Monday, April 07, 2008

Anne of Green Gables and other Morally Delicious Fiction

This is the 100th anniversary of Anne of Green Gables, a revered Canadian children's book about a girl who some might say gets by just upon a smile. But the values embodied in the small redheaded foster child include cheerfulness, openness, frankness, industriousness, generosity, respect, and good will. With that, a society can be so much. This is a good moral line to adhere to.

Another morally delicious novel that is well known is The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver. A young part-Cherokee woman from Kentucky sets out in an old car and passes through Oklahoma, where a motherless baby is handed to her on a Cherokee reservation. Her car breaks down in Tucson and she develops relationships with women of various types there - sharing housing, work, child-minding, etc. The heroine is industrious, frank, loyal, generous, respectful, as cheerful as she can manage, psychologically insightful, and of good will. She knowingly communicates in symbols, gestures, and words, with her housemate and with the child she has been given. She affects people's self-image and their behaviour in very subtle and incremental ways. Most of the story is about attachment, how people attach to each other, and very specifically about invisible support systems that people provide for each other. The bean tree is exposed by the end as a metaphor of this.

A novel more artistically thrilling than either of these yet clearly related is Swamp Angel by Ethel Wilson. Here the principal image and eponymous symbol is a gun. The lead character is a runaway wife who falls back on her patrimony and makes a living creating fishing flies. Her two friends, a mother and daughter, are on her wave length. The mother formerly juggled guns as a travelling performer; she still has one gun. She uses it to do a psychological and moral intervention in the path of the abandoned violent husband, who is careering toward violent vindictiveness. The heroine becomes a cook at a fishing camp where the owners have a child. Through symbolic and psychological intervention, and willingness to exercise her own specific powers, she works skillfully at pulling people who are pushing their home apart through anger, back towards a functioning community.

In each of these three books, the drama of building cooperative life is very gripping.

If you like the concept of these books, you might also like to read my review of Gwethalyn Graham's Swiss Sonata

1 comment:

  1. This is a great review, leading me from a known, beloved book to other books I've never heard of. I trust Frieda Werden's recommendations.


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