As Gray as the Weather in Forks: The Twilight Saga and Colonialism

Stephanie Meyer’s four book and five film franchise, The Twilight Saga, has been beloved by young teens and middle-aged women alike. The story follows the love affair of Edward Cullen and Bella Swan with one twist: Edward is one of seven vampires who live as a family in Forks, Washington, passing as human because he is able to control his thirst for blood by preying on animals rather than people. Meyer introduces Jacob Black, a member of the Quileute tribe whose reservation is located on the outskirts of the small town to create a love triangle between him, Edward, and Bella. Meyer later reveals that Jacob, among other members of the tribe, can shapeshift into a wolf. On the surface, The Twilight Saga is a series about one girl’s struggle to choose between two monsters. However, the nuances of the story reveal a neocolonial narrative as the Cullens represent colonists in relation to the Quileute wolves. Meyer builds momentum throughout the series by establishing vampires as a colonial force, then establishes this force as monsters, and finally contrasts the Quileutes and the wolf pack with these monsters. As race and monster mythology intersect throughout The Twilight Saga, they create a neocolonial fantasy world in modern day Forks, Washington.

Quileute stories about the tribe’s shapeshifting ancestors are given no roots in reality as Jacob sets up, and often dismisses, the stories as myths. The Quileute stories are diluted in favor of an explanation of the Cullen coven. In part, this dilution is because of Bella’s focus on the Cullens in her role as narrator. Although Jacob clearly states that he does not believe in the stories, he insinuates that the tribal elders, primarily his father, Billy Black, not only believe in the stories but use them to govern the tribe. Bella, already questioning whether the Cullens are actually the humans the purport to be, is intrigued by a comment made by one of Jacob’s friends: “The Cullens don’t come here.” The comment was made in reference to the exclusion of Edward on a beach trip to the reservation, and Bella is then prompted to ask Jacob what that comment meant. The difference between Bella’s question and Jacob’s answer is that Bella believes the Quileute stories as fact while Jacob gives them no credit, simply calling them scary stories. Jacob explains the earlier comment by attributing it to “stories about the cold ones.” He continues, “According to legend, my own great-grandfather knew some of them. He was the one who made the treaty that kept them off our land.” Jacob then explains how the cold ones and his stories of his wolf ancestors are related. He says, “You see, the cold ones are the natural enemies of the wolf – well, not the wolf, really, but the wolves that turn into men, like our ancestors.” Jacob’s presentation of the stories in Twilight are told solely through the lens of the colonial force; in the larger scheme of the series, this scene begins the presents that the Quileutes can only be discussed through or in conjunction with the Cullens. This theme is representative of the Quileute tribe and their stories serving for the benefit of the vampiric narrative.

Stories regarding the Quileutes are inherently minimized in favor of the narrative of the colonial figures. The few Jacob chooses to tell are framed as being part of Native American oral history and storytelling culture, yet Jacob shows little respect for the stories. The real Quileute tribe has spent the years since the release of The Twilight Saga attempting to counter ideas created by Meyer. On their official page for their cause, they wrote:

All Native people have stories that explain their histories and their relationships with the natural world. These stories, often wrongly called “myths” or “legends,” are an important part of Native life—and should never be trivialized as fantasy…An origin story, because it chronicles the beginning of the people, is arguably the most important of all stories.

Jacob’s dismissal of the tribe’s origins is then doubly offensive because of their inaccurate representation of tribal culture. An emphasis on the white source for the saga in authorship and narration is highlighted as the stories are presented as mythology. This terminology is representative of an unknowledgeable third party’s conveyance of the information. The lack of respect for the origins as well as the telling of the stories only as they relate to the white characters heightens the commentary on colonialism made throughout the series.

After Jacob realizes the stories are true when he becomes a wolf, the saga begins to explore the relationship of the wolves and Quileutes to the Cullen coven. Jacob’s realization of the stories’ truth comes after the Cullens have left Forks. The Cullens’ existence is so profound that even in their absence they continue to affect the Quileutes in life altering ways. Before Jacob shape shifts for the first time, he recognizes the wolf pack as a tribal gang, telling Bella, “I swear, they’re like hall monitors gone bad. They don’t start fights, they keep the peace…The worst part is that the council takes them seriously.” This statement builds off of the earlier credibility Jacob had noticed the council gives the origins of the tribe, but now he has a a tangible manifestation of the elders’ belief. Because Jacob was raised on the reservation and is a descendant of the chieftain line, he spent his childhood privy to the knowledge that members of the tribe are descended from wolves, but believed his father’s wariness about the Cullens stemmed from superstition. Upon realizing he has become the wolf the origin stories describe, Jacob both legitimizes the elders’ action against the Cullens and is only able to view his new life through blaming the Cullens. When Bella, still in the dark about the wolves just after Jacob phases, asks Jacob who is to blame for his sudden change in attitude, Jacob responds, “If you want to blame someone, why don’t you point your finger at those filthy, reeking bloodsuckers that you love so much?” Bella’s response is to realize that Jacob understands the truth about what the Cullens are, but does not consider the implications of the vampires on the Quileutes in reference to the stories Jacob told her in Twilight.

Perhaps the agency the Cullens are afforded does not translate to the Quileutes because Bella narrates and she is constantly obsessed with the Cullens’ storyline. However, Bella spends the majority of New Moon doing everythingshe can to forget about the Cullens, and even here the vampire narrative controls the wolf narrative. A minor shift comes when Jacob reframes Bella’s preconceived notions of the wolves as monsters. Bella confronts Jacob, believing he and the pack have been on a killing spree through Forks. Jacob’s response delegitimizes Bella’s view of the wolves as monsters. Jacob tells Bella that the wolves are indeed protectors of not only the tribe but all people, and “we only protect people from one thing – our one enemy. It’s the reason we exist – because [vampires] do.” Here, Jacob establishes the vampires as the villains in the story while removing the wolves from association with monsters. This shift adds to the revisionary neocolonial commentary of the series as Meyer makes clear that the colonists are villains while the natives are separated from monstrous association.

After a seminal storytelling event in Eclipse, the wolves are revealed to have come into existence as a protection measure for the tribe in direct response to the presence of vampires. Bella is invited to hear the origin story of the tribe’s shapeshifting birthright, an invitation that has never been extended to anyone outside the tribe and, as is insinuated from those at the gathering, not extended to anyone in the tribe who lacks the intimate knowledge of the existence of vampires and wolves. Bella is invited at the encouragement of Jacob and Billy, who likely have the ulterior motive of forcing Bella to realize the monstrosity of the Cullens’ existence. Bella and the Quileutes in on the secret gather around a fire at night to hear the origin story, a callback via imagery of youthful evenings spent around campfires to the scary story label Jacob assigned the origins in Twilight. Taha Aki, the first of the Quileutes to become a wolf, passed this trait down to his sons. Billy tells the story, narrating, “Taha Aki’s sons guarded the tribe until their sons were old enough to take their places. There were never more than three wolves at a time.” This line is significant because it both establishes that the wolf pack had no choice in the matter of becoming wolves because they were born with the gene, and because it is said to a pack that consists of ten wolves. What Billy then reveals is that the larger, relatively permanent population of vampires has “forced a larger pack than the tribe has ever seen.” If the wolf gene only activates in the presence of vampires, then the Quileutes only take on the appearance of a monster through the lens of the people invading their land.

The psychology of the pack, and by extension the tribe, is that this birthright extended to the shapeshifters comes with integrity and a duty to protect. Although from the outside a horse-sized wolf is threatening, the wolves have a deeper purpose that is ultimately meant to be beneficial to the well-being of the Quileutes. Moreover, the pack feels a deepened connection to their ancestors through their shared fight. While at the gathering, Bella notices “Seth Clearwater – his eyes wide with adulation for the fraternity of tribal protectors…” Seth’s reverence for the stories and his newfound sense of belonging represents the shift that had already occurred as the stories were revealed to be true, but here this realization is given more weight as the wolves are fully situated within the realm of protectors. The neocolonial undertones of the saga are then more fully developed. In Meyer’s commentary on colonization, she presents the deeper truth of colonists’ being monsters and whitewashing history to show Native Americans as savages. However, the paradox of the series is that even with this narrative shift, the wolves are only portrayed through the lens of events concerning the vampires. This scene nevertheless significantly changes the course of the story. What were introduced as myths are here given credibility and pushes the story forward into a discovery of the true monsters of the series.

Once Meyer had deconstructed the wolves as monsters by instead making them protectors, she further reveals the monstrosity of the vampires with whom the reader has learned to sympathize. The presentation of information on the incubus and succubus, or vampires who use seduction as part of their predation on humans, comes in conjunction with a renewed spirit amongst the wolves to protect the tribe and the citizens of Forks when Bella falls pregnant with Edward’s child. Before the pregnancy, monster mythology regarding vampires as predators is introduced via the suspicious housekeeper Kaure who periodically cleans the house Bella and Edward stay in during their honeymoon. As Edward explains when Bella notices Kaure’s stares, “Kaure’s part Ticuna Indian. She was raised to be more superstitious…She suspects what I am, or close enough…They have their own legends here. The Libishomen – a blood-drinking demon who preys exclusively on beautiful women.” That Kaure’s tribe has stories regarding vampires illustrates the widespread nature of vampiric terror, especially among indigenous tribes. However, the Ticunas do not have a genetic defense mechanism; the Quileutes are unique in that regard. This introduction to the vampires as true monsters in the saga then sets up the problems that arise when Bella’s unborn child nearly takes Bella’s life from conception through birth. The Cullens are, by and large, tormented by the pain Bella is being caused. More than that, they are tormented because Bella’s pregnancy forces them to fully confront their nature in a way they have never needed to before. Because the Cullens are the driving force of the series, as they realize how monstrous vampires can be the reader has the same realizations.

Breaking Dawn is divided into three sections: the first and last sections are narrated by Bella, but the middle section is narrated by Jacob. For the first time in the series, a member of the wolf pack is given a strong role in the story, heightened because as the Cullens realize they are monsters this section is narrated by someone who has always known they are monsters. Thus, the shift in narrators emphasizes that even though the narrative had been controlled by Bella, who loves the Cullens, they were monsters despite the version of them with which the reader was presented. Jacob’s snark in the tone of his narration shows his distaste for the coven, but his section is still not freed from the lens of the vampires. Jacob’s small portion of the series takes place when he has defected from the pack to protect Bella and the vampires when the rest of the pack wants to turn on and kill the Cullens before Bella carries her child to term. The pack’s decision to violate the treaty with the Cullens by killing them, Bella, and Bella’s child is framed as brash and reckless, when in fact this decision is instinctive because of the pack’s role as protectors. A conversation between the wolves that leads to the decision goes as follows:

The safety of our families, of everyone here, is more important than one human.

If they won’t kill it, we have to.

Protect the tribe.

Protect our families.

We have to kill it before it’s too late…

When blood drinkers cross our land, we destroy them, no matter where they plan to hunt. We protect everyone we can.

Although the tribe constantly refers to vampires as their enemies, this dialogue is the first time that the Cullens are placed in that enemy category. The pack does not care that the Cullens are supposedly better because they do not hunt humans for blood; in this moment, they see that the Cullens can be just as destructive as any other vampire. Yet the reclamation of the purpose of the wolves as protectors is taken when Jacob, Seth, and Leah, Seth’s sister, choose to form their own pack intent on protecting the Cullens. Seth, whom Bella previously noticed as exuding awe for his brotherhood, has just abandoned that brotherhood in service of the colonial force. He tells Jacob, “They’re like people to me, and I’m going to protect them, ‘cause that’s what we’re supposed to do. Except the Cullens are not people, and Seth says this as they and the reader are realizing the extent of their inhumanity. Moreover, although Seth is correct in saying that the wolves are supposed to be protectors, they are supposed to protect people from vampires rather than protecting vampires from other Quileute wolves. The manifest level of the decision to protect the Cullens is that without the Cullens there would be no story, but beneath that purpose is the latent reality that having the Cullens be the dominant energy of the saga causes the wolves and the Quileute intent to be sidelined in favor of the vampires.

While her original decision to make a tribe of Native Americans monsters may appear racist, Meyer instead makes clear that the wolves are not monsters in creating a commentary on British colonialism. Much in the way that Europeans colonized the Americas, thus changing the lives of the natives in earth shattering ways, vampire invasions of Quileute lands cause seemingly normal men to explode into horse-sized wolves. Their shapeshifting is an event that both changes the entire course of the person’s life and is a direct reaction to the presence of a foreign body. Histories of colonialism have been whitewashed to focus on the colonial force and to only portray the natives as they relate to the actions of the colonists. In this way, the wolves always serve the vampire narrative. So why have the Quileutes become wolves at all? Having the Quileute tribe include a pack of protector wolves is Meyer’s way of revising the colonial narrative; she gives the natives a way to protect themselves, but they need to become supernatural to do so. Moreover, Meyer does succeed in clarifying that the wolves are not monsters by contrasting them with the vampires and even going so far as to introduce true, monstrous werewolves in the final chapters of Breaking Dawn. These “Children of the Moon” align with common mythology on werewolves, such as only coming out at night and creating new werewolves via a bite infection. Vampires and werewolves are then aligned in monstrosity because they both create new monsters through bites, and the wolves are distinguished because their forms are a birthright. As Aro, a truly villainous vampire, explains, “[The Quileutes] have merely inherited this skill from their fathers. It’s genetic – they do not continue their species by infecting others the way true werewolves do.” Meyer chooses to not give the wolves autonomy in the story. She thus subjects them to a similar treatment that Native Americans were subjected to when history was whitewashed by the colonial presence. However, she is able to succeed in redefining tropes that show people of color as monsters and white people as heroes. Although the reader sympathizes with the Cullens, a deeper analysis reveals that the vampires are the true monsters of the story while the wolves, though not wholly the heroes, provide a commentary on the devastation of colonialism.

Bibliography

Meyer, Stephanie. Twilight. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2005.

Meyer, Stephanie. New Moon. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2006.

Meyer, Stephanie. Eclipse. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2007.

Meyer, Stephanie. Breaking Dawn. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2008.

Meyer, Stephanie. The Twilight Saga: The Official Illustrated Guide. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2011.

“Truth Versus Twilight.” Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture.

http://www.burkemuseum.org/static/truth_vs_twilight/quileutes-stories.html.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s