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"Yes, it's red," she said resignedly. "Now you see why I can't be perfectly happy. Nobody could who had red hair. I don't mind the other things so much—the freckles and the green eyes and my skinniness. I can imagine them away. I can imagine that I have a beautiful rose leaf complexion and lovely starry violet eyes. But I cannot imagine that red hair away. I do my best. I think to myself, "Now my hair is a glorious black, black as the raven's wing." But all the time I know it is just plain red, and it breaks my heart. It will be my lifelong sorrow." (2.39)
Like many other speeches Anne makes about her hair, this one has the over-the-top language of tragedy. So it is laughable. Especially because there are so many legit tragedies in Anne's life, but she chooses her hair to be her lifelong sorrow. But she's also getting at that difference between how we imagine ourselves verses how we actually look. Anne's definitely not the only person who has been bothered by that difference.
"Mrs. Thomas said I was the homeliest baby she ever saw, I was so scrawny and tiny and nothing but eyes, but that mother thought I was perfectly beautiful. I should think that a mother would be a better judge than a poor woman who came in to scrub, wouldn't you? I'm glad she was satisfied with me anyhow; I would feel so sad if I thought I was a disappointment to her—because she didn't live very long after that, you see." (5.14)
This quote might get at the root of why Anne gets so angry when people insult her looks. Mrs. Thomas raised Anne from a baby, so Anne's been told she was ugly for her entire life. Not cool, Mrs. Thomas. The only idea Anne has to comfort her is that her mother thought she was beautiful before she died.
During Marilla's speech a sunrise had been dawning on Anne's face. First the look of despair faded out; then came a faint flush of hope; her eyes grew deep and bright as morning stars. (6.21)
Anne's hair and freckles may not be pretty by the beauty standards of her day, but here we see how she glows when she's happy or excited. Those expressions are beautiful.
Well they didn't pick you for your looks, that's sure and certain," was Mrs. Rachel Lynde's emphatic comment. Mrs. Rachel was one of those delightful and popular people who pride themselves on speaking their mind without fear or favor. "She's terrible skinny and homely, Marilla. Come here, child, and let me have a look at you. Lawful heart, did any one ever see such freckles? And hair as red as carrots! Come here, child, I say." (9.15)
Ouch. Mrs. Lynde talks about Anne, while she's standing right there, as if she's property, instead of a person with feelings. It shows how orphans, and children, are treated in this society. Even though Mrs. Lynde isn't being kind, she expects Anne to obey her without complaint.
"Just remember how you would feel if someone told you to your face that you were skinny and ugly," pleaded Anne tearfully.
An old remembrance suddenly rose up before Marilla. She had been a very small child when she had heard one aunt say of her to another, "What a pity she is such a dark, homely little thing." Marilla was every day of fifty before the sting had gone out of that memory. (9.44-45)
This is the difference between Marilla and her friend, Mrs. Lynde. Mrs. Lynde's way of thinking is "it's my way or the highway." But in this quote, we see that Marilla is able to relate her experience with other people's, and imagine herself in their shoes.
"The trouble with you, Anne, is that you're thinking too much about yourself. You should just think of Mrs. Allan and what would be nicest and most agreeable for her," said Marilla, hitting for once in her life on a very sound and pithy piece of advice. (22.9)
Marilla reminds us here that Anne's vanity goes beyond worrying about how she looks. Whenever Anne is invited to an activity or event, she does get a little too in her head and focus on herself, rather than the people who will be there with her.
"I suppose she's trying to cultivate a spirit of humility in Anne by dressing her as she does; but it's more likely to cultivate envy and discontent." (25.30)
When you have an opinion about everything, you're bound to be right sometimes. Marilla has been trying to dress Anne "sensibly" to stop her from caring about material things like clothes, but the real effect has been to make Anne feel inferior to the other girls. Luckily for Anne, this is a turning point for her in terms of fashion. After Mrs. Lynde gets her a nice dress, Marilla starts to buy her pretty clothes, too.
"I never thought I was vain about my hair, of all things, but now I know that I was, in spite of its being red, because it was so long and thick and curly." (27.40)
Anne accidentally dyeing her hair green and having to get it cut is like a morality tale or fable with a moral. She's punished for caring too much about her looks.
That scene of two years before flashed back into her recollection as vividly as if it had taken place yesterday. 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)
Anne sure can hold a grudge. But the narrator/author seems to sympathize with her, here. She reminds older readers that even if it seems silly to us, Anne is only a kid, and the memory, for her, still stings.
"She's a real pretty girl got to be, though I can't say I'm overly partial to that pale, big-eyed style myself. I like more snap and color, like Diana Barry has or Ruby Gillis. Ruby Gillis' looks are real showy. But somehow—I don't know how it is but when Anne and them are together, though she ain't half as handsome, she makes them look kind of common and overdone—something like them white June lilies she calls narcissus alongside of the big, red peonies, that's what." (30.44)
Remember when Mrs. Lynde thought Anne was the ugliest child she had ever seen? Not only does she change her tune by the end of the book, but she also manages to see that Anne has an inner light that makes her seem even more beautiful than her fashionable friends.
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