Anne Of Green Gables is a work of children’s literature written by Lucy Maud Montgomery and was first published in 1908. The social and cultural understanding of children depicted during the period in which this novel is set differs greatly from the understandings and expectations of children in today’s society. In the novel Anne Of Green Gables, children are depicted as more of a possession to be moulded by their families, children were expected to act ‘respectably’ and ‘sensibly’ even from an early age and to listen to and show respect to their elders, which differs from today’s society where children are allowed to play and any inappropriate behaviour can be chalked up to ‘kids being kids’.
There are still some similarities to today’s cultural understanding of children and those displayed in the book. For example, in Anne Of Green Gables the importance of schooling and education is one of the key elements and this is also recognised in today’s society as being a vital aspect of a child’s upbringing. Another difference in cultural understanding is the aspect of a child’s part in the family, particularly orphans. In the time the novel is set, orphans are down cast and regarded virtually as ‘slaves’.
However, not only orphans played different roles in the family, all children were expected to do more housework and contribute more constructively to the running of a household than what is expected in today’s society. Anne Of Green Gables also shows the slightly sexist stereotypes of male and female roles in the family and the behaviour expected of both of them. This essay explores all of the above points, and provides commentary from both a literary and historical point of view.
Within the work of children’s literature Anne Of Green Gables the importance of a child’s schooling is clearly evident. This is first seen when Marilla Cuthbert, not even having ‘officially’ adopted Anne Shirley yet merely placing her on ‘trial’ decides to send her to school. Even though Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert have not yet adopted Anne, she still sees fit to give her even some education. Renaissance humanist, Desiderius Erasmus “placed considerable emphasis on an early education, directly attacking those who ‘out of a false spirit of tenderness and compassion allow children to be pampered by their dear mothers and spoiled by their nurses”(Cunningham, 43).
This train of thought is carried throughout to today’s society but in a slightly different fashion. Emphasis is still placed on a good early education through pre-school and other such programs in order to give children the earliest possible learning possibilities. The importance of a child attending school can also be seen on a social level. Anne, after having arrived on Prince Edward Island, has little or no friends and is socially unaware of what is acceptable and what is not. This could be due mainly to her tragic upbringing after the death of her parents.
However, after attending school she is exposed to a new level of social etiquette she has not been exposed to in her past. This leads to her creating a “bosom friend” in Diana Barry. The novel also endeavours to show us the importance of doing well in schooling and that “although school and the outside world differ from each other, they belong together”(Quigly, 45). Anne is tied for the top of her class and as a result gains acceptance with a once sceptical and at times harsh community, especially in regards to Miss Rachel Lynde who was outraged when Marilla told her of her decision to adopt an orphan. We also see the pride Marilla has for Anne, although this can not be contributed entirely to her schooling endeavours. We can see that this plays a large part especially when she passes the entrance exam to Queen’s College.
The way children were treated and expectations placed upon them in Anne Of Green Gables also differ from today’s society, children were seen as more of a possession to “be moulded like wax whilst its soft”(Cunningham, 43). From an early age children were expected to act respectfully and sensibly and it was expected that they would contribute constructively to the up keeping of the household showing the treatment of “children to be autocratic”(Hendrick, 1). The novel also shows us the difference between orphan children and non-orphan children, we are shown the down-cast class status orphans have within the community and Ms Lynde portrays this perfectly telling Marilla stories of orphans murdering their adoptive parents showing the naivety and willingness to believe that a child brought up with no parents had not been ‘moulded’, and therefore was dangerous.
This coupled with the influence Miss Lynde has on Marilla causes Marilla to come to the decision to put Anne on trial but “when Anne is first made aware that she came to Green Gables by mistake, she knows that she is, in a sense, on trial and may not remain there. She decides not to go outdoors because that will only increase her love for the place and cause her to miss it all the more if she must leave.” (Sullivan). This shows how quickly people will judge especially when influenced by others.
This influence is made more apparent as Anne is just a child and the consideration of what is best for her is not really considered. We see Anne as a dreamer when we are first introduced to her she escapes into her own fantasy’s through books and escapes the torment of her past and what she believes her terrible future by making friend with her reflection in the glass, “the image in which Anne may find refuge from the wounds of fragmentation, and postpone her inevitable confrontation with her alienated representation” (Slater). However, it is not until she is introduced to other children that we see the true extent her isolation has had on her social behaviour.
She has little understanding of social behaviour and etiquette and how to handle challenging social situations. For example, loosing her temper when Gilbert Blythe is rude to her or when Miss Lynde insults her and Anne explodes at her. These examples show that Anne’s lack of social exposure has lead her to be unable to handle tough social circumstances and can not control her temper. Seeing Anne transform from childhood to adulthood is a perfect example of how children can be moulded by their families. Through Marilla’s actions and influence Anne is moulded into the lady she becomes.
Throughout the novel we can see aspects of Marilla’s personality and behaviours mirrored in Anne. Anne goes from being naive and short tempered to becoming a strong minded, learned girl much like Marilla, in addition to this Anne chooses her friends much like Marilla who has a close group of female friend “Anne chooses kinship in a similar arbitrary and heterogeneous fashion”(Marcuse,164) showing that even small parts of a child’s surrounding can have both profound and subtle effects on the child’s personality. We can see through how Anne is moulded by Marilla that “the way childhood was spent was crucial in determining the kind of adult that the child would become” (Cunningham, 41) and this is proven by the end of the novel when Anne decides to stay in Avonlea with Marilla and teach rather than go to college.
Anne Of Green Gables also shows the rather sexist beliefs of the time. This can be seen constantly by Marilla and Anne staying home cooking, cleaning, sewing, scrubbing the floors and Marilla telling Anne on numerous occasions to ‘make sure Matthew’s dinner is ready and served on time’. This shows the contrast between the roles expected of women and men, it was the men’s task to work the fields and perform any manual labour needed and the task of the women to ensure a clean house and dinner for the man.
However, we can also see some contrast to this idea in the fact that femineity and masculinity have a very fine line in this book, in the case of Anne and Marilla at any rate, we can see that Anne and Marilla show many traits of Masculinity that are displayed in the novel they are both extremely strong willed and whilst Marilla seems submissive at times ignoring her feelings in order to maintain her friends Anne will speak her mind and thinks before acting, she is very strong willed.
We can see this contrasted with the Barry’s beliefs, Diana Barry is not allowed to attend special after classes for students wishing to attend Queen’s. We can assume that this would be due to the typical belief that women should care for their husbands and Diana would be trained as a housewife instead, this shows that “major differences thus exist between children according to were they live their social class gender and ethnicity” (Gittins, 36). The Barry’s decision is in direct contrast to that of Marilla’s. Marilla encourages Anne to attend special classes and wants the best life and education for her. Marilla is not married, and believes that a girl should know how to fend for herself. Such beliefs wouldn’t be common during those times.
Anne Of Green Gables shows us the contrast between modern beliefs and beliefs during the period the novel is set in. We see particularly strong differences in the way female and male roles are portrayed, and in addition to this the roles depicted in the novel have a sexist connotation about them that would not be seen in today’s culture. We also see the difference in class culture and the expectation of orphans and the stereotype they are labelled with.
Anne Of Green Gables highlights this fact and reminds us that no matter what a child’s background, it is their eventual upbringing and early education that will determine their future, the surrounding and environment a child is exposed to will determine the eventual outcome of a child’s personality and decisions no matter how obvious or subtle these influences may be, a major part of this surrounding is the exposure to education and schooling and it is because of this point the book manages to effectively highlight the importance of schooling not just on an educational level but also on a social one and the effects it can have on a child’s personality and beliefs. The belief that schooling is a vital part of a child’s upbringing are still held in today’s society and although Anne Of Green Gables was written over a century ago, the messages contained within still hold value in today’s society.
Courtney from Study Moose
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