self-harming in literature


Still trolling through the discussions… and haven’t finished reading this yet, so have no opinion on her thesis, but Lydia Kokkola looks at Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series through the lens of adolescent self-harming behaviour…

She writes: “When Bella Swan’s vampire boyfriend, Edward Cullen, temporarily abandons her in an attempt to keep her safe, she discovers the euphoric delights of self-harming behavior. Characterized from the start as an exceptionally clumsy girl who cannot be trusted to walk on uneven surfaces such as in the woods or along beaches without falling over, Bella releases her depression after her break up with Edward by placing herself in risky situations: entering a bar full of leering men, driving motorbikes recklessly, and jumping off a cliff. Ostensibly, the main appeal of acts of physical self-harming is that they enable her to hear Edward’s voice inside her head. But throughout the series we see her frequently needing stitches, covering up bruises, and, even more frequently, restricting her behavior to comply with demands placed on her by the men in her life. In many ways, Bella’s behavior resembles that of real life self-harmers and battered wives.” (p.33)

“The teenager who self-harms makes a mockery of the romanticized view of childhood as a source of hope for the future.
Novels depicting depressed, suicidal, and selfloathing children and teenagers are rare in no small part because they challenge adult beliefs about the nature of childhood.” (p.34)

“The awkwardness of balancing the seemingly mutually incompatible desires of writing about self-harming and providing a narrative of hope, I shall shortly demonstrate, has resulted in a “master narrative” of self-harming that dominates writing in this area.” (p.35)

“I am suggesting that there are three assumptions that underlie writing about self-harming behavior in fiction for adolescents. Firstly, the narrative is expected to end on a note of optimism, suggesting that the self-harming individual will recover. Secondly, the audience for such works is expected to include readers who themselves engage in activities like cutting and that these readers will be seeking solace and guidance along the road to recovery. Thirdly, the texts also address readers who are unfamiliar with the concept of self-harming. For this latter group, the novels offer explanations, but discourage copycat behavior.” (p.36)

Ref: Lydia Kokkola (2011) ‘Sparkling Vampires: valorizing self-harming behaviour’ Bookbird, 3: pp.33-

“The author provides an in-depth examination of the popular Twilight series in terms of the depiction of self-harming behaviors, noting interesting parallels with theories about battered women and raising questions about how such issues are handled in novels for young people.”


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