Why Anne of Green Gables Speaks to Contemporary Readers (Classic Remarks)

Classic Remarks


Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.


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Why do you think Anne of Green Gables still speaks to contemporary readers?

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Although L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables is set in the late 1800s on Prince Edward Island, I believe it speaks to readers today, readers from around the world and all walks of life, because many of the themes and Anne’s life experiences are, at their core, universal. While readers may never be an orphan or live on a farm or attend a one-room school or do half the things Anne does, her childhood struggles to make sense of world, fit in with others, and navigate relationships with others are things that readers can continue to understand and empathize with.

I’ve always thought Montgomery as a writer has a keen understanding of how it feels to be a child, and that understanding is what helps her characters come alive. One of the earlier scenes in Anne of Green Gables, for instance, involves Mrs. Rachel Lynde looking at Anne and calling her, straight to her face, homely. Mrs. Lynde hits on a particularly touchy point when she mentions Anne’s red hair, which Anne has never liked (and who can’t relate to having something about one’s appearance that one wishes to change?), but the heart of the matter — which Anne points out — is that these are cruel things Mrs. Lynde would never have said to another adult. Adults are worthy of respect; one might comment on a lady’s ugliness behind closed doors, but would never walk up to and tell her point blank that she isn’t pretty. Because Anne is a child, however, Mrs. Lynde, and initially Marilla, think they can say and do what they like to her; she’s not human enough to deserve the kindness and tact that adults do. THESE are the kinds of scenes that I think continue to speak to readers today, as readers can reflect on the times they were treated as less than simply because they were child and not adults.

Montgomery also skillfully conveys “little” issues that loom large to children. For instance, Anne has always hankered after the “puffed sleeves” that are in fashion in her day, but Marilla insists in dressing her in plain, sensible clothes. Anne is fairly good-natured about this and mostly limits herself to wistfully wishing for a more fashionable dress, but the feeling of wanting trendier clothing that one’s family can’t afford or one’s parents simply will not buy is relatable. (And Montgomery takes the theme even farther in Emily of New Moon, when Emily’s aunts force her to wear out-of-date and overly formal clothing to school, which makes her stand out and get mocked, prompting her to attempt to switch out the garments for something else on the way to school. I don’t know about other people, but I have vivid memories of being forced to wear ridiculous clothing by my parents because they thought it was the correct thing for the occasion, when it certainly was NOT. I can never read this scene without having flashbacks to some of the horrid, ridicule-inviting things I was forced to wear.)

These are the moments I think speak to readers today, Anne’s experience as a child and how that’s filled with innocence and wonder and possibility but also mistakes and punishments and bullying and disdain from some adults. I always say the book isn’t really about anything; it’s just about Anne’s life. But that’s what makes it inviting and timeless, what lets us see the little moments of our own lives in the little moments of Anne’s.


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