Study Guide

Anne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables

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Anne Shirley

Anne's a character with a capital-C (as well as an "e," naturally).

There's no ignoring her. From the moment this dreamy redheaded orphan arrives in Avonlea, everyone in town has an opinion about Anne. Some—*cough, Rachel Lynde, cough, cough*—have several, changing their mind about her over the course of the book.

We'll humor the Avonlea-folk and look at some of their opinions to get a better idea of our redheaded heroine.

She's Got A Big Imagination.

Too big, Marilla might say. Anne has gotten through her difficult childhood, where she was passed from family to family to orphan asylum, by living in a dream world. Before Avonlea, she only had imaginary friends, like her reflection in a cupboard, which she personified and named Katie Maurice:

"Katie was the comfort and consolation of my life. We used to pretend that the bookcase was enchanted and that if I only knew the spell I could open the door and step right into the room where Katie Maurice lived…And then Katie Maurice would have taken me by the hand and led me out into a wonderful place, all flowers and sunshine and fairies, and we would have lived there happy forever." (8.44)

Imagination was a coping mechanism, a total escape fantasy that helped her get through difficult days.

When she brings that to Avonlea, it translates into wonder over the things her world, like how she names flowers and pretends they're alive. As she grows up, it renders her good at story-writing and public speaking.

But it also gets her into trouble. Anne tends to fall into daydreams while she's in the middle of normal household tasks, much to Marilla's frustration:

"[M]ost people when they put a pie in the oven to warm up for dinner take it out and eat it when it gets hot instead of leaving it to be burned to a crisp. But that doesn't seem to be your way evidently." (20.9)

Anne forgot to take out the pie because she was (you guessed it) imagining something, in this case, that she was an enchanted princess in a tower. Fun…but not the most practical thing to do while cooking.

As Anne grows up, her imagination doesn't disappear. She just better learns to control when to turn it on and off.

She's Hotheaded.

Mrs. Lynde points it out first, but Gilbert soon falls into Anne's fire as well. When Anne's mad, she's furious—with slate-smashing, foot-stomping, shouting rage. Her weak spot is her looks. Both Gilbert and Mrs. Lynde made fun of her red hair, which makes her totally lose it.

She's also stubborn. She apologizes to Mrs. Lynde because Matthew manages to coax an apology out of her, but she shows no mercy to Gilbert Blythe, even when he apologizes to her. Twice. And the second time is years after the hair-teasing incident. Anne feels everything so deeply that she clings to her outrage:

Gilbert had called her "carrots" and had brought about her disgrace before the whole school. Her resentment, which to other and older people might be as laughable as its cause, was in no whit allayed and softened by time seemingly. (28.33)

The memory of the incident seems to have burned itself into Anne's mind. Because of her imagination, she can call the memory up years later, which fuels her renewed anger. That's why it's so hard for her to let things go.

She's Vain.

Anne is an aesthete, a lover of beauty…some Avonlea-folk (Marilla included) would say she's flat-out vain. We'll give them this: she does worry a lot about her red hair. (Check out the theme of "Appearances" for more analysis on her redhead angst.)

On the other hand, Anne has a deep appreciation for the beauty of the natural world. She falls so hard for beautiful places that she re-names them if their names don't reflect their beauty. (Check out our "Names" symbol for examples.) It makes sense that she would also want to feel like part the beautiful world.

And she's not jealous of her bestie Diana, who she believes is pretty much the most beautiful woman in the world. Even before meeting Diana, Anne says,

"Oh, I'm so glad she's pretty. Next to being beautiful oneself—and that's impossible in my case—it would be best to have a beautiful bosom friend." (8.44)

By Anne's logic, she wants someone pretty to look at and appreciate.

Anne's vanity is punished a bit when she tries to dye her hair black and it turns out green. Then, though, it grows back in, as Diana puts it, "ever so much darker." (28.5) Not a bad outcome. By this time, Marilla has relaxed her opinion on "serviceable" (11.9) dresses, and Anne is allowed to wear fashionable clothes. She finally gets some of the beauty she longed for as a kid.

She's Open.

The first several chapters of Anne of Green Gables are full of page-long paragraphs of Anne talking without stopping, until Marilla tells her to "hold your tongue" (4.19). She says everything that pops into her head.

Marilla might call this a fault, but it can't be denied that Anne's openness helps her. She wins over Matthew with her conversation, and even Marilla admits, "She is kind of interesting." (4.37) If Anne was quiet and shy, the Cuthberts might not have gotten to know her enough to want to keep her.

Openness also means honesty. When Marilla worries that Anne lied about taking her brooch, she thinks, "It's a fearful responsibility to have a child in your house you can't trust." (14.19) But slyness isn't in Anne's nature—she only lied so she could go to the Sunday school picnic. When the truth comes out, Marilla is relieved, saying,

"I believe she'll turn out all right yet." (14.71)

Anne's honesty allows Marilla to trust her. In all the mistakes Anne makes after this, Marilla never believes Anne makes them on purpose.

All Anne's traits have both good sides and bad. It's her humanness that makes her such an 100% memorable character.

How memorable? Well, not only does she crop up on a whole slew of Best Of lists (like The Atlantic's "The Greatest Girl Characters In Young Adult Literature", but Mark Twain called her "the dearest and most lovable child in fiction since the immortal Alice.")

Which: dang. When Mark "I wrote Huck Finn " Twain is praising a child character…you best listen up.

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