Monday, December 10, 2012

Carrots, Broken Slates and Puffed Sleeves: A Theology of “Anne of Green Gables”

Recently I began watching my "Anne of Green Gables" DVDs again.  It reminded me of the following article I wrote a few years ago for the no longer existing TOB "channel" on Catholic Exchange.  So, without further adieu ...
As a young girl, I couldn’t get enough of all things L.M. Montgomery.  I subscribed to the Anne of Green Gables quarterly magazine, read all of the books, enjoyed the movies, and even founded a fan club with a few friends.  This past week I dusted off my videos from the film and watched it with new eyes.

Somewhere along the journey of broken slates, kindred spirits, dramatic renditions of old poetry and breathtaking scenes of Prince Edward Island, it struck me that Anne of Green Gables unknowingly weaves several theology of the body themes throughout its pages and film reels. 

It may seem hard to believe that the series that captured the hearts of young girls raised in the ‘90s can present us with living proof of the truth of John Paul II’s words, but I will leave you with a sampling of the ways in which I would argue the books and movies accomplish this feat.

  •          Throughout the story, we see the truth of John Paul II’s words in his first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis: ““Man cannot live without love.  He remains a being incomprehensible to himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it”  (25).  We see Anne Shirley’s life profoundly transformed by love. She is first deeply affected by the love of those who have adopted her – Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert.  Soon after she meets the Cuthberts, the narrator remarks that Marilla realized that Anne was “[…] a girl who knew nothing about God’s love since she had never had it translated to her through the medium of human love” (Chapter 7).  Beginning with this type of parental love, Anne grows into a beautiful young woman, who is eager to love others.  From her students, to her neighbors to her future husband Gilbert Blythe, Anne takes the love that has touched her and shares it with others.

  •          Anne quips, “Tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet” (Chapter 21).  This quotation is similar to John Paul II’s reflections on the “hope of every day.”  The late Holy Father noted that Jesus Christ gives us the grace to follow Him every day, regardless of our past sins, failings and mistakes.  Anne’s insistence that each day is a new opportunity rings true with John Paul II’s encouragement to accept the grace of the redemption each and every day.

  •          Anne says, “When I put on longer skirts I shall feel that I have to live up to them” (Chapter 30).  In her day, young women were allowed to wear longer skirts as a privilege and as a sign of growing older.   Anne’s innocent comment is indicative of the way our attitudes often correspond to our clothing.  Modesty clothing encouraged a respectful attitude.

  •         There is an understanding of the meaning of masculinity and femininity.  No wonder there has been a phenomenon with L.M. Montgomery, Jane Austen and other authors of yesteryear who unhesitatingly describe women as women and men as men.  There is a respect between the two sexes that we don’t often see today.  And there appears to be more of an understanding of the great dignity that one possesses in being masculine or feminine.

  •          The relationship between Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe offers an Ephesians 5 scenario.  We see Gilbert continually offering his self-sacrificial love to Anne.  For awhile, she refuses to receive it.  She gives her occupation preference and, though well-intentioned, denies Gilbert’s love.  Eventually, she comes to see what a priceless gift he is offering, and she in turn receives his gift of love.  For both, the giving and receiving of love is not an easy task, but both are dedicated to it and to each other, despite the difficulties and challenges.  Montgomery describes the moment before their wedding vows: “But it was a happy and beautiful bride who came down the old, homespun-carpeted stairs that September noon--the first bride of Green Gables, slender and shining-eyed, in the mist of her maiden veil, with her arms full of roses. Gilbert, waiting for her in the hall below, looked up at her with adoring eyes. She was his at last, this evasive, long-sought Anne, won after years of patient waiting. It was to him she was coming in the sweet surrender of the bride. Was he worthy of her? Could he make her as happy as he hoped? If he failed her – if he could not measure up to her standard of manhood – then, as she held out her hand, their eyes met and all doubt was swept away in a glad certainty. They belonged to each other; and, no matter what life might hold for them, it could never alter that. Their happiness was in each other's keeping and both were unafraid” (Anne’s House of Dreams Chapter 4).  

  •          And isn’t Anne’s prayer in Anne of Ingleside one that all women, whether physical or spiritual mothers, can embrace as their own: “Dear God … help all mothers everywhere.  We need so much help, with the little sensitive, loving hearts and minds that look to us for guidance and love and understanding” (Chapter 6).

Anne of Green Gables and the ensuing books and films do not purposefully preach or incorporate religious messages.  It is interesting to view them though the lens of theology of the body, to see how integral these themes are to what it means to be a human person. 

The lives of L.M. Montgomery and John Paul II overlapped for a brief period of time, but the papacy and writings of the late Holy Father were yet to occur during the author’s lifetime.  Regardless of Montgomery’s theological insights, her stories provide a beautiful depiction of the truth of the principles to which John Paul II dedicated his life.

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