Anne of Green Gables and all but one of its sequels take place in the Canadian province of Prince Edward Island, near the end of the nineteenth century. Montgomery consistently emphasizes place; each book in the series contains a thorough and affectionate description of Prince Edward Island. But Montgomery leaves the temporal setting vague, possibly because she wants her work to seem timeless, equally applicable in any age, or possibly because she wants to create in Avonlea a magical place outside the realm of ordinary times. Montgomery refers only twice in the entire series to events that place her fiction in historical context: the Crimean War (which ended in 1856) has occurred a generation or two in the past, and World War I (which began in 1914) is an event of the remote future. Montgomery captures the innocence of peaceful times in simple farm communities where political awareness is limited to contests between the Liberal and Conservative parties for control of the province and where even the best informed citizens seem oblivious to the intrigue of world politics.
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Anne of Green Gables features a episodic plot; that is, the narrative consists of a series of minor conflicts, most of which are quickly resolved. Sometimes the resolutions to these conflicts seem to be too dependent on chance or coincidence, but as a whole, Anne's varied adventures keep the plot interesting and create suspense.
The many details that Montgomery provides about Anne reveal the character's good qualities and her faults. Overall, Anne is very much like the children in other early twentieth-century novels, but some modern readers may find her a little too agreeable, too optimistic, or too talented. Also, the narrative focuses on Anne to such an extent that minor characters lack depth, a fault typical of young adult literature at the time the novel was written.
Montgomery's novel falls into the literary tradition established by Horatio Alger, an author who published during the last third of the nineteenth century a series of extraordinarily popular "rags-to-riches" stories. Alger's works describe the successes of young orphans who are intelligent, hard-working, ambitious, good-natured, and honorable—in short, ideal young people according to the standards of the time. Although Anne Shirley never quite becomes the "model child" she wants to be, her triumphs in Avonlea follow the Horatio Alger pattern, as she starts out as an unwanted orphan and becomes one of the most beloved children in Avonlea. Like Alger's orphans, Anne...
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Anne of Green Gables addresses social problems of the early twentieth century, some of which remain relevant today. Writing before American women even had the right to vote, Montgomery reiterates that boys and girls are equally intelligent and talented. Although she portrays gender roles that could be considered stereotypical today—Anne goes on to become a teacher later in the series—her ideas were progressive for 1908. For instance, all the capable graduates of the Avonlea school, whether male or female, continue their studies at Redmond College.
Montgomery also stresses the importance of a good education and the need for enthusiastic, caring teachers. Miss Muriel Stacy's sympathy and encouragement motivate her students far more effectively than does Mr. Phillips's sarcasm. Other books in the series explore teachers' qualifications and the process of teacher selection.
Anne of Green Gables also reflects some of the negative attitudes of 1908. Although some characters leave Avonlea, many residents believe that people should spend their entire lives in the same place. Most townspeople not only are convinced that Prince Edward Island is the best place in the world but are suspicious of any idea or person not native to the area. Townspeople especially dislike "Yankees"; they consider French-speaking Canadians intellectually and socially inferior, and treat them with a condescension that is unacceptable today.
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Topics for Discussion
1. One criticism of Anne of Green Gables is that, although Montgomery claims that Anne has a number of flaws, her faults are minor ones, such as daydreaming and talking too much. Is Anne a believable character, or does she possess more talents, virtues, and knowledge than could be reasonably expected in a girl her age?
2. Before the end of the novel Anne has silenced all of her critics and won almost all the honors for which she has competed. Are her successes believable, or does good luck play too big a role in her conquests?
3. Throughout the book Anne uses her imagination, at times improving her situation and on occasion causing trouble for herself and others. Using specific examples, discuss the positive and the negative effects of her imagination.
4. Even though Anne is relatively independent in her attitudes, conformity or the sense of belonging is important to her. In what ways does she want to be like others, and in what ways is she willing to be different? Would a girl today share her attitudes?
5. What was Anne's life like before she came to Green Gables? How do her past experiences affect her personality?
6. How does Anne make friends at the Avonlea school? Would an eleven-year-old like Anne be accepted as quickly in a modern school? Why or why not?
7. Anne makes many friends in Avon-lea, but some of these friendships are very special. Who are her "special" friends, and why are...
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Ideas for Reports and Papers
1. The educational system described in Anne of Green Gables is clearly different from today's. Compare the schools you have attended with the Avonlea school.
2. In some ways Anne and her friends seem very much like eleven-year-olds today, but there are major differences in attitudes, experiences, and pastimes. Compare the attitudes and activities of Anne and her friends with those of modern eleven-year-olds.
3. Anne of Ingleside, the final novel in the Anne series, relates the experiences of Anne's children. How are their lives different from hers as described in Anne of Green Gables? How does each child resemble Anne?
4. Sometimes a writer uses the differences between the central character and other characters as a way of revealing the central character's personality. Explain how Montgomery uses this device in Anne of Green Gables.
5. A frequent literary theme is the difference between appearance and reality. How does Anne of Green Gables develop this theme?
6. Gilbert says he admires Anne for her "lack of sameness." Discuss both the admirable and the unpleasant elements in Anne's personality. Does Anne seem more like a real person because of this combination of negative and positive characteristics?
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Montgomery wrote six sequels to Anne of Green Gables: Anne of Avonlea, Chronicles of Avonlea, Anne of the Island, Anne of Windy Poplars, Anne's House of Dreams, and Anne of Ingleside. Generally considered the best novel in the series, Anne of Green Gables introduces several important characters who reappear in the sequels. Anne of Avonlea relates Anne's two years as the Avonlea schoolmarm and the developing friendship between Anne and Gilbert Blythe. Anne of the Island depicts Anne's four years at Redmond College in Nova Scotia. During this period Diana Barry marries and has children, and Anne and Gilbert become engaged. In Anne of Windy Poplars, Anne recounts her experiences as principal of Summerside High School in a series of letters to Gilbert, who is attending medical school at Redmond College. Through a combination of charm, intelligence, and good luck, Anne again succeeds in befriending almost everyone in the community. The novel ends as she departs for Avonlea to marry Gilbert. Anne's House of Dreams describes Anne and Gilbert's wedding and their first three years together in a small rented house halfway between Glen St. Mary and Four Winds Point. In the closing pages Gilbert purchases Ingleside, a house in Glen St. Mary. Anne of Ingleside relates the experiences of Gilbert, Anne, and their six children. The other book in the Anne series, Chronicles of Avonlea, is a...
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For Further Reference
Commire, Anne, ed. Yesterday's Authors of Books for Children: Facts and Pictures about Authors and Illustrators of Books for Young People, from Early Times to 1960. Vol. 1. Detroit: Gale Research, 1977. Illustrated article composed of excerpts from Montgomery's letters and journals.
Eggleston, Wilfred, ed. The Green Gable Letters, from L. M. Montgomery to Ephraim Weber, 1905-1909. Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1960. Correspondence between Montgomery and a fellow Canadian writer and teacher. Gillen, Mollie. The Wheel of Things. Markham, Ontario: Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 1975. A biography of Montgomery that incorporates information drawn from her surviving family and from her unpublished letters to long-time correspondents George Boyd MacMillan and Ephraim Weber.
Kunitz, Stanley J., and Howard Haycraft, eds. Twentieth-Century Authors: A Biographical Dictionary of Modern Literature. New York: H. W. Wilson, 1942. Brief biographical sketch.
Rubio, Mary, and Elizabeth Waterston. The Selected Journals of L. M. Montgomery. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988. Montgomery's frank accounts of her own life.
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Bibliography (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Epperly, Elizabeth R. The Fragrance of Sweet-Grass: L. M. Montgomery’s Heroines and the Pursuit of Romance. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992. Anne is among the heroines discussed; bibliographical references and index are included.
Foster, Shirley, and Judy Simons. What Katy Read: Feminist Re-Readings of the “Classic” Stories for Girls. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1995. Feminist readings of stories including Anne of Green Gables; bibliographical references and index.
Gillen, Mollie. The Wheel of Things: A Biography of L. M. Montgomery, Author of “Anne of Green Gables.” Toronto: Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 1975.
Montgomery, L. M. The Alpine Path: The Story of My Career. Toronto: Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 1974. Reprinted from Montgomery’s autobiographical articles written for Everywoman’s World, a Toronto periodical, in 1917.
Montgomery, L. M. The Annotated “Anne of Green Gables,” edited by Wendy E. Barry et al. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. This edition of Montgomery’s novel adds critical analyses on both the work and its author.
Rootland, Nancy. Anne’s World, Maud’s World: The Sacred Sites of L. M. Montgomery. Halifax, N.S.: Nimbus, 1996. This interesting illustrated...
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