Anne of Green Gables | Study Guide

L. M. Montgomery

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Anne of Green Gables | Chapter 27 : Vanity and Vexation of Spirit | Summary

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Summary

When Marilla gets home from a meeting on an April afternoon, she looks forward to having tea in front of a crackling fire. Both tea and fire will have been prepared by Anne, who has been home from school for a couple of hours. Marilla reflects on what a welcome change it is to come home to a comfortable kitchen instead of a dark and empty one. She's disappointed and annoyed to find the kitchen fire out and no sign of Anne. Assuming Anne is still playing with Diana somewhere, Marilla grimly begins making up the fire.

When Anne hasn't shown up after an hour or so, Marilla takes a candle up to her bedroom—where she's astonished to find Anne lying face down on her bed. "Go away and don't look at me," Anne says into her pillow. Of course Marilla demands an explanation, and Anne gets off the bed. "Look at my hair," she whispers. Her formerly red hair is green. While Marilla was out, Anne dyed it, thinking "it was worth while to be a little wicked to get rid of red hair."

A peddler came by Green Gables earlier that afternoon. Anne has been told never to let a peddler in, so she went out to look at his wares. One item was a bottle of hair dye "warranted to dye any hair a beautiful raven black." She bought it, took it upstairs to her room, applied the whole bottle, and has "been repenting ever since."

The peddler was at least telling the truth when he promised the dye wouldn't wash out. No amount of shampooing takes the green away. After a week with no results, Marilla declares the only thing to do is cut off Anne's hair to the roots. When the deed is done, Anne vows never to look at herself in a mirror again. She turns the glass to the wall—and then turns it back around. As penance, she says, she'll look at herself every time she comes into the room. This is her punishment for giving in to vanity. Anne's schoolmates are predictably started when she comes in on Monday, but Anne tries to be patient. "I mean to devote all my energies to being good after this," she promises Marilla, who has had another one of her headaches.

Analysis

Marilla is right: Anne has a knack for getting into scrapes, or—as it would now be explained—making bad choices. It's a sign of how much she hates her hair that she takes such desperate measures in this chapter. Many so-called black dyes are actually a very dark green, and it's suitable wild-spirited Anne should have green hair. Still this is a disaster for her.

In Anne of Green Gables, as in many novels of the period, women's hair is a symbol of their characters. When Marilla is introduced, readers learn that her gray-streaked hair "was always twisted up in a hard little knot"—like her heart—"with two wire hairpins stuck aggressively through it." Marilla's hair-pinned knot is a clue to her repressed and ungenerous personality.

Poor Anne's personality matches the red-headed stereotype—she's hot-tempered and impetuous. But her hair is also the red of the sandstone roads on Prince Edward Island. Anne notices these roads as soon as she arrives on Prince Edward Island; she asks both Mrs. Spencer and Matthew what makes the color, but neither adult can tell her. (Iron oxide is the cause.) Anne is as closely bound to the island as those roads. But only after she's dyed her hair does she realize she was vain about it, knowing even despite its color "it was so long and thick and curly." She's too young to realize even if the dye had turned her hair raven black, it would not have suited her.

Anne has put up with so many comments about her hair not even Marilla can be too angry with her. Besides she's doubly punished: first when her hair turns green and next when her head has to be shingled. It would seem the peddler is really the person to blame, but he's long gone. No doubt he knows when it's best not to stick around.

Montgomery was fond of her own hair, which was an inoffensive brown. A couple of years before she began work on Anne of Green Gables, she noticed she had several gray hairs. The discovery made her cry all night.

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