Published in 1903, "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm" by Kate Wiggin Douglas is a classic American novel. One of seven children, Rebecca is sent to live with two spinster aunts after her father dies. Though her aunts are determined to mold her into a proper young lady, the irrepressible Rebecca soon turns the lives of the entire town upside-down as she wins the hearts of all with her vivid imagination, love of life and generous spirit.
Rebecca is described by Wiggin as "a thing of fire and spirit," and comparing her to her father who was "flabby and boneless," said Rebecca was "plucky at two and dauntless at five." The theme of individuality is borne out through the book as Rebecca desires pink and blue dresses instead of plain brown, defends a poor family against the school bully, runs away from home and, without asking first, invites a large missionary family to stay at the aunts' house. Rebecca's individuality is portrayed as a positive and sometimes humorous trait as well as the impetus for many of her woes.
The value of having good character is repeatedly stressed throughout this story. Rebecca emerges quickly as a leader at school and is admired by the other students for her strength of character and aversion to gossip and cruel teasing. She is described sympathetically as "a very faulty and passionately human child ... but she had a sense of duty and a desire to be good -- respectably, decently good." She cares about everyone she meets, and is constantly finding ways to help children who are less fortunate. Rebecca is also painfully honest, which is illustrated in several instances in the story. Throughout the book, Rebecca is portrayed and praised for being modest, generous, hard-working and loyal.
A proper education and the firm hand of Rebecca's Aunt Miranda are to be "the making of Rebecca," which is a dominant theme of the book. Though often at odds with Aunt Miranda's stern manner, Rebecca is a willing and apt student. Education is portrayed as the "path that was to lead to boundless knowledge," and Rebecca often thrills at the "joyful sense" of knowing her lessons and searches for "intellectual treasures" in the minds of her friends. Much of the book is focused on her studies as she progresses through the tiny country school of Riverboro and then goes on to excel at the large high school in Warham. Rebecca is praised for graduating in three years instead of four, while some of her classmates are just trying to make it through with gaining as little education as possible.
Love of Nature
Rebecca is portrayed as an artistic soul who finds beauty in everything, particularly nature. The story is full of Rebecca's rhapsodic descriptions of her natural surroundings. While everyone else calls her home "the Randall farm," she calls it "Sunnybrook Farm" because of the tiny creek that runs through the farm, and "whenever there's a bit of sunshine the brook catches it and it's always full of sparkles the livelong day." Throughout the book, the reader catches a captivating glimpse of birds, flowers, rivers and trees through the poetic, nature-loving viewpoint of Rebecca.
Coming of Age
Rebecca is 10 years old when she leaves her beloved Sunnybrook Farm to live in the brick house in Riverboro with her aunts. The relationship with her aunts is integral to the story and her often stormy relationship with stern Aunt Miranda is a large part of the conflict. By the end of the book, Rebecca is 17. She reaches the goal of being well-educated when she graduates from high school and is offered an opportunity to teach school. Through her many trials and triumphs, Rebecca has matured into a generous and gracious young lady who finally and "unconsciously scaled the walls of Miss Miranda's dogmatism and prejudice."