Problematic Tropes and Harmful Stereotypes in the Twilight Saga

The resurgence of Twilight’s popularity began during the lockdown in 2020 and continues to spread. Teens create Bella Swan-inspired fashion TikToks. You can browse through thousands of Twilight fanfictions on Archive of Our Own. It’s easy to find active Facebook groups and subreddits to discuss the intricacies of the saga with fellow fans.

Twilight is an excellent story in some ways. It’s action-packed, magical, and sexy. At the same time, Twilight is brimming with harmful messages about race, gender, sex, and consent.

I’m not here to tell you to stop consuming Twilight-related media. Twilight is a crucial piece of entertainment culture, and diving into that world is undeniably fun. However, it’s also vital to examine the problematic tropes central to the story’s plot and understand what makes them so destructive.

1: Gendered Powers

One creative element in Twilight is the vampires’ specific powers. When I first read the books at age twelve, I loved learning more about each Cullen’s unique ability.

As I re-examined Twilight as an adult, something stuck out about some of the Cullens’ powers and their connection to gender stereotypes.

Take Rosalie. She doesn’t have explicit powers like Edward’s mind-reading skills or Alice’s ability to see the future. Essentially, her power is being really hot. Before Rosalie was a vampire, she was already gorgeous, so when she turned, she basically became the sexiest woman alive. Her power is her sex appeal.

At the same time, her husband, Emmett, is the male counterpart to Rosalie. His power is super strength. Emmett and Rosalie are buffed-up versions of the ideal young man and woman.

Then there’s Esme. As the mother of the Cullen family, her powers are directly related to motherhood. Esme can feel intense compassion. If Rosalie is the societal ideal for a young woman, Esme is the ideal mother.

2: Imprinting

Even as a kid, imprinting felt off to me. The concept of imprinting is terrifying, yet it’s completely normalized in the Twilight saga.

In Twilight, imprinting is a natural part of life for all male werewolves. It’s dictated in their DNA. Imprinting is when they get this deep feeling of love and connection (and ownership?) inside when they look at a particular woman for the first time after becoming wolves. The man now knows this woman is meant for him, no matter what.

This concept is exceptionally problematic in itself, but it goes further. Stephenie Meyer uses imprinting throughout the saga to justify domestic abuse and even something that equates to child marriage.

In New Moon, we meet Sam Uley, the wolf pack’s Alpha. When he imprints on Emily Young, he’s in a relationship with Leah. He immediately breaks it off with Leah and pursues Emily, almost stalking her, despite her constantly turning him away.

One day, Emily and Sam get in a fight, and she compares him to his abusive father. That’s when he strikes her across the face and brutally injures her. Meyer’s primary focus was the tragedy of Emily losing her beauty rather than being physically abused by someone presumably in love with her.

And the worst part? When she wakes up in the hospital after the brutal attack, Emily realizes she wants to be with him and gives in to his desperate pleas.

The concept of imprinting continues to worsen as the saga progresses. In Breaking Dawn, Jacob imprints on a literal INFANT. Renesme has zero choices in the matter. Jacob gets to be around her as she grows up, watching her, knowing he will marry her one day. It literally makes me dry-heave thinking about it.

While Bella is initially upset when she finds out that the guy who used to have a crush on her now is in love with her underage child, she moves on quickly. By the end of Breaking Dawn, everyone is completely accepting of it, and Jacob is allowed to spend time around this child.

3: A General Theme of Denying Consent

It’s pretty evident that imprinting seriously denies women’s autonomy and removes their right to consent. And that’s not the only thing.

For one, Carlisle turns a bunch of dying and vulnerable kids into vampires, unconscious and unable to say, “Hey, I actually would rather just die and not become an immortal bloodsucker!”

Edward must have learned a lot from his dear old father because he doesn’t understand the concept of consent either. He’s famous for crawling into Bella’s windows late at night to watch her sleep. And for some reason, that’s depicted as sexy?

4: Edward’s Abusive and Obsessive Behavior

There’s more to Edward’s character that screams, “CREEP!” than just sneaking into Bella’s home unannounced.

He’s constantly talking about Bella’s delicious blood. How she’s his “own personal brand of heroin.” He’s drawn to her by an uncontrollable urge. He stalks her. He decides what’s best for her. He even fakes his own death in New Moon to “protect” her.

Yet instead of being depicted as scary and unhinged, Edward is portrayed as mysterious and sexy.

5: Vile Disrespect of Native Culture

One of the most harmful pieces of Twilight is the appropriation of native culture to assist as a plot device.

The Quileute tribe, an actual Native American tribe in the northwest of what is now called the United States, are equated with werewolves in Twilight. The men are often shirtless, can’t control their emotions, and are quite literally part-wolf. Stephenie Meyers simply leans on offensive stereotypes of Native savagery to create conflict in her story.

Take Jacob’s character and compare him to Edward. Edward is a quiet, controlled, well-dressed white man. He is polite and clean. Jacob, on the other hand, is emotional, rugged, and hard to control. Meyer depicts Edward as civilized and Jacob as savage. And of course, Jacob’s character is primarily there to cause romantic tension in the story.

To make things worse, The actor who played Jacob in the films, Taylor Lautner, has no ties to Native culture.

On top of all of this, a treaty between the Quileutes and the Cullens is used as a plot device to display tension between these two groups. However, Native treaties are important to Native law and have been traditionally ignored and intentionally misunderstood by white Americans and the U.S. government.

It’s a shame that Meyer chose to depict the Quileutes with such disregard for the actual human beings who are a part of the tribe. She had the opportunity to highlight Native culture in a positive light, and instead, she clung to tired tropes that ended up hurting native communities.

6: Bella is Not Like Other Girls

She’s quirky. She’s different. She wears Converse. She doesn’t care about being cool, but she’s cool regardless. She’s effortlessly beautiful. She’s not like other girls.

This trope is very familiar to those who consume young adult literature. Think Margot Roth Spielburg from John Green’s Paper Towns. It’s a tired trope that only serves to pit women against each other in an attempt to appeal to the male gaze.

Bella is the poster child for the “she’s not like other girls” trope. Edward’s view of Bella is a big part of what feeds into this trope. He can read everyone’s mind in the world except for Bella’s. Her blood has the most tempting aroma he’s ever smelled.

Even when she turns into a vampire, she’s extraordinary and different; she’s the first to give birth to a half-human-half-vampire, and her powers are arguably more vital than any other vampire’s.

7: Bella is a Damsel in Distress

Ah, the classic. The female protagonist must depend on the male protagonist to save her, time and time again. Throughout the series, Bella relies on Edward and Jacob for protection. When a fellow student almost hits her with his car in the high school parking lot, Edward jumps in to prevent the crash.

In New Moon, Edward has to swoop in and save Bella from The Volturi. Bella spends most of Eclipse in hiding, protected by the two boys fighting for her love.

8: Edward is Almost 100 years older than Bella

While Stephenie Meyer has no problem brushing past the fact that Edward was born in 1901, I think that’s a pretty big issue.

Yeah, okay, age gap love is more accepted these days. But there is something very wrong with a 104-year-old pretending to be seventeen and starting a relationship with an actual seventeen-year-old. UM, EW?! That’s 100% illegal and 500% disturbing.

Also, they get married almost immediately after she turns eighteen. That feels very icky.

9: Jasper is a Literal Confederate Soldier

In Eclipse, we finally gain insight into Jasper’s human life. And it’s not pretty.

Jasper was born in Texas in 1842 and joined the Confederate army at age nineteen. Yes, the army that fought for black people to stay enslaved in the U.S. during the Civil War.

Jasper never has to reconcile with his dark past. Instead, his time in the Confederate army is a minor detail that rarely comes up and simply shows how Jasper eventually got turned into a Vampire and fought in the Southern Vampire Wars.

10: In Twilight, Whiteness = Hotness

The attractive people in Twilight are predominantly white. Jacob is considered handsome, but in a very different, almost fetishized sense, while Edward and the other vampires’ attractiveness is at a completely different level.

On top of that, the concept of why vampires are so hot is pretty disturbing. There are two main visual distinctions made between humans and vampires throughout the saga. For one, vampires are gorgeous versions of their human selves, meaning all vampires are incredibly sexy. The other distinction is that humans have normal skin tones while vampires are much whiter and paler.

See the problem here? The connection between Whiteness and beauty is explicit in the world of Twilight. And the thing is—Stephenie Meyer can write whatever descriptions she wants of the vampires glowing, pale skin and how hot they are. But for anyone who watched the movies, we know putting some white powder on the actors’ faces just makes them look a bit sickly.

11: Villainizing Black Men

In the Twilight movie, there are two black characters: one is Laurent (Edi Gathegi), who tries to hunt and kill Bella, even saying, “Victoria won’t be happy about my killing you, but I can’t help myself. You are so mouth-watering.” This quote feeds directly into the harmful trope that black men target white women as victims of sexual assault.

The other black character is Tyler Crowley (Gregory Tyree Boyce). He’s a football player on the school team who also almost kills Bella when his car spins out of control in the high school parking lot. And, of course, the perfect civilized white man Edward comes to Bella’s rescue while Tyler’s character gets left in the dust.

12: Carlisle Turns a Bunch of Teens into Vampires

I mentioned this earlier when we talked about Twilight’s gross disregard for consent, but I felt it deserves its own section.

This man (well, vampire) decided to roam around searching for dying kids to transform into freaking vampires. Edward was seventeen when he lay dying of the Spanish flu after the passing of his parents. Carlisle happened to be his doctor and decided to change him into a vampire.

Rosalie was eighteen when she was brutally raped and beaten by her fiancé and his friends. Left for dead, she lay unconscious, where Carlisle found her and decided to force her to live for eternity.

Emmett was twenty when Carlisle changed him, and Esme was twenty-six. They weren’t technically kids, but compared to Carlisle, who was like 400 at the time, they’re basically babies.

13: The Normalization of Violent Sex

Yes, we’ve got to discuss the infamous Breaking Dawn sex scene. When the final installation of the Twilight Saga came out in the summer of 2008, parents became alarmed by a violent sex scene in the novel.

My parents, among many others, tried to convince me not to read the book. But of course, as a ten-year-old with a passion for Twilight, I begged to read it. They agreed after giving me a long talk about healthy relationships and domestic abuse.

Let’s put this out there: the honeymoon sex scene is nothing like BDSM. In BDSM communities, people prioritize safety, consent, and communication. The Breaking Dawn sex scene is a normalization of domestic violence.

Remember that heart-wrenching moment when Bella examines her body in the mirror and notices how she’s beaten, bruised, and looks sickly. But it’s okay because Edward literally cannot help it.

He’s a vampire having sex with a human whose blood is like a drug to him. The heightened arousal makes him uncontrollably violent. If the two want to have sex, it’s bound to be extremely painful for Bella, and there’s nothing she can do about it. What the @#$%?!

14: Bella’s Traumatic Pregnancy

When Bella is pregnant with Renesme, she’s willing to die to save her baby’s life. In this Post-Roe world, that message is quite off-putting.

Bella did die as a result of her pregnancy, but she was able to turn into a vampire. She got extra hot and incredible superpowers. In real life, women with complicated pregnancies can’t rely on their vampire husbands to make them immortal if they’re on the brink of death during childbirth.

What are your plans this weekend? I know I’ll be binging the Twilight movies with my girlfriend, pointing out problematic moments, and pausing to discuss. Yes, we’re nerds. But of course, so are you!

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This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.

Featured Image Courtesy of Summit Entertainment.

Maya Capasso

Maya (she/they) is a professional freelance writer and editor. Her writing is featured in TransLash News & Narrative, Healthline’s Bezzy Depression, HorrorPress, the Episodes Newsletter, and more. They’re passionate about social justice, history, and entertainment journalism. In her free time, she loves binging horror movies, spending time with her girlfriend, and needle-felting monster sculptures.