Good behavior is a subject that troubles Anne. Choose two main characters from the novel and discuss the different ways each character approaches the problem of being good.
Upon her arrival at Green Gables, Anne immediately comes into conflict with the people of Avonlea, especially Marilla, because of their different conceptions of what it means to be good. Marilla follows a strict definition of good behavior based on traditional roles and propriety, and she uses behavior to judge a person’s underlying moral character. To Marilla, Anne’s ignorance of the proper way to pray suggests that Anne is not only badly brought up but possibly wicked. When Anne decorates her hat with wildflowers on the way to church, she unwittingly draws stares and laughter from established churchgoers. Marilla feels that such Anne’s actions reflect badly on her. Although Marilla understands and sympathizes with Anne’s lack of formal education, she believes that standard rules of behavior should govern a young girl’s actions.
Anne is perplexed by the new moral codes she encounters while living with Marilla. She includes several personal wishes in her first prayer, asking that God make her pretty and change her red hair, which suggests that Anne thinks of prayer as an opportunity to express her fondest desires. Similarly, she does not understand why wearing flowers to church is objectionable, as the other girls wear artificial flowers in their hats. Expectations that conflict with her own common sense confuse Anne. Anne believes that if good intentions drive a person, it does not matter if her actions are unusual, because that person is still inherently good.
As Anne matures and Marilla mellows, their conflict over the definition of good behavior becomes less strident. At the beginning of her stay, Anne thinks that if she feels justified in her actions, it is right for her to act in any way she chooses. For example, Anne attacks Mrs. Rachel when Mrs. Rachel makes a derogatory remark about Anne’s red hair. Although Marilla sympathizes with Anne’s feelings, she insists that Anne follow the accepted code of conduct. Eventually, Anne comes to appreciate pleasant behavior and treating others with kindness and respect. She maintains her independent spirit, but begins to understand the importance of good behavior as a way of getting along with people and that acting as expected puts people at ease.
How do Anne’s conceptions of the future evolve throughout the novel?
As an unloved orphan, Anne cultivates the ability to imagine exciting futures. She constructs futures for herself based on imaginative, romantic notions of beauty, eternal love, and tragic loss. When Anne arrives at Green Gables, she dreams of a future in which she is named Lady Cordelia and has a best friend, a home, and people who love her. She imagines that her red hair will disappear and that riches will surround her. When some of these dreams come true, they disappoint or please her to varying degrees. She loves her home and her family, but her dreams of riches fall flat. When she and Diana visit Aunt Josephine in the city, for example, partaking of her wealthy lifestyle, Anne discovers that the fantasy of wealth gives her more pleasure than the fact of wealth.
As Anne matures, she envisions her future differently. Her romanticism fades, and she regards her childhood fantasies as undesirable. Ambition replaces romanticism, and Anne strives to achieve real goals. She studies and works with the same zeal that she earlier applies to daydreaming. At the end of the novel, Anne’s vision of her future draws on her romantic notions as well as her ambition. Anne gives up her unrealistic dream of becoming rich and spoiled and her realistic dream of attending a four-year college. She settles for a future that combines her idealism and her work ethic. She will stay in her well-loved Avonlea, with the house and family she dreamed of as a child. She will continue her studies and teach at the school, but she will also fulfill her duties as a responsible adult by caring for the ones who love her.
What role does fashion play in Anne of Green Gables? In what ways do fashion and characters’ differing attitudes toward fashion reveal differences and similarities between various characters?
As a child, Anne dreams of wearing fancy dresses and puffed sleeves, but Marilla, always sensible, considers interest in fashion an expression of vanity. Marilla believes that an upstanding Christian woman should condemn fashion. The conflict between Marilla’s and Anne’s attitudes toward dress reflects broader differences in their personalities and beliefs. Anne often equates morality with physical appearance, saying that it would be easier to be good if only she were pretty and well dressed. Marilla, on the other hand, considers morality to exclude concern with dress.
Matthew’s timid entry into the realm of women’s fashion is the turning point in Anne and Marilla’s conflict. Although Matthew is normally unaware of feminine pursuits, he notices that Anne stands apart from her friends because of her plain, unfashionable clothes. He decides to get Anne a new dress and courageously faces a female store clerk in town, marking an important change in his character. Fashion is a means by which Matthew shows his evolution as a character. For love of Anne, he becomes a bit more brave.
Matthew’s purchase of a dress for Anne changes both Marilla’s and Anne’s attitudes. Marilla sees that Anne is the same person in a plain dress or in a fancy one. Marilla no longer relies solely on dogma for moral guidance but is willing to accept new ideas. Anne realizes that her physical appearance does not inform her morality and that she can be a good person no matter what she wears. Anne learns that beauty is more than just wearing a dress with puffed sleeves and that behavior, not fashion, makes a person good.