Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Review and Analysis: Anne of Green Gables

I feel at loss of what to say about Anne of Green Gables.  Since its publication in 1908, millions of children have read and adored this book.  My own opinion of the novel seems insignificant in the light of the generations of love poured upon its pages. Of course, I only have the best things to say about the book.  It's full of iconic personalities and classic moments.  It's brimming with humor and emotion.  I know that it has shaped the character of many readers, myself included.

If you've been living under a rock since 1908, the novel follows a red-headed orphan, Anne Shirley, who is adopted by a pair of un-married siblings on Prince Edward Island.  Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert wanted to adopt a young boy to help with farm work, but receive Anne by accident.  As it turns out, they are so charmed by Anne that they decide to keep her.  The book details the years that Anne and Cuthberts live together as Anne grows to adulthood.

Sounds precious, right?  It is incredibly precious and heartwarming.  It's also intelligent and wise, and shows superb insight in regards to human character and behavior.  In fact, this is the aspect that I'd like to touch upon, since I can't possibly rave upon everything the novel has to offer and keep my audience.

In regards to characterization, Montgomery is masterful. Anne and all of Montgomery's other characters seem real. As an amateur writer, I know this isn't a simple thing to do! Part of Montgomery's success, I believe, is due to her apt handling of human foibles and flaws. Almost all of her chapters are framed around the expression of a certain frailty of a character — the amusing hijinks that result from that failing and a happy resolution.  By focusing so tightly on characters' mistakes, Montgomery is able to create realistic, three-dimensional human beings.

Think of Anne.  Her personal growth is the core of the novel. Our introduction to Anne is a delightful one, but she is rough — uncultivated and neglected — with her faults allowed to run riot. The adults in Anne's life frequently remark on how Anne has not been taught to know better. The novel follows Anne's education, her incremental progression from a wonderful yet flawed child to a splendid, tempered young woman. 

Anne's defects are her hot temper, her vanity, and her pride.  These shortcomings get Anne into some serious scrapes, but Montgomery always seems to add a dollop of humor to these situations.  Anne's wrathful tongue-lashing of Mrs. Rachel Lynd is tempered by her grandiose apology.  Her envious vanity leads her to dye her hair green.  Her pride causes her to literally fall — off a roof.  With each debacle, Anne progresses, until she blossoms into a little adult in front of Matthew and Marilla's eyes.  In one of her self-aware moments, Anne states:

'Well...I've learned a new and valuable lesson today.  Ever since I came to Green Gables I've been making mistakes, and each mistake has helped to cure me of some great shortcoming... And today's mistake is going to cure me of being too romantic.  I have come to the conclusion that it is no use trying to be romantic in Avonlea... I feel quite sure that you will soon see a great improvement in me in this respect, Marilla.'
'I'm sure I hope so,' said Marilla skeptically.
But Matthew, who had been sitting mutely in his corner, laid a hand on Anne's shoulder when Marilla had gone out.
'Don't give up all your romance, Anne,' he whispered shyly, 'a little of it is a good thing — not too much, of course — but keep a little of it, Anne, keep a little of it.'
Both Anne and Matthew accentuate Montgomery's point regarding character: that flaws should be tempered, but not eradicated entirely.  And, indeed, it is the addition of characteristic flaws that make Montgomery's characters who they are.

Anne of Green Gables was a book that allowed me to feel self-acceptance.  Reading about Anne's failures and mistakes — and how she picked herself up after each one — taught me to be more forgiving of my own shortcomings.  I know I'm not alone in this.  For generations of children, Anne of Green Gables has inspired readers to embrace their entire selves.


  1. I love, love this review...and the book/ movie :) I haven't read it in a while, so your review brought up so many feelings within my soul!
    And Matthew is the most adorable man.

    1. So glad you liked the review. It was a really hard one to write and I was worried that it wound up sounding more like an English paper than a review. I have such good memories of watching the movies at your house during slumber parties. And how we were all horrified at the third movie! What was up with that?!