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Anne of Green Gables and “Tough Love”

February 17, 2012

During December and January, I got to teach about Canada to my bustling 6th grade Western Geography and Culture class.  Teaching kids about cultures is fun because there is such a wide

range of topics under the umbrella of “culture” that can be touched upon!  So we watched a few key clips from a movie about a famous Canadian, Anne of Green Gables, clips such as her initiation into the Cuthbert home and her “Carrots” experience with Gilbert.  The kids loved it!  Watching these clips re-kindled my love of this story and inspired me to cagole my husband into having a few Anne of Green Gables movie nights with me (I’m ashamed to say I have only yet read the first book).  We watched the first movie plus the “Sequel.”  As it turned out, I had no reason to be ashamed that I coaxed Matt into watching these movies with me, for he had enjoyed the story when he was a kid during his family’s “read alouds.”

As we watched with a slightly older, more mature perspective, Matt and I began to realize why this story is loved by many people.  It so much more than the precious friendship and romance of Anne and Gilbert, even though that is one of my favorite parts!  Anne Shirley exemplifies true, honest, love in her relationships with people, love that neither ignores the negative nor allows the negative to construct walls.

This character trait is most apparent in the second movie, although one can see the roots and beginnings of it in the the first.  When Anne and her best friend Diana accidentally offend Diana’s Aunt Josephine, Anne is determined to win Aunt Jo’s favor back for her friend’s sake.  In the process, Anne develops a delightful friendship with Aunt Jo that teaches her that “one can’t judge a book by its cover.”  Anne begins to learn that just because people have obvious faults is no reason not to pursue a genuine relationship with them.

In the second movie, the examples of Anne extending grace and tough love to people are very numerous- it’s hard for me to chose which ones to highlight in this post!  I will focus on two: Anne’s relationship relationship with the Pringle clan, and her relationship with the Principal of Kingsport Ladies’ College, Katherine Brooke.  In the first example, the family is openly prideful and even malicious towards the new teacher, Miss Anne Shirley, and in the second case, the person has a hardened heart and bitter outlook on life .

The Pringle family is wealthy clan that owns most of the property and business in the city of Kingsport, where Anne has filled the position of English teacher at the Ladies’ College.  The Pringle family is full of arrogant gossips, with a chip on their shoulders toward Anne because an unqualified Pringle family member was not permitted to be the English teacher at the college.  The family, including the Pringle students in Anne’s class, are quite intent on making life difficult for her.  Jen Pringle, in particular, disrespects Miss Shirley with no remorse and executes mischief against her.  Miss Shirley disciplines Jen accordingly.  Jen’s mean intentions culminate when she, set to perform the leading role in the Mary, Queen of Scots production, calls in sick the day of the performance.  Fortunately, Anne has been tutoring Emmeline Harris in the role, as part of her home-school studies, and Emmeline is overjoyed to perform the role.

The production is a huge success and suddenly Anne is the favorite of the Pringle family.  Jen Pringle, realizing she was in the wrong, apologizes to Miss Shirley, who forgives her joyfully:

JEN PRINGLE: I’d like to apologize for the inconvenience I caused you, Miss Shirley.

ANNE: We’re all glad to see that your health has improved so quickly.

JEN PRINGLE: Yes, I think the doctor was overly concerned. I… I hope I may stay in the dramatic society, if you’re going to continue.

ANNE: Well, we couldn’t do without you.

JEN PRINGLE: Thank you, Miss Shirley. Oh, my mother wants to know if you’d like to help on the annual hospital bizarre, if you have the time.

ANNE: Tell your mother I’d be flattered.

Jen Pringle knew that she could trust Miss Shirley because Anne had the integrity to discipline Jen when she intentionally disrupted class multiple times.  Simultaneously, Jen observed that Miss Shirley had a heart full of love for others that didn’t show favoritism.  Anne earned Jen’s respect and trust, giving her the foundation to approach her teacher for forgiveness and start over with a healthy relationship.

Katherine Brook is 30-something self-proclaimed old-school-marm, bitter towards her station in life, with an iron-fist on strict rule-following without an ounce of joy.  She envies Anne for her happiness and popularity, and tries to convince Anne that she has no reason to have fun at the Pringle-organized hospital benefit bizarre because Anne is nothing but an unmarried, lowly teacher without any status.  Anne tells Katherine, “I will not be poisoned by your bitterness.”  At this point, if I were Anne, I would have probably given up on Katherine and not sought any sort of a relationship with her again.  And yet, even as Anne is leaving Kingsport at the end of year, having not renewed her teaching contract, she pursues a friendship with Katherine and invites her to spend the summer at Green Gables.  Katherine responds:

BROOKE: An outburst of charity. I’m hardly a candidate for that, yet.

ANNE: Katherine Brooke, whether you know it or not, what you want is a darn good spanking.

BROOKE: It must have relieved you to say that.

ANNE: It has, and I’ve wanted to say it to you for a very long time. But I have asked you to come because the very idea of you spending the summer cooped up in here is indecent.

BROOKE: You asked me because you feel sorry for me.

ANNE: I am sorry for you. You shut out life, and now life is shutting you out. Now are you coming or not?

BROOKE: What would you say if I accepted?

ANNE: I’d say that’s the first faint glimmer of common sense I’ve ever detected in you. [Brooke laughs]

BROOKE: Alright, I accept. Now you can go through the motions of telling me how delighted you are and how I’ll have a wonderful time.

ANNE: I am delighted. But as to a wonderful time, that will depend entirely on you, Katherine.

Katherine indeed comes to Green Gables, and because of the love and acceptance she has felt from Anne, undergoes a transformation in her attitude and is able to begin to live life with joy.

In all this, I am challenged by Anne’s ability to show “tough love” to people: love that helps people face up to their faults, but doesn’t condemn them for their faults.  Anne’s character is a gem of an example for us in our society, in which we often sweep the negative under the rug, ignoring it, instead of dealing with it.  We have little idea how to discipline children and students firmly, out of love.  We are “nice” to people, but don’t show them real love because we secretly judge them for their faults.  To do such a thing does not build genuine relationships, just very involved acquaintances.

Earlier, I said that people treasure this story because Anne displays true, honest love in her relationships with people.  I believe people identify with this because everyone has a hole in their life longing for real love- acceptance, forgiveness, and care*.  I am so thankful that my Savior Jesus Christ took my sin seriously enough to take the punishment for it on the cross, and rose again to have a genuine, love relationship with me.  It is truly cause to live life to the fullest, just like Anne.

*Real love definition from Embracing the Love of God by James Bryan Smith, Harper One Publishers.

Much thanks to for a few pictures and script excerpts.

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