The title Anne of Green Gables is so often spoken of that I was under the impression that I had read it before. In reality, I’d never picked up the book, but it is so beloved that I’m sure I’m not the only person who considers it an old friend–even if they have only heard the title.
It’s fair to say that everyone–or at least most people–are familiar with Anne, the orphan girl adopted by the Cuthbert siblings. It’s known that they were hoping for a boy to help with the farm work, so she was almost sent back. This book is more than a simple girls can do what boys do; it has layers. You can dig, and oh! how delightful it is to dig.
Some of Anne’s most humorous mistakes have been giggled over, such as accidentally dyeing her hair green or breaking her tablet on Gilbert Blythe’s head. This is the surface. If you do not read the book as it is meant to be, you will miss out on the deeper things, the meat of it: You will perhaps not notice what I believe to be the most important points in this story.
I think it’s fair to begin with Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert. In a way, this is their story: They sent for an orphan boy to help them in their advanced years, and with the appearance of Anne, faced a bewildering decision indeed. I was so proud of Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert when they made what was probably the most frightening decision of their lives, the choice to change their mundane lifestyle and raise a little girl together.
Consider how frightening it must have been for Matthew and Marilla to come up with the resolve to make this choice. Especially when Anne went into her hysterical rants, the sudden disturbance of the silence they’d grown accustomed to must have been terrifying. Because of this, when Marilla acted harshly towards Anne’s (many) silly accidents, I perceived it as the product of a deep-set fear. She must have worried that perhaps she was too old to raise a girl correctly.
Few people speak of Matthew and Marilla’s courageous choice to accept the dare.
Anne’s growth from wily daydreamer to studious young woman is my second point. She had relied on her daydreams as an orphan in order to keep sane, but as she settles in with the Cuthberts and at her new school, we can see her learning to contain her nerves and focus. This is also an incredible feat! In fact, when Anne has grown older and almost finished her studies, Marilla notes that she has become quieter. She no longer falls into paragraph-long anxious rants.
Her rivalry with Gilbert Blythe might have been the motivator for this admirable change, but it creates a new Anne who is no longer simply the former orphan girl, the one no one wanted. She is ready to change the world, becoming a scholar and hoping to be a teacher.
Apart from these points, I must note that the prose sparkles. Nearly every sentence is quotable and will help the reader in some way. Anne’s quotes are poetic and work like balm to the weary heart; in this way, I believe she healed Matthew and Marilla without their noticing. Ultimately, they needed her more than she needed them. She came to sprinkle life into their graying years, after they had followed the same monotonous routines for most of their lives.
Anne Shirley gave Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert reasons to accept change. She was a reason for them to improve themselves; she gave them something young to nurture in their elder years, and these were, as a result, their best years.
Perhaps this book feels familiar to most of us because of its theme of growth. We all have blind spots and weaknesses. All of us have a character arc that could lead us to becoming different people entirely. When faced with these arcs, we feel fear; will we proceed with the life-changing decisions like Matthew and Marilla did? Will we face our weaknesses head-on and work to change, like Anne?
Contemplate your life; you will identify these character arcs if you are brave enough.
Books like Anne of Green Gables encourage us to face these changes and to grow. They also provide escapism with their soothing words, taking us away from this often painful world for a little while.
When you pick up a timeless book like this, you are holding more than pages bound by glue. You’re holding comfort, timelessness, a loyal friend with words to heal any wound…and to encourage you to be brave.