Anne Shirley Has a Past
The drive that Anne and Marilla take to “return” Anne is just so enlightening. It is the first time we see Marilla realizing that this little girl is human and that she has a history all her own. It’s also a fantastic demonstration of Anne’s fortitude and kindly nature. She honestly believes the best in people. It’s heartening to hear her speak but, at the same time, you realize that her story is not that different than any other orphan’s story and somewhat better than most as well.
Her parents, Walter and Bertha Shirley, were teachers, and both died of fever when Anne was a baby. She was adopted by Mrs. Thomas, a poor woman with a drunken husband, who wanted Anne only so she would have help with her children. Eight years later, after the death of Mr. Thomas, Mrs. Thomas gave Anne to another poor woman, Mrs. Hammond, and Anne cared for Mrs. Hammond’s three sets of twins. After two years, Mr. Hammond died, and Anne was sent to the orphanage, where she lived for four months. She received little schooling but compensated for her lack of formal education by reading voraciously.
I believe it is more Anne’s story about her “friends” and Mrs. Blewett that change Marilla’s attitude. Not to mention the quiet insistence of Matthew. I just adore Matthew. I think he is probably the single greatest father figure ever written. He’s kind, patient, and determined. He let Marilla know his sentiments immediately and without getting loud and nasty about it, kept on being persistent. He adores Anne from the get go and realizes right away that she’s intelligent and genuinely good in her heart. Marilla is a little more reserved but she gets there soon enough.
I spent a year working at a treatment center for abused and neglected children. I was “den” mother to the boys ages 13-17 and all had some form of behavioral problem. At first, when you hear their stories, you have this profound feeling of pity that takes over you. The same can be said for Marilla with regards to Anne. How can you not pity a person whose only crime was being born? It’s just overwhelming to think of what some children go through. However, I respect Marilla. Like me she realizes right away that pity will get Anne no further ahead. It will actually enable the bad behavior she wants to correct. I felt the same way with my boys. Pity them as I did, I could not allow that pity to cloud my judgement or excuse their unwanted behaviors. It was actually the other workers that did allow their pity to overthrow their better judgement that the boys walked all over.