Anne of Green Gables: Finding a Family and Romance

I showed my students the BBC book list.  One of them immediately zeroed in on Anne of Green Gables (#46 on the list and published in 1908) and said, “I’m not sure why this is on the list.  I watched it, and it’s not very good.  I don’t understand why people like it.”  He (yes, he’s male) said this in earnest and with such innocence, I tried not to laugh.  But I did retort, “It’s about a red-headed orphan who gets a family?  How can you NOT like that?”  The class laughed, but I suspect some of them also disliked the miniseries, which parallels the book almost exactly.

I have memories of disinterest in the show.  It is one of those shows that mothers tend to watch over and over, especially on rainy afternoons or during long, dark, winter months.  As a young child, the images on the screen are old people and majestic (but boring) views of Prince Edward Island.  However many times I observed my mother watching what appeared to be a boring show, I am now converted.  Maybe that’s a litmus test of maturity or reaching a level of dullness.  Maybe that’s how you really know you’ve reached adulthood, when you can watch hours of a show you once found to be mind numbing but now enjoy.

First edition cover of Anne of Green Gables from Wikimedia Commons

But I do like the Anne of Green Gables miniseries now and I have since read the book as well.  The two are pretty similar.  The story line is the same and the spunky nature of Anne is apparent in both.  It is a heartwarming tale of a destitute child who softens the heart of Matthew (don’t you just love him?) and earns herself a family.  I think it’s a tale we can all relate to because of that.  No matter what kind of family you grew up in, I’m sure we all have times in which we threatened to run away or we dreamed about joining another family.  I know my sister Haley used to imagine that our piano teacher was her mother.  If you’ve ever had this train of thought in your imagination, seeing it come true for Anne, whose imagination is pure delight, is a way of living out that fantasy for ourselves.

The other facet of the story is the romance.  It seems that Anne and Gilbert Blythe will never swallow their anger and pride over past wrongs to finally admit that they belong together.  When Gilbert, on his death bed, finally admits it – that Anne is the only girl for him – there’s a moment in which I want to be Anne.  Every girl wants to hear such romantic and candid thoughts from her beau.

Yet, I can understand why the two have such a hard time getting to that place.  Gilbert teases her about her red hair, the one feature she has always hated about herself.  He doesn’t realize what he’s done until it’s too late, but he has done it all the same.  We all have sore spots about our looks.  Mine is my nose.  I had a middle school friend once tell me that my nose was big.  She did this weeks after I had already walked into the school bathroom to find her whispering to all of the other girls in our circle that I did not know how to spray hairspray.  Really?   That’s what you’re going to say about me behind my back.  In sixth grade?  I remember being really hurt, like she had just punched me in the stomach and all the air had gone out.  I had invited her to my home, where she had observed my alleged fumble with the hairspray bottle.  That’s why it hurt so much.  I had let her in, and she had decided to trample on me.  So, I can understand Anne’s hurt.  She is sensitive about her hair, and Gilbert rubs her nose in it.

It’s this beginning that leads to year of misunderstanding between the two.  Anne cannot forgive and Gilbert gets tired of having his mistakes held over his head.  I don’t know why, but this situation reminds me of another grade school boy I knew.  He spent most of fourth grade passing gas as loudly as possible just to make all of the girls cringe and wrinkle their noses.  He thought our reaction was funny.  He’d also burp.  He was disgusting.  I could never forgive him for that.  When in eight grade he finally started combing his hair and wearing washed clothing (and he finally stopped farting loudly for attention in class), I still thought of him as that icky fourth grade boy who had no manners.  I could not remove that image from my mind.  Luckily for him, a girl moved in that did not know him then and they ended up dating.

In the end, Anne forgives.  She realizes her wrong in torturing Gilbert so long with her wrath.  It takes a deathbed confession and some experience away from home for her to do it, but she does.  She realizes that Gilbert has matured.  And ironically, this realization comes mostly because she has matured.  She has lived through other boyfriends, proposals, employment, heartbreak, sorrow, and laughter.  She has gained the self confidence and maturity that she needed to forgive Gilbert, but also to accept herself.  She accepts her red hair, which turns a beautiful auburn.  She accepts herself and is then able to love.

Do you consider Anne of Green Gables it to be a must-read/watch?  Or do you think it’s boring like my student did?  And, is it a story that appeals only to females, or can males appreciate the story of an orphan who makes good and overcomes hardship.  Hmmm.  It’s starting to sound an awful lot like Harry Potter . . .  Does it belong on the BBC list?

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