This novel by Lucy Maud Montgomery was written in 1908. This was her first novel. She grew up at Prince Edwards Island in Canada, the same place as the setting of the novel. I first read the novel when I was about nine years old, and it became, and still is, my very favourite book. I find the novel very interesting because it has a very humorous content, but at the same time a deeper meaning. I wanted to learn more about the novel and its message, therefore I shall analyse the novel by pointing out the themes, motifs and symbols, but I will start with a summary.
Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert are unmarried siblings who live on their farm, Green Gables in Prince Edward Island. Matthew is around sixty, but he has a bad heart, and because of this, the Cuthberts decide to adopt an orphan boy to help him out on the farm.
Matthew, who is terrified of women, arrives at the train station and finds a girl orphan instead of a boy; the orphanage sent the eleven-year-old Anne Shirley by mistake. But Anne’s talkativeness and spirit charms Matthew, who shyly tells Marilla that he wants to keep her. Marilla hesitates at first, but after awhile, she agrees to let Anne stay.
Anne is a talkative and happy girl, despite her life as an orphan. Though she does not have social graces and education, she has a rich fantasy and is very optimistic. Because Anne has her own way of dealing with tings, which is not according to a code of manners. She attends church for the first time wearing a hat decorated with wildflowers, for example, and screams at Mrs. Lynde for making fun of her red hair. Anne tries hard to oblige Marilla and follow her rules of social conduct, but she makes numbers of mistakes, using liniment instead of vanilla in a cake, letting a mouse drown in the plum-pudding sauce, and delivering a ridiculous prayer on her first attempt to pray before bedtime.
Anne never had any friends before she came to Green Gables, so she was forced to invent imaginary playmates. This ends when she meets Diana Berry, a neighbour who soon becomes her bosom friend. One afternoon Anne invites Diana to tea and accidentally gives her red wine instead of non-alcoholic raspberry syrup. Diana returns home drunk, and Diana’s mother, sure of that Anne has intoxicated Diana on purpose, and forbids the girls to speak. This lasts until Anne saves Diana’s sister, who is sick with the croup, which causes Mrs. Barry to forgive her.
At school, Anne quarrels with a boy named Gilbert Blythe. When they first meet, Gilbert calls Anne “Carrots” and pulling her red hair. Anne is extremely sensitive about her red hair, and Gilbert’s teasing makes her very mad. She screams at him and smashes a slate over his head. This incident marks the beginning of a rivalry between Anne and Gilbert, which lasts until the very end of the novel.
As Anne grows up, she loses some of her flare for the melodramatic and romantic, and becomes flared by academics. Her favourite teacher, Miss Stacy, sees Anne’s opportunities and encourages her prepare for the entrance exam to Queen’s Academy. She works hard, and after four years, she and her rival Gilbert Blythe starts on Queen’s Academy. Striving to make Matthew and Marilla proud, Anne uses all her time on her studies and earns the Avery Scholarship together with Gilbert Blythe, which grants her enough money to start on a four-year college the following fall.
Thrilled by her future prospects, Anne returns to Green Gables. And soon after, Matthew dies of a heart attack. When Anne finds out that Marilla is likely to go blind, she decides to stay in Avonlea so she can care for Marilla. She gives up her aspirations for a four-year degree. Gilbert hears of her decision and gives up his post as the teacher at Avonlea School so that Anne can teach there. After five years of rivalry, Gilbert and Anne create a close friendship. Though her past has had both ups and downs, Anne remains eternally optimistic and thinks cheerfully about her future.
Themes are the fundamental ideas explored in a novel. In this novel it is the conflict between imagination and social expectations that are the themes. Anne is guided by her imagination and romanticism, which often lead her in the wrong directions. Daydreams constantly interrupted her chores and conversations, pulled her away from reality and into her own imaginary world. Anne was pleased by this escape, but her rich inner life often came into conflict with Avonlea’s expectations of what they saw as appropriate behaviour. Anne’s imaginative excursions lead to everything from minor household disasters, such as baking an inedible cake, to life-threatening calamities, such as nearly drowning in an attempt to dramatize a poem (the Lady of Shallot). Marilla have no believe in fantasy, and equates goodness with proper and sensible behaviour. Anne has difficulty understanding why Marilla doesn’t use her imagination to improve upon the world. Partly Marilla is not naturally inclined to imaginativeness, and partly she is worried for Anne, thinking that Anne will imagine and long for wonderful things and then experience disappointment when real life does not live up to her expectations. Anne wants to please Marilla by acting obedient and deferential, but her fantasies give her such irresistible pleasures. As she matures, Anne curbs her extreme romanticism and finds a compromise between imagination and respectability.
The other theme, which is very clear in the novel, is sentimentality versus emotion. Anne’s feelings run deep, she loves and hates with passion, and dreams with spirit. However, as a child, she cannot separate true emotion and mere sentimentality, between fake emotions, often allowing herself to indulge in sentiment because she thinks it romantic. In part, Anne’s attachment to sentimentality provides a refuge from the real emotions of fear and loss she experienced as a child. Her parents’ death left her alone, and as a young girl she was not treated with the love that most children receive, but with cruelty and carelessness. Because Anne knows the pain of real emotion, the play world of sentiment is comforting to her. When she imagines sentimental stories, she is able to control the situation, as she could not in her dealings with real emotion. It is not until Anne becomes an adult that she can deal with real emotion. When Matthew dies at the end of the novel, Anne experiences real loss. But as a well-adjusted woman, she can cope with the loss of someone she love and recognize her pain as real emotion, not the sentimental fluff of her childhood games.
A novel ought to content one or two motifs. The motifs make structures and contrasts, and can help to develop the text’s major themes. In “Anne of Green Gables” there are two motifs, which enrich the novel. One of them is Anne’s interests and concerns for fashion. Anne is of the opinion that if you are fashionable, you are automatically a good person. She believes that it would be easier being good if one is well dressed and beautiful. “But I do hope that some day I shall have a white dress. That is my highest ideal of earthly bliss. I just love pretty clothes.” For Anne, fashionable dress overlaps with morality. She feels she would be more grateful if her looks improved and says she cannot appreciate God because he made her so ugly. "People who haven't red hair don't know what trouble is. Mrs. Thomas told me that God made my hair red on purpose, and I've never cared about Him since.” Anne also looks at fashion as a means of fitting into her group of friends. Her increasingly stylish clothes represent her transformation from humble orphan to schoolgirl to successful teacher and woman. When Anne arrives at Green Gables, she wears ugly clothes from the orphanage, which represent her loneliness. In the beginning at Green Gables, Marilla makes sensible dresses for Anne, without frills or beauty. Some years later, when Anne is going to a Christmas Party, Matthew buys her a stylish, blue dress with puffed sleeves. Eventually, even Marilla agrees to allow Anne fashionable clothes. The gradual acceptance of Anne’s desire for fashionable clothes shows the gradual changing of Matthew and Marilla’s feelings for Anne. At first, Marilla feels kindly toward Anne but does not see any reason to indulge her. Although Matthew would love to spoil Anne, he dares not speak against Marilla because of his shyness. Eventually, Matthew finds the courage to stand up against Marilla and buys Anne a lovely dress, and Marilla allows herself to love Anne like a daughter and see the appeal of dressing her in fashionable clothes.
Anne’s powerful imagination reveals itself during her first ride to Green Gables, when she talks romantically about the beautiful trees in Avonlea. “Oh, there are a lot more cherry-trees all in bloom! This Island is the bloomiest place. I just love it already, and I'm so glad I'm going to live here. I've always heard that Prince Edward Island was the prettiest place in the world, and I used to imagine I was living here, but I never really expected I would.” Nature not only pleases Anne’s eye, it gives her reliable companionship. She has never had any human friends and finds companions in plants. On her first night in Avonlea, when she fears no one will be her friend, she takes comfort in the idea that she can climb into the arms of a tree and sleep there. For Anne, Avonlea represents a heaven that contrasts with the sickly trees and coldness of her days at the orphanage. At Green Gables, she shows her respect for nature by giving lakes and lanes flowery, dramatic names. “Oh, I don't like that name, either. I shall call it--let me see--the Lake of Shining Waters.” As she matures, she continues to love the nature. During the stressful exam period at Queen’s Academy, her love for the nature relaxes her and helps her to remember what is truly important in her life. At the end of the novel, she looks to nature as a metaphor for her future: full of beauty, promise, and mystery.
The symbols in the novel, makes it easier to understand the persons and the actions in the novel. The first major symbol is Anne’s red hair. Her hair symbolizes her attitude toward herself, which changes as the novel develops. In the beginning, Anne hates her red hair, and complains about it at every opportunity. Her loathing for her hair reveals her dislike for herself. No one has ever loved Anne, and she does not approve of her own mistakes and bad behaviour. Later on, Anne’s acceptance and fondness for her red hair symbolizes her acceptance of herself.
The other symbol in the novel is the light from Diana’s window. Anne sees the light as a symbol of their forever-lasting friendship. It gives Anne comfort at the end of the novel when she decides to stay in Avonlea and take care of Marilla. Seeing the symbol of her loving friendship with Diana makes Anne feel better about giving up her ambition in order to do what she feels is the right thing.
In this novel, it is the themes, motifs and symbols that give the novel a deeper meaning. The themes tell us what the story really is about. This novel consists of two main themes: the conflict between imagination and social expectations and sentimentality versus emotion.
The motifs learn us more about the characters and their actions. In “Anne of Green Gables” there are two motifs: Anne’s interests and concerns for fashion and images of nature.
The symbols in this novel give us an explanation. The two symbols here are Anne’s red hair and the light in Diana’s window.
All together, this is a novel with a lot of love, humour and care which at the same time gives the reader an understanding of different people, and a moral that says that money and looks is not everything. In other words, this is a novel ahead of its time.