It has been more than a decade since the Twilight books and their respective cinematic adaptations introduced us to Stephanie Meyer’s take on the world of vampires and werewolves. And yet, many are still stumped by some of its “unique” concepts — such as the process of imprinting. It’s still pretty hard to wrap our heads around the fact that Jacob imprinted on the newborn Renesmee in Breaking Dawn.
Those familiar with the story of The Twilight saga already know the chain of events that led to this unexpected event in the books (and one of the weirdest special effects moments in the film). Throughout the first three books/films and in the beginning of Breaking Dawn, Jacob, Bella, and Edward are involved in a messy love triangle. The werewolf Jacob and the vampire Edward are in love with Bella, who, to make matters more complicated, is in love with both.
But as she loves Edward to the point that living without him is impossible, she breaks Jacob’s heart instead, though he vows to continue loving her and protecting her despite it all. There are many tense moments where Jacob and Edward are ready to jump at each other’s throats to win her love. Jacob even turns his back on his werewolf pack to protect Bella when she is pregnant and gets over his distaste for vampires to stay by her side.
Weirdly enough, every one of Jacob’s promises and his confessions of undying love for Bella disappear the second he lays eyes on her newborn daughter, Renesmee. He “imprints” on her, making it his mission to care for and protect her all his life as well as fulfilling her every need and demand. To understand the why and how of the Jacob-Nessie (sorry, Bella) relationship, we need to start with understanding imprinting.
What is imprinting?
To make it clear, it is not like love at first sight, though that’s what it sounds like. Imprinting is more like an involuntary yet intimate phenomenon restricted to the Quileute shape-shifters aka the werewolves. In this process, after a person shape-shifts, there will come a time when they will come across someone for the first time, feel “gravitationally pulled” towards them, and instantly connect. From then on, their soul and heart will recognize that person as their soulmate.
The moment this happens, every other important thing in the werewolf’s life takes a back seat as this person takes precedence over everything else. They will feel a constant need to be with this person, to look after them, and to be there for their every need.
Though it’s possible that the imprintee may not like their imprinter and could reject them, the werewolf will remain bound to them for life and will never imprint on anyone else. But the scenario of the imprintee not liking them back is described as an impossibility in the Twilight saga as the werewolf would be their perfect match, someone who will consistently cater to their every whim and fancy as they are their priority. And apparently, this would make it downright impossible for the imprintee to not fall in love with their imprinter.
In case it still happens, the werewolf will readily agree with the imprintee and let them lead their life as their soulmate’s happiness is above everything else for them, even their own feelings. But being separated from their imprintee will cause the werewolf immense pain, as explained by Sam Uley, the pack’s leader. Whenever he was forced to be away from Emily (on whom he imprinted), he suffered excruciating pain and loneliness, thus making him want to hurry back to her side as soon as possible.
While any specific reason for why imprinting happens in the first place hasn’t been outlined in the Twilight series, Jacob Black’s father, Billy Black, theorized that it makes a werewolf stronger. And though he most probably meant that it boasts the willpower of the imprinter, Renesmee will actually add to Jacob’s strength with her special vampire abilities. Talk about a literal power couple.
But isn’t Renesmee a little too young to be Jacob’s imprintee?
Apparently, the age or species of the imprintee doesn’t matter in this process. Also, as explained above, imprinting isn’t essentially love at first sight. It’s like feeling a unique and profound bond to someone, as explained by Jacob.
“It’s not like love at first sight, really. It’s more like… gravity moves… suddenly. It’s not the earth holding you here anymore, she does… You become whatever she needs you to be, whether that’s a protector, or a lover, or a friend.”
This means that Jacob is not in love with Renesmee, at least not yet. Until she grows up to be an adult, he will act more like her protector, her friend, and an older brother who will look after her. He will be her best friend but eventually, his feelings will turn romantic as she grows older. Then, if and only if she too falls in love with him and reciprocates his feelings, they will enter into a relationship.
Why didn’t Jacob imprint on Bella?
As we mentioned, imprinting is an involuntary process, which means the imprinter has no control over their emotions when they meet their soulmate. Even their prior romantic feelings for someone else become secondary once they lay eyes on their perfect match. Jacob was in love with Bella and tries his best to imprint on her but she wasn’t his soulmate.
But his connection to Bella, which inexplicably deepens once she is pregnant, does make sense once she delivers- his strong bond with her was due to Reneesmee’s presence. It was almost as if his soul sensed that Bella will one day lead him to his soulmate.
But how will the mortal Jacob live with the immortal Renesmee?
Like vampires, werewolves too have the advantage of not aging, at least not at par with the rate with which humans grow up. And if they phase into werewolves enough, they can actually stay young forever. But everyone in Jacob’s pack imprinted on human girls. Because they vowed to be by her side forever while making her wish their command, it is more than likely that there will come a point where they will turn their back on their pack to lead a normal life with her. They will simply stop phasing, which will allow them to age.
In the case of Jacob and Renesmee, who will stop aging once she turns into an adult, the former will need to shape-shift regularly to ensure that he too stays young forever.
But no matter what logic drives the concept of imprinting, nothing can erase the fact that the Jacob-Nessie pairing is one problematic relationship dynamic, and that’s saying something, given that it is in competition with Edward-Bella’s co-dependant and often toxic love story.