Study Guide

Anne of Green Gables Duty

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Marilla looked at Anne and softened at sight of the child's pale face with its look of mute misery—the misery of a helpless little creature who finds itself once more caught in the trap from which it had escaped. Marilla felt an uncomfortable conviction that, if she denied the appeal of that look, it would haunt her to her dying day. Moreover, she did not fancy Mrs. Blewett. To hand a sensitive, "high-strung" child over to such a woman! No, she could not take the responsibility of doing that! (6.20)

Besides her religious beliefs, Marilla has another set of morals that some of the people around her, like Mrs. Spencer, don't seem to have. Marilla could choose to believe it isn't her responsibility where Anne ends up, since Anne came to her by accident in the first place. But Marilla sees Anne as a real person in need of help, and that's where her sense of duty kicks in.

"And, since you seem to want her, I suppose I'm willing—or have to be. I've been thinking over the idea until I've got kind of used to it. It seems like a sort of duty. I've never brought up a child, especially a girl, and I dare say I'll make a terrible mess of it." (6.32)

Marilla's reached a point where she doesn't see a choice. She has to keep Anne. Note that she doesn't use the word "like" at all when describing how she feels about Anne. Marilla's all duty and responsibility at this point.

Marilla was as fond of morals as the Duchess of Wonderland, and was firmly convinced that one should be tacked on to every remark made to a child who was being brought up. (8.42)

With no idea of how to teach a child, Marilla winds up parroting morals, as if that's the best way for a child to learn.

"I do not like patchwork," said Anne dolefully, hunting out her work-basket and sitting down before a little heap of red and white diamonds with a sigh. "I think some kinds of sewing would be nice; but there's no scope for imagination in patchwork. It's just one little seam after another and you never seem to be getting anywhere." (13.14)

Anne would do well with tasks that require creativity. But unfortunately, in this society, a lot of housework doesn't.

"Marilla is a famous cook. She is trying to teach me to cook but I assure you, Diana, it is uphill work. There's so little scope for imagination in cookery. You just have to go by the rules. The last time I made a cake I forgot to put the flour in. I was thinking the loveliest story about you and me, Diana." (16.28)

This seems to be the pattern of how Anne keeps messing up her household duties: halfway through the task, Anne starts imagining something; Anne forgets key step; Anne ruins whatever thing she's making. She just can't seem to turn her imagination off.

"And I'm so glad Mrs. Hammond had three pairs of twins after all. If she hadn't I mightn't have known what to do for Minnie May. I'm real sorry I was ever cross with Mrs. Hammond for having twins." (18.38)

Here's the first clue in the book that responsibilities can actually come in handy, and it's a pretty extreme example. Anne's job before Green Gables was to care for babies, and if she'd never learned to do it, Diana's baby sister would have died.

Therefore Marilla conceived it to be her duty to drill Anne into a tranquil uniformity of disposition as impossible and alien to her as to a dancing sunbeam in one of the brook shallows…Marilla had almost begun to despair of ever fashioning this waif of the world into her model little girl of demure manners and prim deportment. Neither would she have believed that she really liked Anne much better as she was. (22.5)

Poor Marilla. She really does believe that her job is to mold Anne into a prim, well-behaved little girl. And with the sunbeam analogy, the narrator is giving us a picture of just how impossible Marilla's goal is.

"Folks that has brought up children know that there's no hard and fast method in the world that'll suit every child. But them as never have think it's all as plain and easy as Rule of Three—just set your three terms down so fashion, and the sum'll work out correct. But flesh and blood don't come under the head of arithmetic and that's where Marilla Cuthbert makes her mistake." (25.30)

For someone who believes a lot of questionable things, Mrs. Lynde's thoughts on parenting are usually on point. Remember when she advised Marilla to let Anne stay home from school for a while rather than fight with her? We never meet her children in this book, so it's easy to forget that Rachel Lynde is a mother herself, having raised ten children, two of whom died. So this is an area where she does know what she's talking about.

"She is," said Marilla, "and she's real steady and reliable now. I used to be afraid she'd never get over her featherbrained ways, but she has and I wouldn't be afraid to trust her in anything now." (30.43)

Marilla never turned Anne prim or demure, but did fulfill her main duty: she made Anne a useful member of society, who has the ability to care for herself and others. And now Anne can take care of her, as well.

"It's a serious thing to grow up, isn't it, Marilla? But when I have such good friends as you and Matthew and Mrs. Allan and Miss Stacy I ought to grow up successfully, and I'm sure it will be my own fault if I don't." (31.9)

Anne names all her female role models. Aside from Marilla, these are ladies who give her gentle advice but mainly lead by example. It's nice of Anne to recognize that she has a good amount of guidance, and it's her duty to hold up her end of trying to be a successful grown-up.

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