The Rejection of Maternalism in L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables

February 20, 2021 by Essay Writer

“‘I wouldn’t be in that orphan’s shoes for anything” – The Rejection of Maternalism in L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables

Maternalism is a huge theme in L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables; however, not in the usual way. Typically, women are believed to inherit a number of maternal qualities, or rather, a wealth of knowledge on how to raise children. In Anne of Green Gables, the rejection of this belief is quite evident. Marilla’s uneasiness towards Anne is seen immediately after their first meeting, showing that she lacks the “mother’s intuition,” while Mathew connects with Anne immediately. Though Marilla attempts to punish Anne properly, again, it is Mathew who achieves what Marilla fails in doing. Additionally, Marilla must constantly remind herself to give Anne advice in order for her to grow up properly and yet, Mathew is a complete natural in aiding Anne to live her best life. In terms of maternalism, Marilla should be the one excelling at all of the motherly duties; however, Mathew is constantly one-upping her without even trying. L.M. Montgomery’s novel, Anne of Green Gables, rejects the notion of maternalism through Marilla’s incompetence as a mother and Mathew’s achievement in everything that Marilla seems to struggle with, rendering maternalism absurd and proving that being a good parent has nothing to do with gender.

All women are supposed to bear the maternal instincts which would allow for them to understand and connect with a child immediately; however this novel proves that belief wrong. Marilla immediately states that Anne “will have to be sent back to the asylum” (80). Marilla is simply bewildered by the fact that Mathew, who would rather Anne stay in Green Gables with them, has already developed a sense of fondness for the girl. Marilla lacks a connection with Anne that Mathew has right from the beginning. Marilla wants a boy to do the work on their property – not a family member. She does not feel as though there is any reason to keep Anne in her home as there is no way, in Marilla’s mind, that Anne could ever contribute anything to the household – a very unmaternal perception. Women are thought to encompass a desire for raising a child; however, Anne of Green Gables proves this wrong by perceiving Marilla as the skeptical one and Mathew as the maternal figure.

In order to be a maternal figure, one must actually enjoy the company of children. Mathew displays this right away, while Marilla takes quite a while to get used to Anne and accept her. Mathew meets Anne for the first time and although he acknowledges that there is definitely something strange about her, he admits to “[enjoying] the society” of Anne (67). Mathew understands immediately that Anne is a good girl with a good heart. He proceeds to say that he usually does not like the company of little girls; however, he feels as though Anne is different from the other girls in the best way. His intuitive knowledge aids him in developing an immediate connection with Anne – one that is thought of to be formed between child and mother. The fact that Mathew gets along with Anne so quickly after meeting her would not be so significant if it were not for the contrasting relationship between this orphan girl and Marilla. Clearly, this depicts the idea that maternalism is inaccurate in determining one’s ability to raise a child.

As a woman, Marilla should have the maternal instinct which allows for her to properly relate to a child and punish them accordingly; however, that is not the case with Marilla. After Anne loses her temper to Mrs. Lynde during their first meeting, Marilla is the one who takes it upon herself to punish Anne. Marilla decides to send Anne to her room, only allowing her out should she decide to apologize to Mrs. Lynde. Marilla does not try to sympathize with the obviously hurt, Anne. Instead, she focuses solely on ensuring that Anne redeems herself by asking Mrs. Lynde for forgiveness. Anne proceeds to stay in her room and refuses to apologize. As a woman, Marilla should have the maternal instinct which allows for her to properly punish a child effectively; however, that is not the case with Marilla. Fortunately for Anne, Mathew seems to embody the maternalism that Marilla lacks.

Mathew accomplishes what Marilla is unable to do: convince Anne to apologize to Mrs. Lynde. He connects with Anne by telling her that “[it is] terrible lonesome down-stairs without [her],” creating a sympathetic bond between the two of them which Marilla lacks (119). Mathew is able to connect with Anne on a level that Marilla is un-capable of at this point. Mathew speaks to Anne in this way without a second thought simply because he is a natural at what is inaccurately deemed maternalism. Through this, Mathew is demolishing the notion that all women are born with maternal characteristics. Anne does not even put up a fight when Mathew asks her to apologize; she agrees almost immediately. The ease in which Mathew is able to accomplish this task seems deliberate when paired with Marilla’s failed attempt – as if to emphasize the senseless notion that women are natural-born mothers. This further proves that maternalism is a hoax and that being a good parent has nothing to do with gender.

Additionally, Marilla constantly has to consider her words carefully when speaking to Anne. She is continuously reminding herself that she must instill values in Anne in order to raise her properly. There are countless instances when Marilla stifles her laughter and contemplates a response towards Anne, showing her incompetence within the world of parenting. After Anne takes Marilla’s hand in her own, Marilla admits that “[its] very unaccustomedness and sweetness disturbed her. She hastened to restore her sensations to their normal calm by inculcating a moral” (123). Many would consider Marilla’s ability to be consciously inflicting morals onto Anne as an admirable feature in a motherly character; however, it merely illustrates her ineptness. Marilla’s advice for Anne never comes naturally, meaning that she always has to remind herself that she is responsible for raising Anne. In terms of maternalism, teaching a child right from wrong should be second nature to a woman and yet, Marilla is always having to recall this fact so as not to raise her improperly. Perhaps the fact that Marilla seems to be anything but natural at parenting is not entirely significant on its own; however, Marilla’s inability combined with Mathew’s ability is what renders this so important.

Mathew never questions what he should say to Anne; he just simply knows. Anne pledges to Marilla that she will stop being so “romantic” as it gets her into a lot of trouble and is “not appreciated now” (261). Marilla is content with this; however, Mathew takes it upon himself to ensure that Anne stays true to who she is. Once Marilla exits the room, Mathew explains to Anne that she should not “‘give up all [of her] romance… a little of it is a good thing – not too much, of course – but keep a little of it” (262). Mathew does not contemplate giving Anne this advice, nor does he do it because that is merely what a parent does; he tells Anne this simply because he feels that it is necessary. Mathew’s ability to speak to Anne and advise her in such a natural way while Marilla struggles time and time again only supports the fact that this novel is anti-maternal.

Though Marilla is Anne’s mother figure, she is not the parent who displays the maternal qualities. Marilla quite clearly does not have any knowledge on how to bring up a child and yet, according to maternalism, she should. This fact, along with Mathew’s natural parenting ability, proves the idea of maternalism wrong. Marilla does not feel an immediate connection with Anne, nor does she know how to punish or advise Anne without excess contemplation. Mathew, on the other hand, is able to do all of this flawlessly. Maternalism in L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables is a major theme and yet it rejects all of the ideals that go along with maternalism through the incompetent Marilla and the skilled Mathew.

Work Cited

Montgomery, L.M. Anne of Green Gables. Edited by Cecily Devereux, Broadview editions, Broadview Press Ltd., 2004.

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