I’m going to use the information I’ve obtained through the following articles, dissertations, and journals when navigating through other popular young adult books. Many of my sources speak about Twilight because Edward and Bella’s relationship provide clear, demonstrative, and textual evidence of abuse in romance, but it is important to note how many other popular books, stories, and relationships demonstrate and romanticize toxic relationships. It’s my hope to use the research I’ve gathered to find examples beyond Meyer’s novel and expand on the limited conversation of relational abuse in adolescent literature.
Heather L. Storer’s “’It’s Not You; It’s Me:’ The Representation of Teen Dating Violence in Young Adult Literature and its Implications for Prevention,” explains and defines teen dating violence and expands on its popularity in young adult literature. This text will be a primary source for my argument as it depicts abuse clearly in real life and exemplifies where it often shows up in young adult literature. Storer also shows how “postfeminist protagonists [… and] poor decision-making skills [play] a role in the continuation of […] abusive relationships” (76). This text is not necessarily talking about the dangers of romanticizing toxic relationships, but it does help provide information on the patterns and popularity of teen dating violence (TDV) in adolescent literature. Storer defines TDV as “a pattern of controlling and coercive behaviors from physical abuse to verbal abuse to social isolation in romantic relationships” and describes how “frequent[ly]” violence against women occurs in “various media genres” (1). One important note to consider is Storer’s claim that while cheesy romance novels, like Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, may be easy to brush off as unimportant, they sculpt a generation’s mindset and display a culture’s values (1). Storer also goes into detail about the different ways novels show TDV, but mainly focuses on victimizing and normalizing. According to Storer’s studies, “abusive behaviors such as monitoring of a partner’s whereabouts were positioned as normal components of courtship behaviors” (25). Justification often shows up as brushing off controlling behaviors, i.e. the common idea, “some men just can’t help themselves” (25). This ongoing trope in young adult literature pushes the normalization, romanticizing, and justification of TDV and one partner’s need to control the other.
The findings in this study reinforce how language is anything but neutral. The framing of teen dating violence in young adult literature, especially considering the similarity with depictions of [Intimate Partner Violence] in other media genres, should be concerning for researchers, advocates, and activists committed to ameliorating TDV. (107)
In “’I Could Kill You Quite Easily, Bella, Simply by Accident:’ Violence and Romance in Stephenie Meyer’s ‘Twilight’ Saga” by Samantha Oakley mainly describes how Twilight depicts relational abuse and rape culture, but she also summarizes the common characteristics of any toxic relationship in literature. Books that display abuse generally focus on pushing gender roles. The man dominates the woman in every way. Overall, Oakley uses Meyer’s Twilight to represent similar tropes seen throughout young adult literature. Most anything said in this article, pertaining to Twilight’s main characters, Edward and Bella, can—at least in some way—relate to toxic relationships in other books. Oakley separates common abusive characteristics into three parts: violence, interactions reflecting rape culture, and the loss of mind or bodily control. According to Oakley, “these occurrences […] draw attention to how” toxicity in relationships “normalize, excuse, or belittle violence against women” (11). Oakley doesn’t go far into detail, but she points out how the sheer number of times Edward’s power was inflicted on Bella, whether implied or apparent, prove how “normalize[d] and romanticize[d] violence towards women” is and how “physical abuse is an expected reaction for displeasing a romantic partner” (12). Additionally, Oakley suggests any actual physical harm Edward places on Bella occurs because he loses control over his passion for her. By connecting violence to an outpouring of passion, Oakley argues that Twilight pushes the acceptance and romanticizing of toxicity in relationships.
It is this cultish following that makes the implications of marketing a romantic relationship that is obsessive, violent, and all consuming damaging to its audience, especially when it is championed as “pure” love.” (4)
Katie Kapurch in “‘Unconditionally and Irrevocably:’ Theorizing the Melodramatic Impulse in Young Adult Literature through the Twilight Saga and Jane Eyre,” continues Oakley’s claim, focusing more on the strange popularity of Twilight, given how toxic it is. Kapurch displays Twilight fans’ various emotional responses on media websites. Each comment and blog post highlight the melodramatic, intense reactions to the series, proving that young adult literature’s audience for the most part is unaware of the toxicity infiltrating their favorite romances. While it appears Kapurch argues for people to pay attention to the reason behind teenagers’ dramatic reactions and where they display these emotions, she also demonstrates how each response and collaborative opinion holds a key to better understanding adolescent readers. She states, “Such fan reactions demonstrate how melodramatic conventions […] speak to contemporary readers, in this case girls participating in an online fansite” (Kapurch). Kapurch tries to persuade her readers to level with melodramatic teenagers, as their reactions exhibit “sincere, human feelings,” but I see her research and claim as further proof that young adults are truly blind to the dangers displayed in Edward and Bella’s relationship (Kapurch). Since so many young adults fawn over Twilight, adore the characters, and desperately wish to have their “’own Edward,’” the popularization and tolerance toward the abuse in these types of relationships continue to go ignored (Oakley 3).