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Marilla, How Much You Miss: The Importance of Imagination In Anne Of Green Gables

Updated on November 9, 2013

By Hannah C. Price

Children are encouraged at a young age to use their imaginations, be “themselves” and “follow their hearts.” But what does that really mean? These ambiguous phrases of supposed insight (most often found in popular culture through such sources as Disney) lack substance and do little to actualize dream-fulfilling lives. This isn’t to say that modern entertainment and morality doesn’t offer anything positive, but the overarching messages aimed at children are vague at best and self-serving at worst.

So, where can good examples offering wisdom and encouragement be found? The best place to start is with parents, grandparents, pastors, youth leaders, mentors and teachers. I would also argue that another excellent source of teaching and inspiration is in the stories that are most often shared with children. Characters of strong ethics and their accompanying adventures of faith, trial and error, perseverance and growth are wonderful ways to learn from example, and education through stories are often best remembered.

One of the most influential books of my childhood was Anne of Green Gables. Written by Lucy Maud Montgomery and first published in 1908, this book and its subsequent sequels quickly became favorites amongst readers. For generations these stories stood the test of time and saw a resurgence of popularity in 1985 when Canadian television brought these classics to life on the small screen. The story of Anne Shirley and her years growing up on Prince Edward Island is unpretentious and sweet, but the lessons that can be learned from this bright-eyed dreamer carry much weight.

The Anne of Green Gables series is essentially a compilation of small everyday adventures. From her first arrival in Avonlea to her last mention as a happily married mother of seven, Anne’s life shows how powerful the little things in life can be. Yes, Anne makes a major impact in the lives of many people and she affects more than just her small hometown of Avonlea, but the real heart of these books is Anne herself and the joy she finds in the simple pleasures of normal life. A walk down the lane, a row on the pond or even a morning spent in the garden become momentous occasions when viewed the eyes of a dreamer like Anne Shirley. The power of her imagination takes flight and comes to inspire every person she touches.

One of the most memorable scenes in the TV adaption of Anne of Green Gables is a scene where Anne takes a walk with her guardian Marilla Cuthbert, soon after Anne’s arrival at Green Gables. Anne’s desire for a “bosom friend,” “kindred spirits,” and her view of reality tempered with imagination is strange for the straight-laced and grounded Marilla. “You set your heart too much on silly things,” she tells the redheaded girl. “Don’t you ever imagine things differently from what they are?” Anne innocently inquires. “No!” Marilla replies, irritated by the perceived foolishness of Anne’s starry eyed wonder. “Oh Marilla, how much you miss,” Anne simply replies as takes Marilla’s hand and they walk down the green canopied lane together.

This scene is a beautiful picture of why Anne is such a special, inspirational and beautifully written character. She is aware that the world can be a harsh and cruel place, having lived amongst hardened and world-weary people throughout most of her childhood. However, her spirit refuses to be crushed and rises up “on wings of anticipation.” She doesn’t view the world through the lens of imagination solely as a means of escape from her difficult circumstances, although that certainly played a part in her imagination’s development. Rather, Anne most often tempers reality with creativity because she wants to see the world as a better place, and when she chooses to see things in a fresh and positive light the world she inhabits becomes enjoyable and exciting.

This painting-over of reality with the colors of imagination stays with Anne as she grows. However, the starry eyed dreaming she does as a child changes form as she matures into an adult and has to bear the weight of responsibility, learn to tell the difference between friendship and love, and has to deal with a cynical world. Anne’s fantasies and ideals melt away as she experiences life firsthand away from the golden world she fashioned at Green Gables. Most importantly, she comes to realize that her romantic ideal of “tall, dark, rich and melancholy” is keeping her from seeing the true love that is right in front of her in childhood friend Gilbert Blythe. Thankfully, Anne learns to balance reality with fantasy. She chooses to make the world a better place by coaxing imagination and joy out of others.

Anne Shirley didn’t have positive adult role models as a child; neither was she encouraged to follow her heart, live her dreams, be herself and use her imagination. However, she does all these things throughout the Anne of Green Gables series, not because it was the popular or “cool” thing to do or because she self-centered and was determined to do anything to get her way. It is Anne’s natural tendency to be creative, dreamy, ambitious and positive, but she also gives it effort. She has to work at being joyful despite her sad beginnings, but ultimately her cheerful spirit touches everyone around her and helps them grow just as much as Anne herself. Anne succeeds in life because she builds her dreams from the ground up through determination, perseverance and a desire to better the lives of others. Instead of the vague saying, “Follow your dreams,” in Anne we are shown how she does just that. We are given an example that can encourage us and bring a smile to our faces as we watch a little freckled redhead rise from impoverished orphan to leading member of her community, a gift to all who know her.

(previously featured in Femnista -'


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