Views on Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight”

The following is an extended analysis of Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight”, which spawned a series of books and films after its release in 2005. All images featured here are property of their original owners.

In Twilight, the love between Edward and Bella is the driving force behind a lot of the events that take place in the novel. Consider Edward saving Bella from Tyler’s wayward minivan, Edward saving Bella from the thugs at Port Angeles, Bella asking Edward to turn her into a vampire at her own expense, and Edward and his family joining together to keep Bella safe from James’ evil coven — all these acts are wrought by Edward and Bella’s desire to strike up a significant romantic relationship; “because when I thought of him … I wanted nothing more than to be with him right now”. However, three specific circumstances unique to Edward, Bella, and their union become factors that ultimately make Twilight a predictable but entertaining and teenage-friendly pop culture love story.

One circumstance is Bella and her life in Forks. Bella’s character — a timid, quiet and introverted teenager with apparently dashing good looks — is one that identifies with its audience — which includes real-life teenage girls for whom the description might be apt — and connects them to Bella’s struggle. Some Cuban individuals’ liberal use of the term “pobrecito” to express pity for someone undeserving of a certain life situation would apply well here; to describe the teenage damsel in distress that Bella is painted to be. She’s the daughter of a divorce that has placed a former couple in two completely opposite geographies, with Bella’s mom in sunny, urban Arizona and Bella’s dad in rainy, rural Forks. Perhaps as a result, Bella’s not excited about making friends in a new environment; rather, she’s concerned about not fitting in and even contemplates giving up on her first day in town. She makes one think about how many teenage girls in similar situations must’ve connected to her character and gotten hooked on the book from the beginning.

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Contrast that with the second circumstance, which is Edward and his life as a vampire. He’s not pleased about having lived as a teenager for over a hundred years and he’s not pleased about never having had someone to really develop an intimate interpersonal relationship with. However, he lacks the family and self-integrity issues that Bella faces, for his family is a supportive bunch and his supernatural strength and ability convince him that he’s a worthwhile individual. He spends time hunting with his family while Bella spends time just being by herself and not doing a lot of talking.

Edward and Bella are nearly polar opposites, but they fit in together because characteristics about Edward’s life situation permit him to be the knight in shining armor that rescues and diverts Bella, the damsel in distress, from her down-on-her luck life. Edward isn’t even the only one who takes a crack at this. The other boys in the high school, who fall head over heels for Bella, also want to be the shining savior.

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The third circumstance arises only when Edward and Bella get together, and it’s the simultaneous blessing and curse known as obsession. Edward and Bella fit so well together — given what each has and lacks — that the rush they get from being able to find someone that complements them is one that they can’t control. They become each other’s world, with little to nothing going on in their life that doesn’t involve the other — “You are the most important thing to me now. The most important thing to me ever” (Meyer, ch. 12).

This circumstance is significant, because it mirrors the ubiquitous teenage trait of impulsiveness. Teenagers are typically seeking someone they can identify with, be it a group or a significant other of the opposite gender, and the search is typically so difficult that when they find someone, they don’t let go. They hold on like no tomorrow, thinking this is the best they’ve got — “I was unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him”. Bella goes from never having really been in a relationship to choosing the most sinister-looking and emotionally complicated boy she can find, amongst a slew of other males that are effectively throwing themselves at her.

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The circumstances unique to Edward, Bella and their relationship make up for a predictable novel — where obsessively staying united, against all odds, is always the solution — that nonetheless grabs and holds on to its audience — an interesting group of teenagers that may want to resolve their emotions through the novel — in a classically pop culture way.

Views on “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”

The following is an extended analysis on the debut novel in the famous Harry Potter series that took the world by storm in 1997. All images featured here are licensed under Creative Commons. 

The themes, subplot and symbolism within Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone combine to make it one of the most popular book series in history. The juxtaposition of “normal” characters and tribulations (students that go to class, take tests, do homework and grow up, like Harry and his crew) with fantastic characters and settings (wand-wielding teachers, dragons, trolls and a school in the shape of a castle next to a mysterious forest inhabited by unicorns) provides the reader with enough familiarity to allow them to relate to the story, but enough fantasy to allow them to be interested by the nuances of a new world.

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An example of this juxtaposition is Harry’s experience at the train station. As he arrives, Harry sees Ron and his multiple brothers getting dropped off by their parents — a perfectly normal and physically appreciable sight. In a matter of fact way, however, Ron and his brothers crash through a brick wall to get to the Hogwarts Express, creating the juxtaposition between the realistic and the fantastical — “all you have to do is walk straight at the barrier between platforms nine and ten. Don’t stop and don’t be scared you’ll crash into it … Go on, go now …”

The whole situation is akin to a student’s first day of school, with the real life equivalent of Ron and his brothers crashing through the wall possibly being a teacher rounding up the students and walking them, in a line, to homeroom.

That’s the Harry Potter formula to success: posit a relatable childhood or adolescent characteristic and discuss it in a fantastical manner. Take the Mirror of Erised, which uses fantastic means to disguise Harry’s longing for his late parents. Instead of narrating Harry’s desire to be with his real family again, the author chooses to use a magical device to convey this emotion, shown when Harry enters the empty classroom and stares into the mirror — “The Potters smiled and waved at Harry … his hands pressed flat against the glass as though he was hoping to fall right through it and reach them”.

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Another instance is Harry and Ron’s adventure to save Hermione from the troll during Halloween — it’s similar to three kids acing a hard final exam after a study session together and bonding over the accomplishment, only more fantastical.

Some of the novels’ subplots also describe relatable themes. An example of this is the segment of the story that involves Hagrid and his dragon. Harry and company come to the conclusion, along with Hagrid, that Hagrid’s dragon has got to go. Harry and Hermione decide to play hooky and end up getting caught by Filch. Typically, “hooky” is “played” out of a childish desire to be rebellious or mischievous, but Harry and Hermione’s illicit actions stand a on a higher plane of morality — they do it only because they’re saving a creature’s life, cementing the value of their midnight excursion as a righteous crusade that Filch, Professor McGonagall, and the malevolent Malfoy simply won’t understand — “You don’t understand, Professor. Harry Potter’s coming — he’s got a dragon!”

The theme of good versus evil is present throughout the novel as 2037791_c1332247explored through the value system of a growing boy and his friends. The actions that land Harry and his friends in trouble are almost never done maliciously (though a notable exception is Harry sneaking out of his dormitory to duel Draco Malfoy — who doesn’t show up — and landing himself in trouble); rather, they’re almost always in the spirit of benign exploration or in the active pursuit of something worthwhile (like Harry’s parents or the Sorcerer’s Stone). The narrator’s and/or Harry’s contemporaries’ failure to really question Harry’s actions indicate that what Harry’s doing is what’s “right” (except for Harry, who “flatly” and half-heartedly says “we’ve done enough poking around” the day before serving their detention). For example, upon learning that the evil Voldemort is after the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry decides — and his company agrees — that he must secure the stone before Voldemort.  Harry’s authority figures’ recommendation to stay away from the Stone and all it entails take a backseat to Harry’s clear rectitude.

In fact, the adult authority figures in the novel illustrate the childhood dilemma of learning who to respect and who to dislike. It’s clear, for example, that Harry quickly garners a dislike for Severus Snape based, subjectively, on cold intuition and physically on Snape’s dark appearance and his menacing warnings — “Be warned, Potter — any more nighttime wanderings and I will personally make sure you are expelled”.

But much like the naive teenager who finds that his strict and mean teacher actually cared the most for his education and career prospects, it’s revealed that Severus Snape is actually the good guy while the pushover Quirrell is the bad guy — “Snape was trying to save me”?

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Children and developing adolescents are sometimes judgmental and narrow-minded when deciding on the value of an authority figure, a characteristic that arises not so much from an earnest desire to be that way but rather from a general naiveté about how to look beyond a figure’s surface personality. The arc of development that Severus Snape is put through from Harry’s perspective represents a coming of age for Harry.

This growth is compounded by the fact that controlled egomania is also a theme in this book. At various points throughout Harry’s “firsts” in the world of magic — aboard the train, when donning the Sorting Hat, and in his classes — he wishes he wouldn’t be there and that others not laud him as much as they do, namely because he’s afraid of not living up to his potential. The reaction is best summarized by a character in the popular Metal Gear Solid video game series. In one of the games, the character Solid Snake, upon meeting his number one fan, says “The reality is no match for the legend, I’m afraid”. This is the way Harry initially feels, but as he begins to discover the untapped magical prowess he always had, the humility gives way to egomania that ultimately convinces him of his ability to take on the three-headed dog and stave off Voldemort’s malevolence — after all, Harry’s bare existence, and his mother’s love was enough to stave him off when he was but a baby. The scar symbolically demonstrates this, and Dumbledore speaks of the power of love — “to have been loved so deeply … will give us some protection forever.” What problem would he encounter fending off Voldermort now that he’s in the company of his good friends?

The sum of all these parables is a book series that captures the imagination of an audience who relates to the characters’ plights and imperfections, for they too are going through the same ordeals — just not in a magic school. Ultimately, the juxtaposition of the realistic and the fantastical has provided a winning formula for the book series that has led to its widespread popularity and standing as one of, if not the, most popular book series in history.

My Personal Statement: “Investigator”

This is a short writing assignment from my IDH2003 Leadership Seminar course, which I’m actively progressing through in my third semester of college at Miami Dade College’s Wolfson Campus. The idea of the assignment was to write a short piece in which one acutely defines one or more goals that one is pursuing as part of a life journey. Though the content may change in the future, this version accurately describes my present vision for the years to come.

My name is Tomás Monzón, and I am an investigator. I’m obsessed with language, communication, relationships, living spaces, machines, transportation and the overall working order of things in the natural and man-made worlds. My life’s journey, in fact, is to conquer all these obsessions by knowing all about them and appreciating them, from the comfort of a lawn chair atop several acres of land that I’ll have purchased by the time my journey gets to a certain point. The land will become my project: on the weekends, I’ll work on a custom home, and during the week, I’ll be working double duty, investigating stories for a newsmagazine and working at a computer support company. Completing that journey, however, will force me to expunge the fears I have of being disappointed, of being upset about things, and of disappointing others. People near and dear to me have taught me that keeping myself from negative emotions by blindly concentrating on the positive is to lead a life devoid of true vivacity. I’ve got to learn how to accept negative emotions and how to act on things, people and situations that aren’t to my liking. My life’s journey, and my personality of an investigator call for these personal obstructions to be eradicated in order to allow myself to realize my full potential and make my contribution to the world at large.

Views on Mike Nichols’ “The Graduate”

The following is an extended analysis of late Mike Nichols’ The Graduate. In it, I look at the plot, sound and themes that the film explores along with my personal reaction to itAll images featured on this post are property of their creators or original owners. 

Given my limited experience with the past century of film that has graced the human existence, I find Mike Nichols’ The Graduate to be a milestone. Nowadays, movie theaters are saddled — or blessed — with tons of romantic comedies featuring slapstick routines and illicit partnerships that never fail to instill a warm sense of hope that one day, we too will find ourselves entrenched in a playfully risky romantic escapade. The Graduate, had it been produced and released in today’s chick-flick-friendly moviescape, might’ve been written off as another feel-good film fit for a couples’ stay-at-home Sunday. However, there are subtle choices in plot, cinematography and audio that allow The Graduate to exist in a realm all of its own.

The Graduate opens with the main character, Benjamin Braddock (played by Dustin Hoffman). Benjamin is a 20-year old recent college graduate whose achievements are the talk of the town at the party that his parents host for him in the evening at their home in Pasadena. At the party, Mrs. Robinson (played by Anne Bancroft), one of Benjamin’s long-time neighbors, asks Benjamin for a ride home. Upon arriving at her house, Mrs. Robinson asks him inside and begins to seduce him (in the absence of her husband) by playing word games and offering him liquor. Benjamin awkwardly refuses until Mr. Robinson (played by William Daniels) comes home. Amidst awkward glances with Mrs. Robinson, Mr. Robinson suggests Benjamin call Mrs. Robinson’s daughter Elaine (played by Katharine Ross) and arrange a date one of these days, a prospect which Benjamin negates.

 

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Benjamin and Mrs. Robinson’s sexual affair begins when Benjamin finally rents a room at upscale hotel that would become their regular meeting place. During one of their sessions, Benjamin insists that Mrs. Robinson talk instead of just having sex with him. She opens up about her loveless marriage with Mr. Robinson, held together solely by Mrs. Robinson’s unintended daughter, Elaine, whom she demands Benjamin to not take out on a date. Benjamin initially takes Elaine on a terrible date but later realizes that she’s actually good company. He tells her about his affair and she gets upset and escapes to a university in Berkeley, California. Benjamin follows and stalks her until a confrontation where he denies Elaine’s suggestion that he raped her mother while she was drunk. He convinces her that it was all her mother’s doing, which facilitates their relationship until Mr. Robinson forces her out of school, demands that Benjamin not see her anymore and gets her engaged to Carl, a classmate she’d formerly dated. Benjamin won’t have it — he returns to Pasadena and trespasses into the Robinson home to encounter Mrs. Robinson, who coldly states that the wedding can’t be stopped. Mrs. Robinson calls the cops and forces Benjamin to return to Berkeley, where he learns that the wedding is in Santa Barbara, California. He drives to the city and sprints into the church to realize he’s too late — Carl and Elaine are about to kiss. He vigorously bangs on the glass and calls out Elaine’s name, to which she yells “Ben!” and starts running towards him. The wedding attendees try to stop them from exiting the church together, but Benjamin rips a cross from the wall and keeps the guests at bay before leaving the church and blocking the door with the cross. They sprint into a bus full of people and sit all the way at the back, their faces initially eager and excited and later serious and concerned.

 

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Initially, I thought the film was bleh. But upon closer analysis — particularly when drawing parallels to the predictable plot lines of modern romantic dramas — I found specific cinematographic and plot choices that make the film special.

Though it is a film that was produced in an interesting era (1969), The Graduate is not remarkable as a period piece. The technology that was absent in 1969 but present now would not have affected the story significantly.

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One aspect of the film that’s commonly discussed is the soundtrack, which added to the popularity of folk-rock group Simon & Garfunkel. The two songs which play an important role in the film are “A Sound of Silence” and “Mrs. Robinson”. The former creates help create a sense of foreboding (“Hello darkness, my old friend”) and secrecy (“In restless dreams I walked alone”) that’s in line with the clandestine nature of Benjamin’s affair. As the film begins, Benjamin comes out of a dark subway station and through a set of events finds himself in a hidden extramarital affair. Towards the end of the film, he finds himself chasing a beautiful young girl with all the emotions behind romance and love — hence the comparatively upbeat “Mrs. Robinson” plays. And at the very end of the film, he seems to have found himself in either a dark or a bright place again. Whatever the case, he’s not sure how to go about it and indeed, the more laidback “A Sound of Silence” plays as the film returns to a lower “light” level.

The Graduate’s story is the highlight of the film. At the party, Benjamin is lauded as a high-achieving college graduate with endless opportunities ahead of him. However, if it weren’t for the obnoxious relatives and party attendees pestering him about his accomplishments, I would’ve never guessed. Taken at face value, Benjamin is shy, apathetic, awkward, and otherwise misguided. A truly high-achieving college graduate would more than likely seek out graduate school plans or at least employment in his field of study had he valued his time at school; Benjamin, however, lounges in the pool and lets himself be taken by a woman in the midst of a mid-life crisis. How worldly and educated could Benjamin be? Has he never been with a woman before? The lack of explanation that the movie affords the viewer for this blatant dissonance gives it a sense of mystery and invites a degree of inference that other films don’t necessarily provide.

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The ending scene also makes use of this kind of mystery. The viewer is left to wonder what exactly goes through Elaine and Benjamin’s minds when their expressions change in the bus. My guess is that they’ve realized the grave error of their ways. The sense of adventure Benjamin may have sought after years of being a righteous pupil is a quest that seems to have expired when he boards the bus with Elaine. Elaine, on the other hand, is probably considering the grave impact that leaving a wedding ceremony, a fiancée and her family behind will have on her, and how unfulfilling her relationship with Benjamin will be in the future. Whatever relationship they pursue in the future will now be a cause of circumstance — whom else do they have to go to?

The subtleties, plot choices and soundtrack of The Graduate indicate the higher level of intricacy that the film achieves as opposed to modern romantic comedies. Indeed, it’s no wonder it’s a classic film.