Communicative Value of Illustrations in Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm

Introduction: Selections From a Wealth of Illustrations

This paper deals exclusively with the communications of selected monochrome and colour pictures in the 1925 edition of the classic girl’s novel Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. All the illustrations are by Helen Mason Grose.

This paper will take a selected sample of 3 monochrome illustrations paired with 3 easily related colour ones to :
1. Discuss the illustrations to recognize them as an extremely desirable addition and support to the story text.
2. Show sample ways in which the illustrations mutually support the text’s idealized girl to woman that Rebecca exemplifies.

In this girl's classic, Rebecca, an eleven year old turn of the 19th century girl is sent from her mother at impoverished Sunnybrook Farm to live with her aunts. This is meant to be the making of Rebecca, especially through the aunts’ support of her high school education. Rebecca is a disadvantaged character who learns to make the most of whats offered her and thereby becomes successful. Therefore, the main thing to be considered is that the book is truly about the making of Rebecca, particularly through her own potential and nature.

The following major ideals represented by Rebecca are focused on here: assertiveness, femininity, sensitivity, growth, congeniality and scholarship.



Figure 1: “Please Let Me Speak” and “Mr. Cobb Handed Rebecca Out Like a Real Lady Passenger” (Wiggin 7; frontspiece)

Both these illustrations refer to the final leg of her journey from Temperance to her aunts in Riverboro. Examining the monochrome, one can see Rebecca leaning out of the coach to gain the attention of the dull-witted coach driver, Mr Cobb. The text animatedly refers to this effort, which earns her a seat beside him. The text gives a rich description of this assertive act, but its humour and drama is well attempted by the monochrome showing Rebecca hanging out of the window as far as safety will allow as she tries to poke Mr. Cobb with her parasol. The illustration is very faithful to the text and plainly promotes the Rebecca ideals of assertiveness and femininity.

The colour illustration displays her triumph in wholeheartedly winning over the dull coachman as an ardent fan, described in the text in ways that show her femininity, sensitivity, budding scholarship and emerging congeniality. As she triumphs over Mr. Cobb, the vividness and vibrancy of Rebecca’s entrance triumph over us and immediately cement our interest in reading more.


Figure 2: “’Oh! I Must Know That Soap.’ Said the Gentleman Genially” and “’ Oh, What a Sweet, Sweet, Flowery Face!’ She Whispered Softly." (Wiggin 153, 256)

Rebecca and Mr Adam Ladd begin their relationship as she attempts to sell him soap in a philanthropic attempt to achieve a sales premium of a banquet lamp for the disadvantaged Simpson children. The monochrome supports the text as it displays Rebecca asserting herself, using her femininity naturally and making the most of her growing, congenial nature to immediately achieve a total sellout to the kind and wealthy Mr Ladd. Nascently here, their relationship slowly starts to show its romantic potential as she ages toward womanhood. She grows as a part of this experience, coming to realize that her and her accompanying best friend, Emma Jane are already “.. the beginnings of ladies ..” (Wiggin 158)

In the colour, Rebecca and Mr Ladd are shown a couple of years later in a private library, in decidedly closer to adult postures, with the relationship slowly and appropriately potentiating into a romance. She shows the sensitivity evoked in the text as she makes gentle reference to Ladd’s deceased mother’s face. Her femininity and maturing growth is also evident and this is reflected by his interest in her shown in the illustration as well as text as he begins his admiration of her growth towards womanhood.


Figure 3: “Rebecca’s Head Was Bowed with Shame and Wrath” and “I Can’t Tell Whether I’m Glad or Sorry”(Wiggin 61, 310)

Rebecca’s initial adjustment difficulties in the village schoolhouse are shown in the monochrome as she feels unfairly disciplined at being forced by schoolteacher Miss Dearborn to stand at the water pail with the beau she is unrequited to, Seesaw Simpson. This illustration with the chapter’s text, is in a scholastic setting, shows her sensitivity and the shame and wrath is a precursor to her growth and congeniality as she is subsequently excused and affectionately guided by Miss Dearborn.

The colour illustration uniquely shows the promising morning light, presenting Rebecca as an ideal girl on graduation day. The illustration admirably shows her making as a scholar, her feminine growth into a young woman, sensitivity to the occasion, and congeniality with her best friend, all qualities effusively given in the text of the chapter.

Conclusion: The Desirability of the Illustrations

This book has been so highly regarded, we could ask the question, did it need illustrations, (as an instance of do great stories in print need illustration?) In the strictest sense, no, a book like this does not require illustration. It is so expertly and illustratively written as to already invoke splendid imagery in the minds of readers. So why include illustrations, then?

Both the monochrome and colour illustrations add a particular form of special magic to the story. This story sincerely tells of a struggle of a girl over discrimination, dislocation from immediate family, deaths and difficult poverty. The illustrations celebrate the true possibility of the success of Rebecca as an ideal. They contribute reinforcement and visualizations to the dreams of girls in all circumstances of becoming successful young ladies. While being so faithful to the text, they represent a visual representation of Rebecca as a superior icon, a character ideal that young girls embraced for decades after the book’s publication, promoting values for feminine growth that endure to this day.

Works Cited

Wiggin, Kate Douglas. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1925.


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