Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery, is written using third-person omniscient POV. This means that the reader is able to follow the thoughts and actions of all of the characters, without being told the story from a specific character’s point of view. It gives us a complete picture of the happenings in Avonlea and how each character contributes to the overall story.
Anne Shirley is the orphaned girl that Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert have decided to adopt as help for Matthew on their farm, Green Gables. However, her arrival in Avonlea comes as a shock to the Cuthbert family, as they had been expecting a boy. This initially causes Marilla to question whether Anne should remain in Green Gables. She makes plans for Anne to return to her orphanage in Nova Scotia, but has a change of heart after listening to Anne’s story.
Anne is very talkative and Montgomery portrays this well through her use of descriptive language and expressive dialogue. She has a very vivid imagination and we immediately see this at the very beginning of the story.
‘“I’m very glad to see you. I was beginning to be afraid you weren’t coming for me and I was imagining all the things that might have happened to prevent you. I had made up my mind that if you didn’t come for me to-night I’d go down the track to that big wild cherry-tree at the bend, and climb up into it to stay all night. I wouldn’t be a bit afraid, and it would be lovely to sleep in a wild cherry-tree all white with bloom in the moonshine, don’t you think? You could imagine you were dwelling in marble halls, couldn’t you? And I was quite sure you would come for me in the morning, if you didn’t to-night.”’
If the whole story was told from Anne’s POV, it would make her very annoying and tedious for the reader. At times, she is overly expressive and often takes herself away from the drudgery and regularity of everyday life through her vivid imagination. This causes her to get into trouble throughout the story.
Marilla Cuthbert becomes Anne’s adoptive mother, though she is unhappy about this at first. After requesting a boy to help her and Matthew on the farm, she is shocked when Matthew returns from the station with Anne Shirley. She immediately makes plans to try and send her back to Nova Scotia, but has a change of heart after she listens to Anne’s history.
Unlike Anne Shirley, Marilla Cuthbert is a very practical woman with no imagination. She very much lives in reality and Montgomery’s portrayal of her often comes across as cold and unemotional, especially at the beginning of the story. However, as the story progresses, we find out more about Marilla’s true nature and though she may not always express it, she feels a lot more than she lets on.
‘Marilla was a tall, thin woman, with angles and without curves; her dark hair showed some gray streaks and was always twisted up in a hard little knot behind with two wire hairpins stuck aggressively through it. She looked like a woman of narrow experience and rigid conscience, which she was; but there was a saving something about her mouth which, if it had been ever so slightly developed, might have been considered indicative of a sense of humor.’
If the whole story was told from Marilla’s POV, it would be dull and uninteresting. Her unromantic view of the world would make it boring for the reader and it would end up becoming a story of how Marilla makes Anne into a proper young lady. But told through third-person omniscient, we see how Anne’s words and personality influence Marilla and whilst she manages to tame Anne to some degree, Marilla accepts her as the imaginative young girl that she is.
Matthew Cuthbert is Marilla’s brother and is the first person to meet Anne in the story. Unlike Marilla, he is quiet and thoughtful, hiding much of his personality behind his shyness. From the moment he meets Anne, he takes a shine to her and the two of them form a very close relationship as the story progresses. In Anne’s words, he is a kindred spirit.
Although he doesn’t say much in the story, his role is integral. He is the bridge between Anne and Marilla in forming their relationship and when Anne’s nature becomes too difficult for Marilla to cope with, it is Matthew who gives her a better understanding of her personality. This encourages Marilla to have more empathy with the child. Without Matthew, things might have turned out very differently for Anne, and not necessarily for the better.
‘“Well now, she’s a real nice little thing, Marilla. It’s kind of a pity to send her back when she’s so set on staying here.”
“Matthew Cuthbert, you don’t mean to say you think we ought to keep her!”
Marilla’s astonishment could not have been greater if Matthew had expressed a predilection for standing on his head.
“Well, now, no, I suppose not—not exactly,” stammered Matthew, uncomfortably driven into a corner for his precise meaning. “I suppose—we could hardly be expected to keep her.”
“I should say not. What good would she be to us?”
“We might be some good to her,” said Matthew suddenly and unexpectedly.
“Matthew Cuthbert, I believe that child has bewitched you! I can see as plain as plain that you want to keep her.”
“Well now, she’s a real interesting little thing,” persisted Matthew. “You should have heard her talk coming from the station.”’
However, if the whole story was told from Matthew’s POV, it would be very passive. He is a quiet man with a peaceful life, who thinks a lot more than he says. He avoids confrontation wherever possible and we only get a true picture of his personality from his interactions with Anne. She enjoys his company and the fact that he listens with genuine interest to what she has to say. Without her POV, it would be a lot harder to learn this about Matthew.
In my opinion, third-person omniscient works for this particular story because it allows us to get a full picture of the happenings in Avonlea. We see the relationships that individual characters form with each other from a bird’s eye view, rather than having the bias of one particular character in the story.
Alone, I would find Anne’s character a little annoying and over-dramatic. She has a lot of dialogue and it can be easy to become frustrated at just how much she can talk at times. However, there are other characters in the story who not only share the frustration, but revel in the delight. As a reader, it allows me to connect to Anne’s character more and share in the humorous moments that her personality brings.
There is also involvement from a lot of other characters, including Diana and Mrs Rachel Lynde. Their roles give the story more depth and tells of life in Avonlea from their POV. These become crucial to the story as we see the influence that Anne has on them and how they warm to her over the story.
I am about to start editing my own book, Sam’s Diary, told from third-person limited POV. It is about a teenage boy who goes to stay with his widowed grandfather for the summer. As much as I like Montgomery’s use of third-person omniscient, I feel it is better suited to stories with a simpler plot. Trying to write a complicated plot in third-person omniscient POV would be a very challenging task for the writer. There would be far too much happening at once and as a reader, I would quickly lose interest.
Anne of Green Gables is a charming story, which tells not only of hardship but of the real relationships that can form in a small community. Whilst some parts of the story are dated and not what I would choose to write about, it taught me a lot about a different POV. In future, I may apply it to my own writing.