She is ambitious at a time when women had few options. She is also quite adept at naming her emotions and working through her troubles and conflicts with others by talking them out. She has a vivid imagination and readers will delight in her constant amazement at the beauty of the natural world. This coming of age story is one that students have enjoyed reading for over a century and we can bet they will continue for a hundred more.
Anne of Green Gables is set in the late 1800s in Avonlea, a fictional village on Prince Edward Island in Canada. Anne Shirley is an 11-year-old orphan who has never known a loving and stable family. She has grown up in foster homes that treated more as a servant than a daughter. That is until a fortunate mistake brings her to Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert. They're a pair of elderly siblings who live on their small family farm, Green Gables. They had expected the orphanage to send them a boy to help with the farm chores. Marilla initially balks at the thought of having a girl but decides to keep Anne out of a sense of duty and the goodness of her heart. She laments to Matthew that a girl won't be as useful on the farm, to which Matthew replies, "We might be some good to her."
Anne's previous revolving door of foster families were neglectful and abusive, and Anne coped by developing her broad imagination. She loved to retreat to a world of make believe with imaginary friends who showed her the love and kindness she craved. Anne is ever hopeful and marvels in amazement at the natural world much to Matthew's bemused delight. Matthew is quickly won over by Anne's inquisitive and sweet nature. Marilla takes a bit longer to warm up to Anne, but she eventually does so wholeheartedly. Anne quickly disrupts the Cuthberts' quiet life with her boisterous and talkative personality. She is naïve to social and religious norms, which the conservative townsfolk find quite shocking. Anne often gets into trouble, but she is also hard working, excels in school and, as she says, "never makes the same mistake twice." Eventually, Anne's quick thinking endears her to even the most skeptical residents like the gossipy neighbor, Mrs. Lynde, and the wealthy and haughty Barry family. Anne even becomes best friends with their elegant daughter, Diana Barry. Anne also develops a secret admiration for her arch nemesis, the clever and mischievous Gilbert Blythe.
Despite initial difficulties, Anne does very well in school with the unwavering support of Matthew and Marilla. Through hard work and the steady mentoring from her beloved teacher Miss Stacy, Anne scores top of her class on her entrance exams, allowing her to attend Queens academy in Charlottetown. While there, Anne's persistence and determination continues and she wins a college scholarship. Matthew tells Anne, “Well now, I'd rather have you than a dozen boys, Anne... Just mind you that—rather than a dozen boys. Well now, I guess it wasn't a boy that took the Avery scholarship, was it? It was a girl—my girl—my girl that I'm proud of.”
At the turn of the century, when women still did not have the right to vote, the author makes a striking commentary on the rights and ambitions of women with such a strong female protagonist. While the novel is over a hundred years old, students can still find Anne quite relatable. After all, she is a child who prefers daydreaming to chores, she longs for a true friend she can confide in, she admires the latest fashions and frets about her looks, she makes mistakes often, and is quick to lose her temper. In essence, she is like any child in any time period! All of which make Anne of Green Gables a true classic for the ages.