In Defense of Bella Swan

5:16 PM


This is exactly what it sounds like, so get ready.


As you probably know by now, I have a habit of defending Twilight. I even wrote a post dedicated to that recently. If you missed it, let's just say I've read all the Twilight books, enjoyed all the Twilight books, and have a lot to say on the subject. So, inspired by a conversation I had this week with the wise and wonderful mother, today you're going to hear me rant about Bella Swan and the problem with a lot of YA protagonists. 

First of all. I'm just gonna get this out of the way, so there's no confusion, and you can go ahead and burn me alive in the comments now if you want without having to subject yourself to the rest of the post. 

I like Bella Swan. 

I thought Bella Swan was a good, developed character. 

I like Bella Swan more than most YA protagonists.

Still here? Allow me to explain to you a thing. 

I think there's a problem we have now. I call this the John Green problem because heck, I might as well admit that John Green annoys me too, while I'm at it. I'm not here to slam him and YA writers in general, but there is a trend I've noticed, especially with contemporary YA. The "Ordinary Person" trend. 

You know who I'm talking about. Our teenage protagonist is ordinary. Brown hair. Too skinny to have much of a figure. Brown eyes. Shy, stuttery, bad with people, not "popular". Clumsy and awkward, but don't worry, it's endearing. Most likely an introvert. Listens to obscure old music. Reads obscure old classics. Talks like they're a well-educated heir from the 18th century or something. Supposedly not a snob like the other kids. 

This person is not your cheerleader or jerk or hero or anything like this, you see. This boy or girl is ordinary. They hate that about themselves. They hate how ordinary they are. 


THIS. PERSON. IS. NOT. ORDINARY. I dunno about you, but I can't relate to this at all. I've never known anyone like this. And you know what? I find the message that's sending a little bit insulting and harmful. (Let me explain.) 

Let's go back to Bella Swan.

Have you seen how much flak Bella Swan gets in modern circles, especially bookish circles? You see it everywhere. Bella Swan is weak. Bella Swan is a cardboard cutout. She's boring. She's overdramatic. She's overemotional, or not emotional enough. She's bland. She's a pushover. She's stupid. She's boring. It's easy to laugh at her for being around Edward and his family in the first place, or falling apart in New Moon when Edward left her.

And then you turn around and give me someone like Hazel from The Fault In Our Stars, who's awfully unique and perfect for an "ordinary" teenager. 


This post is getting long, but whatever. I want to take a moment to tell you what I see in Bella Swan when I read Twilight books. (And yes, I've read them multiple times. I'll probably read them again soon so I can review them on Goodreads. Just you wait.) 

When I look at Bella Swan, when I read about her, I see a lot to admire. 

She's fairly selfless. Can we just consider the fact that she moved, in her senior year (I think?), to an obscure rainy small town in the middle of Washington, where she knew fitting in would be hard and she probably wouldn't be happy, so she could be with her dad? Her dad, who she loves. She has a great relationship with her dad, all things considered, and if you don't find them realistic I just. Bella cares about the people around her. She may not always get it right, but she does what she can to keep the people she loves safe when she thinks it's necessary. 

She doesn't need to be "quirky" and "ordinary". Heck, I see a lot to relate to when I read about Bella! She's insecure and awkward and hesitant and unsure of where she fits and has emotions and desires and needs and makes mistakes. Can we not talk about the fact that we brutally make fun of her for falling apart after Edward left? I want to make it clear why I have a problem with that. She genuinely fell in love with someone (I do believe she did, it's possible) who then proceeded to randomly dump and abandon her in a very brutal, confusing, unexpected way. Teenage life is rough, y'all, as I'm sure you know. We have emotions all over the place. Something like that is freaking brutal. I can't bring myself to blame her for reacting that way. And the people around her don't let her stay that way forever, either. Bella has a solid support system of friends and family who love and care for her. 

And come on, how could you not like Charlie Swan?
A lot of the time when I see people bashing Bella, it's for reasons like that, talking about how weak and flat she is. Mocking those emotions and reactions she has, that I couldn't see as anything but realistic and relatable. Bella's possibly one of the most realistic teens I've ever read about. She's not quirky. She's not ordinary according to YA, and you know what? I liked that. Because never once have I felt ordinary the way those teenagers feel ordinary. Ordinary isn't that quirky. There isn't even an ordinary in that sense. Because everyone is different and unique and quirky in their own ways! Everyone. Cheerleaders, jocks, weird geeky "ordinary" kids, "bullies", "petty girls", everyone. 

 I'm running out of words to fuel my angry rage, but yeah. 

Let's just not mock Bella Swan for being ordinary anymore. Because she's a heck of a lot more like me and most people I know than anything out of a John Green novel.


25 comments

  1. You're totally right about the John Green syndrome. #preach

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  2. I think I have a slightly different take, I guess. Because at least for me, I feel like I personally am a lot like Bella Swan. In terms of demeanor, behavior, and certain beliefs, we just have some similarities. And so when people say that Bella is terrible for xyz reason, if I share that trait it kind of makes me feel bad because I am not "unique" and "awesome" enough to be likeable to them. Obviously, I'm not going to keep them as friends if I think they're going to put me down or anything, but still, there is a kind of disappointment when people criticize characters and sort of end up criticizing you at the same time. :P

    It is funny, though, because when you had your original paragraph regarding ordinaryness, I totally thought you were talking about Bella... Ah, ordinaryness in terms.

    P.S. I love your Maggie Smith GIF.

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    1. Yeah, that makes sense! And that's one of the reasons I can't stand the endless bashing -- it makes people feel like that, and I've had those feelings before. It's just...not cool. Sigh.

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  3. Okay, let me state this: I only read the first book. And I didn't LOVE it, but I don't think it deserves all the hate that people give it. And I agree with everything you said, except in the fact that I don't like her as much as you do. I was pretty neutral on her, honestly. But I definitely see where you're coming from with the ordinary thing. WE ARE TEENAGERS AND WE HAVE EMOTIONS AND WE CRY AND IN GENERAL FEEL THINGS. That's, I think, where a lot of YAs go wrong. Also, I think they're missing that 'ordinary' people actually are jocks and cheerleaders and whatever else. I think by trying to make characters NOTHING SPECIAL AT ALL they make them completely unrelatable and just nooope.

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    1. "'ordinary people' actually are jocks and cheerleaders and whatever else." AMEN.

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  4. I HAVE NOT READ TWILIGHT but from what I understand all the Bella hate doesn't make a ton of sense? My understanding is that she's just very much a self-insertion character? And just pretty ordinary (rather than fake, pretentious ordinariness). I guess what doesn't make sense to me is that we have tons of books that are considered literature with male characters who are the ultimate opportunities for self-insertion and just really not special, BUT DO THEY GET CALLED OUT? No. And obviously I could be totally wrong, especially since I haven't read it, but seriously people just let teenage girls be teenage girls okay /honestly/

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    1. Hmm, I didn't see her as much of a self-insertion character, but that could just be me. But there's a lot of hate put towards her and that bothers me, considering how she's one of the more normal characters I've seen. But whatever, y'know? People are jerks. xD

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  5. I love posts that challenge my perspective. I personally haven't read Twilight, but it does seem to be something people love to hate. Even the people who helped it have the success that it did.

    I think that as soon as an author tries to convince me, that a character is relatable and ordinary as it were. Is the moment, I start hating them.

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    1. I think there's a difference between disliking a book and bashing the character for being ordinary, which people do a lot. Especially people who haven't read the books. Not cool, man, not cool. xD

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  6. I haven't read Twilight, mostly because I have 120 books on my TBR list right now and a reportedly badly-written, sappy teen series about sparkling vampires just doesn't sound too appealing to me, but I may give it a try anyway, because I respect your opinions, and heck, maybe it's not that bad.
    I totally agree on the overused YA female lead type, though. It's one of the main reasons I dislike John Green's books. I like his style, but not his story or characters.

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    1. Ugh, my sentences border on senseless. I need to get a grip when it comes to commas, haha.

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    2. *whispers* I understood that reference.

      I personally didn't see a problem with the writing in Twilight, or find it sappy, or anything like that, and a lot of the hate comes from people who haven't even read it, but if it's not something you're interested in reading, that's cool.

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  7. Yeah Hazel Grace didn't fool me for a second. Let's be real, no teenager acts like she did, and even though it's not wrong by default to create a character a little bit more original and unique (because seriously), it doesn't mean I'm going to be able to connect to that character. It's true, the "ordinary" protagonist is a reoccurring element in Modern YA. It's like whatever writer first invented it was maybe trying to get away from whatever non-relatable character that had been used before, and then allll the other writers took that concept and overused it to the point where just no, because yes, most of us are ordinary people, and some of us are emotionally weak, but we're not ordinary in the way everyone makes us out to be. Your points are quite valid. I just think people are so quick to hop on that bandwagon, even after they read it for themselves, so the opinion popularized by whoever started it is what shapes their perspective of the book. I never got around to reading the 4th book, and yes, maybe I'll joke about her actions in New Moon or whichever book involved her jumping into water (I haven't read the books since 6th grade so xD), but I kind of realize--how can I relate to Hermione? How can I relate to Tris? I can't relate to them--they turned heroic in under 60 seconds and was all brave, but deep down we know we'd all probably react like Bella.
    Sorry if that didn't make sense, I usually don't make sense in the comments section. I guess the point is Bella was someone I could see as myself, even if I'm not proud to admit it. I couldn't see myself jumping off a train to get on top of a building so I was Dauntless. I would have never LEFT that train. And so on and so forth.
    Great post! Sorry for the rambles.

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    1. Yesss that was one of the main problems I had with Tris. I don't think those characters are wrong, or less developed or valid (well, I could argue against Tris, but whatever) but bashing Bella for the reasons people do strikes me as a little odd. *shrugs*

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  8. I love this post! I agree with everything you wrote. How can Bella be the wrost that YA literature can offer and Hazel the best? I am glad that somebody pointed this out :)

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  9. O.O
    *has not read Twilight*
    *kind of wants to read Twilight now*
    I feel it deserves a shot, at least. There's so much hate out there for it, I just want to see why. I like what you said though, and am interested to read it myself. :)

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    1. Yes! That's a great attitude to have. (And just for the record, I don't believe disliking it is bad.)

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  10. I sometimes wonder if all the Bella hate stems back to the films. Personally I feel like she came across a bit flat and monotone in the films, whilst I quite liked her in the books. Certainly no one seemed to be hating on her before the films came out (I read the first book before I saw the first film) but that's possibly just because it wasn't nearly so popular then. I'm also not generally the biggest fan of film adaptations of book, so maybe that's why I didn't like her so much in the film. Perhaps other people think differently!
    In general though I don't see that there's anything wrong with the character of Bella though. She certainly does seem a lot more normal than the supposedly 'ordinary' characters in John Green's books. Great post!

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    1. Yes, I think that has a LOT to do with the movies. Which are, quite frankly, pretty bad. xD

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  11. Intriguing...makes me want to go read twilight now. I've avoided it in the past because all my acquaintances "love to hate it" and because I generally find YA romances a bit repugnant. Still, if I ever have time on my hands [darned high school!!!] I will definitely check this out.

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  12. I love this post! Thank you Aimee for finally standing up for Bella. I relate to her probably more than any other YA protagonist out there because we are so much alike. I love Twilight and Bella and pretty much every other character in that series so thank you for defending her and the books. :)

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