I'll admit that I'm a sucker for teen fiction, and "Twilight" is no exception. Sure, the books are endlessly problematic, but I'm not here to roast Stephenie Meyer or the universe she created. There is something awfully attractive about "Twilight" for me, and it veers pretty far from the love story the books are so heavily attached to.
I've found myself wondering about the state of mind of the protagonist of the series, Bella Swan, more times than I'd like to admit. Even characters who I do believe to be well-written, like Hermione Granger or Katniss Everdeen haven't garnered as much of my attention as Bella has. Those who criticize "Twilight" typically cite the fact that Bella has very little personality as evidence of poor characterization on Meyer's part. Right from the beginning of the series, she comes across as mature and intelligent, but also cold and very empty. I have a theory about Bella, though, one that Stephenie Meyer herself would probably scoff at:
Bella suffers from a depressive disorder.
Now, wait! Hear me out, please. I'm a psychology student if that counts for anything (it really doesn't). Bear with me on this for just a little longer. There is major evidence in the books that Bella might be in a constant state of depression.
First, I would like to talk about Bella's upbringing. She reveals that her parents divorced when she was very young. This fracture in her family could have played a role in the development of a possible depressive disorder, but I believe that there are more components to this. Bella describes her mother, the guardian she primarily lives with before the start of the series, as "hare-brained." What does this mean? According to Bella, it means that her mother relied on her to do things such as paying bills and cooking meals since she was a school-aged child. This is majorly concerning and brings into play the term parentification. I learned about this phenomenon in my developmental psychology class. Parentification is a form of child abuse that occurs when the parent and child reverse roles. The child may be relied on heavily by the parent to carry out physical tasks (instrumental parentification) or to serve as a confider to the parent (emotional parentification). When Bella refers to her mother as, "her best friend," it is obvious that she was once a primary source of mental support for her.
Why is this a problem? It's troubling because parentification results in a premature end to childhood. In Bella's case, she grew up much, much too fast. This may explain why Bella is so withdrawn. She had no time to establish friendships or pursue hobbies, not with her mother's dependence looming over her. When Bella moves to Forks, Washington to live with her father, she shows the same strange desire to isolate herself from her peers. Her self-esteem is extremely poor, as evidenced by her constant questioning of Edward Cullen's apparent interest in her. She sees herself as nothing more than clumsy and average, while Edward is hailed in a fantastical light within her mind.
Next, I want to move to the events of "New Moon," when Edward leaves Bella. At this point, he is everything to her. She is dependent on him to a dangerous degree. With dependency comes instability and vulnerability. In his absence, Bella spirals into a four-month depressive episode. She barely eats and withdraws completely from every single person in her life. This major depression eventually lifts, but some very disturbing events occur during it. For one, Bella describes hearing Edward's voice when she acts in a reckless manner. Yes, she hallucinates him talking to her. There are parts in the book when his ghostly voice even instructs her to do things, such as lie. This can only be assumed to be a type of psychosis accompanying her depression, which is an extremely serious mental health concern.
When Edward returns, Bella's "normalness" also returns, but throughout the rest of the series, there still feels to be something missing in her. Perhaps it was something stolen away in her childhood, or maybe I am just analyzing these books way too much. Those who criticize "Twilight" often say that Bella is a terrible role model, and I can't say I disagree. However, there is something very refreshing about Bella being a sort of anti-Hermione Granger. Hermione is strong-willed, persistent, and did not fall apart when her love interest walked out. These qualities are amazing, but are they extremely realistic?
It is rare to see extreme weakness in a protagonist, and that might be why I am so fascinated by Bella.