What are major themes found in E.L. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables?
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In E.L. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables, there are several themes of note.
One theme is the resilience of childhood. This can be seen not only in the enthusiasm that Anne brings that changes life at Green Gables, but also in her willingness to be as flexible as possible in order to win the approval of her new family and a place in their hearts and home.
For instance, in Chapter Six, Marilla takes Anne to Mrs. Spencer's home to see how the Cuthberts ended up with a girl instead of the boy they had wanted in order to help with the farm. When Mrs. Blewett arrives, there is talk of giving Anne (as if she were a package and not a child) to her household to help manage her large family. However, Marilla has heard that Mrs. Blewett is a woman of "temper and stinginess." Marilla quickly explains to the women that she and Matthew have not made a definitive decision to give Anne up, and that she will send the child to the Blewett house if they deem that the best next step. The reader can see a softer side of the stern Marilla, and when out of the company of the other women, Anne's enthusiasm brilliantly shows through.
"Oh, Miss Cuthbert, did you really say that perhaps you would let me stay at Green Gables?" she said, in a breathless whisper, as if speaking aloud might shatter the glorious possibility. "Did you really say it? Or did I only imagine that you did?"
Marilla calms Anne and reminds her to control her imagination—that she needs to be able to tell the difference between what happened and what she has only imagined.
The young girl's eagerness to please is obvious:
"I'll try to do and be anything you want me, if you'll only keep me," said Anne, returning meekly to her ottoman.
(Ironically, when they return to Green Gables, Marilla echoes much the same sentiment to Matthew:
I've never brought up a child, especially a girl, and I dare say I'll make a terrible mess of it. But I'll do my best.
Perhaps we can infer that while Marilla acts out of sense of duty, there is also something appealing to her about the Anne's desire to please and help her new family.)
Another theme is that difficult situations can sometimes turn into blessings in disguise.
In Chapter Thirteen, Marilla is annoyed because Anne is late coming home. Marilla calls her in and Anne explosively begins to go on and on about the upcoming "Sunday-school picnic." Anne wants desperately to go, and the reader is reminded of how little she has had in her life when she says that she has always dreamed of going to a picnic but has never done so. As often as Marilla tries to explain Anne's responsibility to be obedient and return home on time, Anne can talk of nothing else but the picnic, begging to go. Marilla agrees that she may. However, Anne is terribly worried (it's been "preying on my mind") that even while she will not be fashionably dressed, she would be mortified if she were unable to bring a basket of food. Marilla tells Anne not to worry: she will "bake" a basket for her. How different Marilla feels about Anne now as opposed to her disappointment when the child first arrived at Green Gables. Anne has become a lovely part of Marilla's life:
"Oh, you dear good Marilla. Oh, you are so kind to me. Oh, I'm so much obliged to you."
Getting through with her "ohs" Anne cast herself into Marilla's arms and rapturously kissed her sallow cheek. It was the first time in her whole life that childish lips had voluntarily touched Marilla's face. Again that sudden sensation of startling sweetness thrilled her. She was secretly vastly pleased at Anne's impulsive caress...
Yet another theme might be social expectations vs. the free spirit. In the same chapter, the reader has another example of how Anne struggles to live up to the expectations of society. When she was rapturously happy to be allowed to stay with the Cuthberts rather than going to live with the Blewetts, Marilla reminded her to sit down and behave herself, as a young girl should. This is reflective of society's expectations of a young girl in a Victorian society when rules for proper behavior—especially for females—were so rigid.
In this chapter Marilla tells Anne to work on her "patchwork." Anne resolutely declares that she does NOT like this kind of sewing, and her reasoning addresses the struggle between proper behavior and a person's desire for personal freedom. For Anne, this is often so much about her imagination:
I think some kinds of sewing would be nice; but there's no scope for imagination in patchwork. It's just one little seam after another and you never seem to be getting anywhere…I wish time went as quick sewing patches as it does when I'm playing with Diana, though. […] I have to furnish most of the imagination, but I'm well able to do that.
Throughout the story the author presents various themes, or life-truths, that she hopes the reader will recognize. All of them represent various aspects of Anne's life once she comes to Green Gables, and how she is able not only to become a part of this new family, but also to grow as a person while enriching the lives of Marilla and Matthew.