Compare and contrast the effect of gender roles in "Anne of Green Gables" and "The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose" .

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gpane | College Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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Both of these works concern a young female protagonist, growing up in a small Canadian community. Their stories are separated in time by several decades; Anne of Green Gables first appeared in 1908 while The Beggar Maid was first published in the 1970s. In that period of time, the position of women in society in general changed considerably, with increasing educational and career opportunities and also the sexual revolution; yet, for all these decades apart, Anne and Rose are seen to be facing very much the same issues, to a certain extent. They are intelligent individuals who have to overcome traditional social expectations of them as women, in order to further their education. Anne gets a scholarship to college, and Rose gets one to university. However Anne is prevented from actually going to college by a change in personal circumstances, while Rose does go to university but instead of focussing on her own career she marries a rich man who views her patronisingly as something of a ‘damsel in distress’ figure.

In Anne of Green Gables, Anne's foster carers, Marilla and Matthew, are quite happy to help her develop her career, as she is bright and intelligent. Even when, following the death of Matthew, she ends up not going after all and remains with Marilla at Green Gables, she is perfectly content to do so:

 Anne's horizons had closed in since the night she had sat there after coming home from Queen's; but if the path set before her feet was to be narrow she knew that flowers of quiet happiness would bloom along it. (chapter 38)

 Anne, it is true, will still have a career of sorts, teaching at the local school, but this is at a significantly lower level than her elevated plans for a college education. However her rural, traditional surroundings always give her happiness, while Rose’s small-town environment is shown to be oppressive. Rose’s obtaining a scholarship to a well-established university is figured as an escape, whereas Anne’s retreat from a college education in the city comes to appear more of a blessing than anything else.

Rose has more of a chance to lead her own independent life than Anne. After the end of her marriage, she shifts about, meeting with artists, teaching, and eventually forges her own career in television, which is a success. There are more roads open to Rose in the later twentieth century than to Anne many decades earlier, but Rose struggles before she can find her place, just the same.

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