, I do not disagree that some of the teachings of the Book of Mormon are pretty gross. Then again, so are some of the teachings of the Bible.

Here’s an interesting article on the way the Lamanites are portrayed in the BoM. If you don’t want to read the whole thing, here’s a summary from the bottom:

1. The Lamanites as portrayed in the Book of Mormon are descendants of the combined Nephite, Mulekite, and Lamanite peoples who were spared on this continent at the time of the Savior’s crucifixion.

2. The Lamanites were a scourge to the Nephites to keep them faithful to the Lord.

3. The Lamanite people survived the Nephites because they observed the Lord’s commandments respecting marriage as predicted by the prophet Jacob (Jacob 3:6).

4. The main body of Nephites from which the elder Mosiah and his followers departed (Omni 1:12—13) were probably either destroyed or lost their identity by joining the Lamanites.

5. When the Lamanites understood the Lord’s word, they were very faithful and renounced their filth and their crude methods of living. Samuel the Lamanite was one of the greatest prophets of the Book of Mormon.

6. The promise of the Lord to the Lamanite remnant, our Indians, is that they shall yet receive the gospel and become a white and delightsome people.

So, yeah, kind of gross and doesn’t exactly put the LDS in the pro-Native American camp, but again, AVR is fudging the details to make her point.

Let’s move on.

No author with the skill that Stephenie Meyer possesses does anything in her books by accident. Therefore, it is safe to assume that the deeply Mormon Meyer did not accidentally name her sinful, dark-skinned boy Jacob Black. Nor did she accidentally have him turn out to be the less desirable of the two monstrous boys vying for Bella’s attentions.

Nor did she name Bella Swan that by accident. But if Jacob is a bad-ass Nephite prophet and Meyer is as devout a Mormon as AVR says she is, and Meyer also names other of her characters after loved ones (her sons, her sister, etc.), she’s bound to give Jacob a shout-out somewhere. So wouldn’t it actually be a mark of respect to name the odd man out of the love triangle after a bad-ass Nephite prophet?

Also, in what way is Jacob portrayed as sinful? I’d like to see her back that up with evidence from the text.

Just in case you doubt there is a conservative religious message to these books, consider that the hapless human boy who also adores Bella (but doesn’t stand a chance, being a total loser) is named Mike…Newton. As in science.

Or, you know, Fig. Maybe Meyer doesn’t like mass-produced cookies chock full of high fructose corn syrup?

mmm…. Fig Newtons….

Also of significance: In the movie, as with the book, the most evil of the vampires (the ones who are enemies to the white Edward) is dark Laurent. Unlike Edward and the white vampires, he is unable to resist hunting and draining humans.

Okay, this one really gets up my nose. Meyer has nothing to do with the casting of a black actor in the film. AVR defends herself in the comments by saying that Meyer writes Laurent as having “olive skin.” Last I checked, olive skin != black. People of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean descent are often olive-skinned, so I guess if Meyer was imagining Laurent as Iranian or whatever, AVR might have a point, but he could also be French-Canadian or Italian or Greek.

Also, Laurent is part of a three-vampire coven comprising James and Victoria. The actor portraying James in the film looks like a poor man’s Brad Pitt, and Victoria is written as having fiery-red hair. OMGeezy, MEYER HATES THE IRISH!!!! James and Victoria prove themselves to be far, FAR more vicious than Laurent, although they all meet similar ends.

Let us also not forget: the Volturi. Based in Italy. Eeeeeeevil. Even the other vegetarian coven in Denali, Alaska, led by Irina (OMGeezy, MEYER HATES THE RUSSIANS!!!), sells out Bella and her family. I repeat, the ONLY vampires that are friends to Bella are the Cullens. Yes, they are of European descent, but SO ARE ALL THE OTHER VAMPIRES IN THE BOOK.

I held out hope, until this last book, that the gifted Mrs. Meyer might actually do the truly moral thing, and make Native Jacob good, in order to take polite issue with a pathetically misguided Mormon teaching.

AVR is implying here that Jacob is portrayed as somehow bad in the series, which he’s not. Yes, he’s a rejected suitor and is frustrated by said rejection, but he finds his place in the family by series’ end and is loved and accepted by everyone (except maybe Rosalie). So, if AVR is going to argue that Jacob is “not good,” she’s going to have to provide a lot more support for that, especially considering that everything Jacob does is for Bella’s benefit, to protect her, to keep her from hurt and harm, and, eventually to love and protect her daughter.

Let’s also not forget that Bella endures much mental anguish over having hurt Jacob, and considers him an indispensible part of her life. At no point is Jacob written as bad, but he does suffer deeply. Much like the Native Americans in our shameful history, at the hands of European Americans.

In conclusion, I’m not saying that AVR doesn’t have a point. She does. But why not engage with what I see to be the glaring issue of casting the Native American boy as an animal? To me, that would be the first place to start, rather than base a shaky analysis on an inaccurate interpretation of the Book of Mormon.

GRADE: C-

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7 Comments

  1. Layne

     /  August 11, 2008

    I’m looking forward to talking to you about this, Melanie! You’re obviously right–AVR did no research (i.e. reading the books) before she wrote her post, but like you imply at the end, that doesn’t mean the books aren’t racist… It does seem to mean that AVR has some kind of scary issues with Mormons that got in the way of her close reading, though.

    Reply
  2. boxingoctopus

     /  August 11, 2008

    Yeah, Layne, I think you nailed it. In her following comments and posts, she definitely expands her commentary to say that in order to be a non-racist Mormon, you have to be non-Mormon. She’s definitely got some issues with the LDS.

    Reply
  3. ben

     /  August 12, 2008

    Who is AVR, and why does anyone care about another go-round of vampire bullshit? Damn.

    Reply
  4. boxingoctopus

     /  August 13, 2008

    AVR is a writer who penned a shiteous chica lit novel called “The Dirty Girls Social Club.” And I dunno why anyone cares about another round of vampire bullshit while Bram Stoker’s Dracula is still in print!!

    (Although the new HBO show about vampires looks pretty good!)

    Reply
  5. warner

     /  January 13, 2009

    Well, in the end, like a few other native american characters, meyer does turn them into pedophiles taking a sexual attraction to infants and toddlers.

    Do I belive meyer is a outright racist? no, I dont see her acting upon racist impulses. Do I belive she has bigotted beliefs, yes, she does, but then again, as the song so rightly says “everyones a little bit racist.”

    However, I do belive meyer is extremely tactless.

    Reply
  6. Jalena

     /  February 10, 2010

    Not only do I think the original review is silly, I also think this review is silly. Why do you assume Stephenie Meyer plagued by “hetronormativity” because she writes her main character as a defenseless straight woman who needs to be rescued? You may not have respect for the character or the author, but post feminism WAS good for something. Insisting that women form themselves into ANY role which they cannot connect with is ridiculous. To ask a woman who relishes in being a traditionalist to act in a different manner is the same as asking a woman with an alternative lifestyle to conform to the “norm.” It is wrong.

    My mother was, obviously, a heterosexual woman who also ran off with the love of her life and began making babies without a degree, and you know what? I am t hankful, because now I have my own life to love the partner I chose, and live my life as I desire. Not every woman wants to have a lesbian relationship just as I have no desire to have a straight one. Why is that so bad?

    As for the racism issue, I also disagree. Meyer is not “bigotted” as you say for portraying the Native boy as an animal, considering the role of the “animal”. The books state that the wolves are the protectors of the tribe. How is that a negative portrayal? I have several native friends and all of them were actually pleased by the character, although not all of them liked the book.

    If you or AVR dislike the series, simply say you dislike the series. Don’t try to slander someone by assuming you know their prejudices. I know plenty of great Mormons who do not subscribe to the more racist view points their religion offers, just as I know plenty of Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and so forth who also do the same. Too many assumptions about one’s personality based on race, sexual orientation, or religion cause many of the world’s problems.

    Reply
  1. For love of Edward Cullen | My Rubberbandball

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