A reader discusses the book Anne of Green Gables with a viewer of the Netflix show Anne with an E.
Reader: When I started the book, I wondered if the woman who ran the orphanage didn’t purposefully send Anne out to Green Gables in order to teach her a lesson—that is, break her will and crush her spirit.
Viewer: Oh, but that’s exactly what happened. The head matron hated Anne and so did all the older girls who tortured and bullied her.
Reader: That is a fabrication; it never happens in the book.
Viewer: But it shows the deep trauma that Anne underwent as she grew up.
Reader: But that trauma has no place in the books; there was no trauma in the books beyond the existential trauma of not belonging or being loved by anyone. Isn’t that bad enough? The head matron did exactly as she was asked: send a girl to Marilla and Matthew. The error occurred because Marilla and Matthew ask a friend to ask another friend who absentmindedly asks for a girl instead of a boy. No one is evil; the error is one of forgetfulness.
Viewer: Oh, I’m sure evil intention is better. You can show evil intention. All the images from the orphanage are of dark, gray rooms full of angry people forcing Anne to eat dead mice and that kind of thing. Lots of physical and verbal violence.
Reader: The point of the books is this: Anne is unloved. She is not precious or special to anyone; every child should be special to someone: that’s the point of having parents. But no one wants Anne. Isn’t it enough that Anne has never been loved by anyone? She’s been moved around her whole life and no one cares until Matthew and then Marilla decide that they can do Anne a lot of good and so they set out to love Anne.
Viewer: That won’t play well visually.
Reader: Why not?
Viewer: It isn’t easy to show a loveless life; it is easy to show trauma.
Reader: Why not show the banality of her existence before meeting Marilla and Matthew? Banal isn’t really the right word: Anne spends her life without love. No one wants Anne. Not only does she have a loveless life, but she is a burden to everyone around her. She is placed in homes with horrible conditions because only people with pressing need would take in Anne; she spends her life in these horrible conditions working as a slave. Modern slavery exists; there are as many modern slaves as there ever were in the history of society, so why not show some slavery?
Viewer: Why does it even matter? Isn’t slavery as traumatic as physical and verbal abuse?
Reader: It matters because these subtle changes transform an original story into yet another Hollywood story: cheap, quick, and easy. Hollywood makes everything “The same but different” and we limit our own minds and hearts to experiencing the same story but different. Hollywood produces monoculture whereas books produce the diversity and applicability of the varied experiences of the authors who write them. Why not make Anne of Green Gables different, which is to say, true to the original story so that this story, Anne’s story, isn’t absorbed into a monoculture, homogenized, and sold next to other offerings about other modern kids with psychological trauma from the abuse they endured.
Viewer: It would be refreshing if movies and television shows were not all the same but different; I think I would enjoy watching something that was different and different.
Reader: You would! We all would enjoy that enormously.