1988, 1990, 2002 Lynette Abel
Much Meaning Is There in the World?
I look now at the novel Anne of Green Gables written by L.M. Montgomery
and published in 1907. It is about a girl who wants to see meaning
in things in a big way and wants other people to see it too. Anne
is definitely against emptiness. In her eleven years, she has
mostly lived in orphanages or children's homes. Marilla and Matthew
Cuthbert, brother and sister, of Green Gables decide to adopt a boy to
help with the farm chores which, as they are getting older, are becoming
too much for them. The orphanage sends a girl, Anne Shirley, instead.
When Matthew arrives late at the almost deserted train station, after some
inquiry and to his chagrin, he sees a young girl sitting all alone at the
end of the platform looking ever so expectantly at him. Anne's life
had been very difficult. She had been shuttled from orphanage to
orphanage, left by parents who didn't want her and in her young years had
suffered hunger and poverty. Everything she owned outside of the
faded dress and hat she was wearing, is in an old small bag she carried
with her. Not knowing just what to do, Matthew tells himself that
he will take her home and let his sister tell her that she will hardly
do, and will have to be sent back to the orphanage. Anne, seeing
Matthew's displeasure, could easily feel justified in being angry and bitter.
Meanwhile, she has an impulsion that is very strong, to look for good meaning
in things, even when it would be so easy not to, which is why, I think,
this book continues to be enormously popular around the world. And
it comments, too, on this urgent question asked by Mr. Siegel:
true: No matter how much of a case one has against the world--its unkindness,
its disorder, its ugliness, its meaninglessness--one has to do all one
can to like it, or one will weaken oneself?
In the horse-driven buggy with Matthew on the way home to Green Gables,
Anne who has a lively mind, is filled with questions and asks Matthew,
who is so given to a kind of grim silence, all kinds of things:
what does make the roads red?" "Well now, I dunno," said Matthew.
"Well, that is one of the things to find out sometime. Isn't it splendid
to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes
me feel glad to be alive--it's such an interesting world.
This is such a criticism
of how I was; Anne is unabashed at showing how much she is interested in
things. The author writes:
had simply rounded a curve in the road and found themselves in the "Avenue."
In expressing her unbridled joy at seeing beauty in the world, Anne has
a good effect on Matthew who has over the more than sixty years of his
life dulled his awareness of and feeling for so much around him.
As Anne expresses wonder at what she sees, Matthew quickens--he welcomes
her observations and questions almost immediately.
The "Avenue,"...was a stretch of road four or five hundred yards long,
completely arched over with huge, wide-spreading apple-trees,.... Overhead
was one long canopy of snowy fragrant bloom. Below the boughs the
air was full of a purple twilight and far ahead a glimpse of painted sunset
sky shone like a great rose window at the end of a cathedral aisle.
Its beauty seemed to strike the child dumb. She leaned back in the
buggy, her thin hands clasped before her, her face lifted rapturously to
the white splendor above...."Oh, Mr. Cuthbert," she whispered, "that place
we came through--that white place--what was it?"
"Well now, you
must mean the Avenue," said Matthew after a few moments' profound reflection.
"It is a kind of pretty place." "Pretty? Oh, pretty doesn't
seem the right word to use. Nor beautiful, either. They don't
go far enough. Oh, it was wonderful--wonderful...
Then we meet Marilla. She represents that sour thing in a person
that doesn't want to like anything, that is deeply after emptiness.
When they arrive, Marilla shows her shock and utter displeasure at Matthew's
bringing home a useless girl, and blurts out "Well, this is a pretty piece
of business!" Meanwhile, during a painful dialogue back and forth
about how this awful mistake could have happened, with the child looking
from one face to the other, the author writes of Anne:
animation fad[ed] out of her face. Suddenly she seemed to grasp the
full meaning of what had been said...."You don't want me!" she cried...because
I'm not a boy! I might have expected it. Nobody ever did want
me. I might have known it was all too beautiful to last....Oh, what
shall I do?...[and she] burst into tears.
Marilla lamely tells her
"there's no need to cry so about it," and she can certainly stay the night.
Anne is in a fight between giving into despair, having contempt for everything
and being impelled still, with all her worry, to find things likable.
In his book Self and World, Mr. Siegel explains:
is...a wisdom in children which...is not known to be possessed. Children
are really desperate to see the world as pleasing; and their desperateness
is part of a wise hope.
We see an example of this
the next morning. Marilla is grudging and looks to find flaws.
But Anne, looking at a large tree near the house sees something different:
isn't it wonderful?" she said, waving her hand comprehensively at the good
The longer Anne stays,
the more Marilla sees that she is indeed useful to her and Matthew in important
ways she hadn't realized. They decide that she should remain with
them, indeed that she and Matthew can not imagine now "Green Gables without
"It's a big
tree, said Marilla, and it blooms great, but the fruit don't amount to
much never--small and wormy."
"Oh, I don't
mean just the tree; of course it's lovely--yes, it's radiantly lovely--it
blooms as if it meant it--but I meant everything, the garden and the orchard
and the brook and the woods, the whole big dear world."
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