Green Gables and The Forsaken

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The Representation of Women and their Unbeknownst Equal Stature amongst Men

Presented in Anne of Green Gables and The Forsaken

This essay will discuss the representation of women within the novel, Anne of Green Gables, and the poem, The Forsaken. The two genders, male and female, within these works are portrayed much differently from one another. This essay will show that females are just as, if not more, important in the growth and survival of a society or group as men are. Lastly, this essay will briefly examine Sara Jeannette Duncan's, The Heroine of Old-Time and compare her idea of women of to-day to the women portrayed in these two works. To begin, the women in Anne of Green Gables will be analyzed.

In L.M. Montgomery's novel, Anne of Green Gables, women were subject to the same limitations and gender equality issues that all women of the late eighteenth and nineteenth century were (as this is around the time the book was published). Women were seen as useless, in regards to labour, as they were not physically fit for those types of duties. While the men were out working the fields and making the money, the women were expected to keep the house clean and to have food prepared, etc. This ridiculous idea of women as useless people can be seen in the text, when Anne is first dropped off at the Cuthbert's farm. When Marilla and her brother Matthew sent out for a child from the orphanage, they had asked for a boy in order to help Matthew in the fields. What the Cuthbert's got was a young Anne Shirley which was not only a shock to both Mathew and Marilla but more so a disappointment for Marilla. This is where Marilla addresses the point that Anne is useless because of her inability to assist Matthew. “No. We want a boy to help Matthew on the farm. A girl would be of no use to us.” (Montgomery 29) This is a very strange statement and what makes it worse is that it was in fact Marilla and not Matthew who mentioned this. This shows that the ideology of women's roles in society are so ‘drilled in' that women themselves begin to believe and take on these masculine structured ideas and use them towards themselves. Being that these ideologies were constructed by men, it is surprising to see how well Matthew, compared to Marilla, took the presence of Anne instead of a boy. That's not to say that Matthew wasn't at all surprised or hesitant in bringing Anne home, but he couldn't bring himself to tell Anne of the mistake that had occurred so he decided to let Marilla tell her instead (Montgomery 13). The whole scene at the train station is important in showing the mixed gender roles of both Marilla and Matthew. The man, in all ideologies of men during this period, should be able to handle any situation that approaches him without the assistance of women, but that is definitely not the case. Matthew has allowed himself to become feminized and passed on his ‘manhood' to Marilla which granted her a masculine position in the household. This can be seen when Matthew wishes for Marilla “to be at hand” (Montgomery 12) to solve the predicament relating to the mix up with orphans as well, as stated before, his inability to confront Anne about the mix up and yet again waits for Marilla to handle it. It is almost as if the two characters' genders should be switched in order to suit the general norms of gender in society. Aside from the apparent mixed gender roles between these two characters there are still many issues that surround being women in Avonlea. A major issue that women, especially Anne, face is conformity. Anne was under the expectation to drop her troublesome imagination and dress appropriately in order to fit the feminine norms of the society. This didn't work out so well to begin with, but as time went by Anne slowly began to become the ideal women that she was expected to be. This is shown at the end of the text where Anne considers herself to be a pruned and branched out tree (Montgomery 316) which shows her transition from a young, useless and nonconformist girl to a grown, mature and, to some extent, conformist woman. This is also important in showing the differences of expectations between genders. Matthew, although a feminized character was never expected to change in order to suit the ideal male norms of society because he was a man and so, was able to do and act as he wished. As for the women there is a major difference in that they must change themselves in order to suit feminine norms and if they don't they are rather shunned by society or just poorly treated. This shows the major inequality that these norms force upon women. There is another work called, The Forsaken that is also affected by societal/group representations of women.

In Duncan Campbell Scott's poem, The Forsaken, the representation of a woman is portrayed as a nurturing and maternal being whose purpose is to procreate and raise children. As opposed to Anne of Green Gables where there is a transfer from useless to useful, the mother in The Forsaken is subject to a transfer from useful to useless. While the mother's child is young and sick, it depends on her to survive and survive it does. The mother takes on her apparent instinctual maternal role and goes to the greatest extent to keep her son alive during the freezing temperatures doing such things as using pieces of her own flesh in order to bait fish (Scott 33-34). Useless is definitely not the word that comes to mind when referring to this woman. The mother in this poem is in fact a representation of indescribable power and the instinctual will to survive, other than just a procreating and maternal being. Unlike the women in Anne of Green Gables who must conform to societies norms regarding female behaviour, in The Forsaken it appears that even with the lack of a societal norm hanging over the mothers head, being that she is all alone, she still understands that it is her duty to keep her child alive, even at the cost of her own survival. This is shown not only in her ability to bait fish with her own flesh but also in her ability to not rest until she has made fully sure that her child is safe and taken care of (Scott 53).The poem goes many years into the future where the representation of the mother goes in the complete opposite direction. Now that the mother's son has grown into an older man and had kids of his own, all of the sacrifices that the mother had made to keep her son alive have been all but forgotten and in return for her sacrifice the men so graciously desert her because of her uselessness to them.

“…Left her alone forever,

Without a word of farewell,

Because she was old and useless,

Like a paddle broken and warped,

Or a pole that was splintered.” (Scott II 11-15)

This shows that transfer that was mentioned previously, from the mother being a useful and strong willed woman to nothing more than a useless and weak old woman, at least according to the males that deserted her. The mother may have appeared to grow weak with age, but that is not necessarily true because even when she was deserted by the men and able to finally die without worry of her child, she chose to live out the next few days in silence and without regret or angst and then died only when it was her time. This truly portrays her acceptance of her duty as a mother, being she never once had a grudge towards her son for leaving her as well with her decision to stay alive as long as she could solidifies the power that she held as a young woman which shows that she indeed never became weak and useless but just accepted that her duty was accomplished and she may finally rest.

In both works, Anne of Green Gable and The Forsaken, women are portrayed by the men as useless beings that only serve certain purposes. They are seen as tools more than actual individuals. This is actually nonsense, in fact, in many instances the women were the ones who kept everything together and were the foundations of survival within society. There were never any instances where women could not have been of equal or greater stature than the men, as the only thing holding them back were the societal norms that were set forth by men to restrict women to certain duties thus keeping them well below the stature of males. Even with these norms put in place, women represent the survival of the society which trumps anything the males of the society could bring forth. Procreation is an important factor in the necessity of women as there would be no children being born without females to reproduce them. Although procreation is an important factor for the necessity of women, it is not the most important factor. The most important factors of a woman are their maternal abilities, rational thinking skills and all together ability to keep everything intact. In summary, men are more physical and women are more psychological, with some exceptions to the rule of course. This may seem as if men would therefore be more important, thus greater than women because of their physical abilities, but that is not true at all. Both genders equally fill the void, where half is physical and the other half is psychological and thus it may be difficult for one to survive without the other but not impossible. For instance in, The Forsaken there were no men present at all and the mother had to fend for herself and her child. The mother was able to use her rational thinking skills to catch fish and her maternal skills to, at all costs, keep the child alive by sacrificing her well-being. A man in her position may not have been able to think so well on his feet thus leading to the bettering of his well-being and possible death of the child with the mentality of ‘survival of the fittest' coming into play. The same can be seen when looking at Anne of Green Gables. Matthew is useful being that he tills the land in order to make money for the household which in a sense is important for survival, but that does not make him any better than Marilla. Marilla, although a very masculine-like person to begin with, is the one who keeps the household in tact and cares for Anne Shirley when she comes to live with them. Marilla shapes Anne to fit in with society so that she will be accepted and liked instead of an outcast and being shunned. Therefore, although the male of the house does the hard labour and brings home the money, the female also has an equal if not more difficult role in raising the children, in this case Anne, to suit society's norms and keeping the household running soundly. Thus, it is unfair to present women as less than equal people then that of men because women's role in society is extremely important, if not more so than men's. Before concluding this essay, it is best to briefly discuss Sara Jeanette Duncan's, The Heroine of Old-Time, and compare her idea of women to-day to those in Anne of Green Gables and The Forsaken.

In Sara Jeanette Duncan's, The Heroine of Old-Time, Duncan discusses the presentation of the heroine in earlier texts compared to those presented in modern texts. The differences of the two types of heroine's were many. Heroines in earlier texts, according to Duncan, followed the same pattern of physical appearances. “…blue eyes, with what zestful anticipation we foreknew the golden hair, the rosebud mouth, the faintly flushed, ethereal cheek…” (Duncan 216). The readers would then continue to follow them through all their trials and tribulations and in the end the thought of the maiden would be nowhere in sight, but only lingering thoughts of the adventures that took place. “She vanished with the last page, ceased utterly with the sound of her wedding-bells; and we remembered for a little space, not the maiden, but the duels in her honour…” (Duncan 262). As these stories grew tiresome the desire for a more character and less physical attribute base came upon the people (Duncan 262). This desire eventually grew into what Duncan calls the women of to-day (Duncan 264). These women of to-day are considered to understand that they hold some actual worth and belong to the same knowledgeable group as the men, which ultimately remove the requirements for a heroine and replace her with a regular everyday woman (Duncan 264). This idea of women of to-day can be seen in both Anne of Green Gables and The Forsaken. In Anne of Green Gables both Anne and Marilla are perfect examples of the women of to-day. Both females are strong and knowledgeable people that do not put themselves in positions for men to come and rescue them as well their physical features are not the primary purpose of the characters as there is much more to them then that. At the end of the novel it becomes quite difficult to forget Marilla and Anne because there was an actual development of character placed within the text that allowed the reader to become close to the female characters thus making them memorable even after the last page. This can also be seen in The Forsaken where the physical features of the mother have absolutely nothing to do with her struggle. The mother takes on both the roles of mother and father and through her sacrifices and strive to keep her son alive this character becomes deeply developed within very few lines of the poem. Thus, the mother becomes very memorable for her actions alone and not forgetful as she would have been if she left her child to starve in order to fix her hair and make-up. Therefore the women of to-day as presented by Duncan are a much better representation of women in literature and reality.

In conclusion, this essay discussed the representations of women within Montgomery's, Anne of Green Gables and Scott's, The Forsaken as well as showing that women are just as equal if not more so than men, in their respective texts. Finally, this essay briefly examined Duncan's, The Heroine of Old-Time, and compared her idea of women to-day to women portrayed in both works. Women can truly be seen as no less of an important figure in society as men because no matter which way you swing it, in reality, both genders cannot exist without one another so it's time that the people of the world put aside all of these nonsensical norms and limitations of genders and just start working together equally to better all of our lives.

Works Cited

Duncan, Sara Jeannette. “The Heroine of Old-Time.” Early Canadian Short Stories: Short Stories in English before World War I. Ed. John Miss, Gerald Lynch. Canada: The Tecumseh Press Ltd, 2008. 261-264. Print.

Montgomery, L.M. Anne of Green Gables. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart Ltd, 2008. Print.

Scott, Duncan Campbell. “The Forsaken.” A New Anthology of Canadian Literature in English. Ed. Donna Bennett, Russell Brown. Canada: Oxford University Press, 2002. 195-197. Print.