Analysis of Joan G. Robinson’s Book "When Marnie Was There"

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Words: 5115 |

Pages: 11|

26 min read

Published: Feb 12, 2019

Words: 5115|Pages: 11|26 min read

Published: Feb 12, 2019

Studio Ghibli’s When Marnie Was There (henceforth referred to as Marnie) tells the story of Anna, whose foster mother sends her away to stay with distant relatives in Hokkaido after a severe asthma attack, in hopes that the change of pace, scenery, and air quality will coax Anna out of her shell. Once there, Anna meets the mysterious Marnie, a tenant of the seemingly abandoned mansion across a nearby salt marsh.

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As the film’s events unfold, Anna comes to realize the true depth of their bond when she discovers that Marnie is a younger incarnation of her maternal grandmother. According to audience reviews online, many were caught off-guard by this revelation, having thought that Anna and Marnie were a lesbian couple. Because of this, these same viewers have accused Studio Ghibli of “queerbaiting” (a term I will be defining in the following paragraph). Others, however, have refuted this allegation, insisting that the film’s plot negates the critics’ interpretations. As someone who had also expected Marnie to be a queer romance, this academic investigation poses an opportunity for me to seek a more balanced perspective.

Is there a reading of the film that allows room for conflict and contradiction, without necessarily negating either side of the debate? Perhaps this may be construed as an attempt to quell the naysayers, or to pacify those who were offended by the film, but, all in all, I only want to suggest that Marnie’s cinematic canon and concerns regarding queerbaiting can coexist. While I would not go so far as to say that Marnie contains queerbaiting, I do see queer influences within its portrayal of Anna and Marnie’s relationship, regardless of the plot twist.

In order to fully establish the parameters of my approach, I will be turning to Emma Nordin’s “From Queer Reading to Queerbaiting: The Battle over the Polysemic Text and the Power of Hermeneutics,” which aims to deconstruct the concept of queerbaiting and investigate, from a scholarly perspective, how arguments pertaining to the subject are developed, supported, and contested. As much of my essay will be devoted to the rhetoric used in framing different understandings of Marnie, Nordin’s text will provide me a linguistic foundation upon which I will build my analysis.

She draws attention to the origins of queerbaiting and how its meaning has evolved from homophobic harassment in American legal courts to “the practice of intentionally adding homoerotic tension between characters in order to lure in an extended audience without any intention of turning the homoerotic tension to overt homosexual action” (Nordin 4, 8), noting that what upsets audiences most about this practice is how it exploits and appropriates queer identity.

This is because, unlike queer identity in real life, this tension serves as an accessory masquerading as authentic representation, easily erased with a simple change in plot. There is no strife, no anxiety, and no fear of the same backlash that often plagues the lives of queer-identifying peoples in unsupportive, even hostile environments; it is all just an act the performers can shed by the end of every filming session (Nordin 63). Hence, queerbaiting is more than make-believe and false advertising, it is a global issue in which queer struggles are reduced to a cinematic hook and nothing more, and it is worthy of academic pursuit.

Although Nordin’s study concludes that the definitive definition of queerbaiting has yet to be decided upon, as it often shifts depending on both context and circumstance, it does highlight a distinct difference between the queer readings typical of queer theory and queerbaiting: The former operates within the realm of ambiguity between author intention and audience interpretation to propose ways of understanding a work as queer, particularly in terms of its depictions of gender, sexuality, and power; the latter insists that any queer subtext within the media in question is entirely self-evident, its legitimacy merely hinging on explicit acknowledgement by those involved in the work’s production.

As Nordin states, within queer theory, “[a]ll interpretations are valid until the issue (in this case, homosexual desire) has either been confirmed or denied” (54). In regard to Marnie, the consensus among those who cry queerbaiting is that the canon—Marnie being Anna’s grandmother—denies the possibility for homosexual desire between the two. This renders any and all queer undertones they had detected in the film moot and erases all possibility for the representation they had expected, ergo queerbaiting.

As a person of color, I completely understand the pain that comes from seeing content creators turn one’s identity into a costumed spectacle, rather than an opportunity for improved, nuanced understanding. But, it seems counterintuitive to me to so quickly and dramatically abandon all hope by discrediting one’s personal connections with a work. I would have to disagree with this defeatist attitude, given how it seems a bit misguided and misplaced.

The reason I cannot empathize with Marnie’s purportedly queerbaited audiences is because much of the criticism stems from a Western notion of queer representation (that it is the ideal form of representation) and inaccurate assumptions about Japanese culture and society (that Japan, on a whole, is far too conservative to even consider the existence of queer-identifying people). To fully explicate these views, I will be referring to Mark McLelland’s “Interpretation and Orientalism: Outing Japan’s Sexual Minorities to the English-Speaking World” and Kazumi Nagaike’s “The Sexual and Textual Politics of Japanese Lesbian Comics: Reading Romantic and Erotic Yuri Narratives.”

Though a foreigner, McLelland has spent over a decade researching, observing, and participating in Japan’s gay scene (4), successfully compiling much evidence to show that queer identity has held a long-standing role within Japanese mass media. He concludes that many Western writers have chosen to neglect the history of contemporary queer representation in Japan in favor of upholding outdated beliefs, especially as the represented subjects often do not subscribe to Western ideologies of activism and oppression.

Nagaike, a Japanese gender and cultural historian, will act as a bridge between McLelland and the Marnie debate, as her article addresses the commercialization of lesbian identity through the evolution of yuri manga in Japan. While she does not cite any examples of Western authorship as McLelland does, she does bring in a sociological overview to Japanese queer publications, thus relating more directly to the discourse surrounding Marnie and its characters.

One voice within such a dialogue is Abi Douglas with her blog post titled “When Marnie Was Queer,” which boldly deems Marnie “a slap in the face.” After listing a number of reasons to adore the works of Studio Ghibli, she introduces her perspective by first bringing up the fact that “lesbians, bisexual, and pansexual women don't get to see many stories about themselves that have happy endings” (Douglas), typically either meeting a tragic demise or unnecessarily eroticized and fetishized to the point of resembling pornography meant purely for the enjoyment of straight male audiences.

This overly-simplistic view of relationships between queer-identifying women is what raised Douglas’ expectations towards Marnie and why it consequently became such a severe letdown, having reeled her in with an adolescent same-sex romance that seemed on par with Ghibli’s heterosexual couples: “Come on, Ghibli! You dangle this delight, this possible equivalent of all your spectacular and endearing boy/girl pairs, in front of my face, and yank it away in a sudden twist? Queer-baiting isn't cool” (Douglas). Though Douglas does not explicitly define queerbaiting in her critique, it seems fairly aligned with Nordin’s definition (quoted earlier), with a slight shift of the focus that orients it more toward a plot-based withdrawal of representation rather than a false pretense that never receives proper acknowledgment.

Despite her audacious assertion just paragraphs prior in her post, Douglas’s tone takes a slight positive turn towards the end, conceding that Marnie’s ending was valid and, admittedly, enjoyable to watch.

Douglas’ post closes on a note of tentative hope: “Marnie tiptoes to the edge of an LGBT animated feature, but doesn't quite cross the line. Perhaps that's a sign of progress,” she says, anticipating that, in about a decade’s time, queer-identifying children will be able to see characters just like them within media geared towards their interests. The sentiment of this final note feels rather inconsistent with the basis of the queerbaiting debate. After all, was crying queerbaiting not meant to expose its prominence as a current issue and to demand better representation? Can any progress be made if those who are hurt by queerbaiting media simply wait and hope for things to eventually change for the better?

Additionally, it intrigues me that Douglas considers Marnie “a sign of progress,” especially since, as McLelland points out, “Japanese society is acknowledged as making progress . . . only to the extent that Japanese individuals have accepted the identities and strategies already pioneered by gay and lesbian activists in the west” (16). As stated before, the actual history of queer representation in Japan is frequently omitted in order to further the narrative of Western civilization as the pinnacle of queer recognition.

Douglas seems to conflate the ideas of representation and queerbaiting to imply that there is merit to what Marnie manages to achieve as an animated film that, to her, hints at queer romance. I am extremely hesitant to agree with this conclusion, primarily as it seems contradictory in how it first lays blame on Studio Ghibli for the events of Marnie, before retracting its statements to insist that the film is still commendable in spite of its queerbaiting.

While Douglas labels Marnie as queerbaiting and willingly yields to its storyline, oh-totoro (whose real name is Jamie) on Tumblr vehemently denies that Marnie contains any traces of romance between its two protagonists in their post titled “Regarding Ghibli’s supposed ‘queerbaiting’….” Admittedly, Jamie’s post was written in response to Marnie’s trailer, not the entirety of the film itself. However, their limited knowledge of the plot seems to have only incited them to rely more strongly on preconceived notions regarding Japanese society:

Please realise that this is a JAPANESE trailer aimed at Japanese people. The trailer is NOT in English, it is NOT intended for western audiences. A lot of westerners have watched a trailer that is not aimed at them, and have applied their western culture and perceptions to it and come up with what appears to be a romantic relationship between Marnie and Anna. (oh-totoro)

Firstly, while Marnie is undoubtedly a Japanese film that originated from a Japanese animation studio, I would argue that Studio Ghibli is well-aware of their global fan base and would not have otherwise distributed the movie for an international release. That being said, I would not propose that they would therefore be equally cognizant of Western perceptions of same-sex relationships. This is not to say that I completely agree or disagree with Jamie; I do see the logic in their arguments, though their tone is too condescending and alienating for my taste.

The specific use of the word “westerners” in particular strikes me as odd, seeing as Jamie hails from England and is presumably a Westerner themselves. But, putting this aside, their point regarding the application of a Western understanding upon Marnie’s trailer is justifiable and coincides with McLelland’s observations throughout his text. I will contend that this limited perspective does not necessarily erase the possibility of a queer reading of the film, at the very least, even if one believes that it does not contain any queerbaiting whatsoever.

Following this, Jamie proclaims that “Japanese culture is VERY different, and the things you see in the trailer between Marnie and Anna would be considered entirely normal and not the least bit romantic in Japanese culture” (oh-totoro). Once again, I have no doubt that platonic friends of the same gender in Japan may very likely express their affection towards one another in ways that greatly resemble romantic gestures in Western culture.

Be that as it may, the tinge of conjecture in Jamie’s declaration that “Japanese culture is VERY different” left me feeling quite perturbed, even more so given my belief that queer romantic friendships can exist in which fondness is presented in much subtler ways. Nagaike conveys a similar thought when describing prominent yuri publication Yurihime magazine and its contents: “Yurihime stories are characterized by female characters' strong emotional attachment to each other, and thus serve to reinforce the female homosocial relationship.”

The heart of Yurihime is not to strictly depict the overt, physical, or sexual aspects of companionship between two female characters, instead aspiring to highlight the subtleties of their deep psychological bond, and I can see this pursuit within Marnie as well. Surprisingly enough, although Douglas and Jamie’s posts initially seemed to me like the diametrically-opposed ends of an ideological spectrum of responses to Marnie, it is remarkable how both authors converge in having wanted something more concrete and tangible—a kiss (Douglas), for example—either to prove or disprove the presence of a homosexual romance between Anna and Marnie.

Continuing on this vein of finding commonality within dissimilarity, babydykediaries’s “Queer Childhood in When Marnie Was There (Omoide No Marnie)” is, in my opinion, the most ambivalent, grounded, and convincing of the three critical sources. The author, Veronika, deconstructs Marnie as a cinematic narrative and parses its individual elements to showcase how it both does and does not contain queerbaiting (babydykediaries).

In her analysis of the film, Veronika says, “[w]hen true feelings cannot be expressed in real life, they often travel to the realm of imagination — dreams, day dreams [sic], fantasies, or art.” Indeed, this quickly becomes evident in the movie, as Anna experiences repeated dream sequences that transport her to the salt marsh and mansion. Complete with heavy mist and fleeting visions of Marnie, the scenes then switch to Anna, who is shown to have fallen asleep somewhere distant and secluded, far from her temporary home at the Oiwa’s (Yonebayashi).

Veronika determines that “[t]he two girls’ relationship is limited by both space and time — it is impossible in a way that suggests queerness” (babydykediaries). Again, Marnie is swift to establish this upon the conclusion of the girls’ first meeting, when Marnie tells Anna that she is “[her] precious secret” (00:33:42-00:34:08) and the two swear never to reveal one another to anyone else. Every time Anna and Marnie meet, it is almost as though they exist within an entirely separate realm of their own, having constructed a sphere in which they can share their deepest secrets without fear of intrusion or judgement from a heteronormative adult world, as Veronika describes.

Later on in the film, there is a climactic scene during a stormy night in a decrepit silo, when Anna takes on the role of Marnie’s future husband Kazuhiko in comforting and soothing her: “The fact that Anna in that scene takes on the role of the young man in a heterosexual coupling might just be saying something about her relationship to Marnie” (babydykediaries), Veronika proposes, later deeming it “somewhat of a cinematic cliché” when Anna shields Marnie from the rain with a large trench coat and the two fall asleep huddled together.

The use of this romantic trope strikes me as an oddly specific choice and calls the following point by Nordin to mind: “[I]t is mentioned in the context of [popular TV series Once Upon A Time that] portraying the relationship between two women in such a way that if one of them had been a man it would have been obvious to be meant to be interpreted as romantic” (15). Veronika’s stance matches Nordin’s description in how Marnie seems to allude to deeper ties between Anna and Marnie as the former substitutes the latter’s romantic partner, though this could be refuted by interpreting the scene as a merging of the girls’ timelines, thus causing Anna to step into Kazuhiko’s shoes and essentially mirror his actions.

It is interesting to note, however, that the true events of that night—Kazuhiko arriving to rescue the frightened Marnie and escort her home—pan out in Anna’s mind as a dream, leaving her to awaken alone in the silo (01:15:05-01:18:50). For a brief period of time, reality is suspended, and the boundaries between Anna and Marnie’s relationship are temporarily blurred, though it does conclude with their separation.

The act of separation occurs again on a more significant level, when the revelation of Anna and Marnie’s familial bond eliminates the queerness of their relationship: “The ensuing hocus-pocus with grandma flashbacks effectively terminates the queer storyline, explaining away the intimate relationship between two girls as a long-lost family connection” (babydykediaries). Veronika’s explication echoes the disappointment expressed by Douglas in “When Marnie Was Queer,” but it seems to differ from Douglas’s post in that the flashbacks of Marnie raising Anna when she was a child are what invalidates the homosexual undertones between the two. “According to [manga scholar Fujimoto Yukari], many early lesbian narratives in shōjo manga have rather tragic conclusions, internalizing the disillusionment which was felt at the failure of previous attempts to challenge heterosexual conventions,” Nagaike writes.

Contrary to serving as evidence of the reductive manner in which lesbian narratives are presented in popular media, as Douglas points out, Nagaike attributes the heart-rending conclusions of Japanese shōjo manga to an inwards projection of dismay, not queerbaiting. This is consistent with the views shared by a number of online voices, who suggest that such was the case for Marnie’s source material—Joan G. Robinson’s When Marnie Was There. This faction believes that the plot twist was born out of necessity at the time, so that Robinson would not have had to face censorship or ridicule for having written two canonically homosexual female characters. However, seeing as Marnie is a new interpretation of Robinson’s novel in a new era, this would not be my first hypothesis.

Veronika then delivers her verdict on Marnie, that “the final plot twist does not negate what the first of 45 minutes of the movie show — a deep intimate connection between two girls that remains to be interpreted by the audience,” before furthering her argument by stating that “an artwork has a life beyond the intentions of its creators and viewers are free to read against the grain” (babydykediaries). The emphasis here, according to Veronika, is the freedom of interpretation that is given to Marnie’s viewers, instead of any responsibility to respect and abide by the original creator’s vision.

That is how representation is created, not necessarily purely through deliberate choices made by content makers, but also through the minute connections viewers can personally glean from such forms of media. This is perhaps where Veronika and Nordin diverge, especially in terms of literary hermeneutics—the methodology of interpretation: “[T]he text is not a window through which one can see the author and the time of the author, but a mirror in which the readers see themselves through the text and the text through themselves,” Nordin asserts. Representation is a reflection of what the canon makes available for its audiences. Unlike Veronika, Nordin proposes that there is a direct correlation between author intention and reader interpretation. I disagree; I believe that, once a work enters the sphere of publication, its creator automatically relinquishes all previously held control over how it is understood. Hence, I am in complete agreement with Veronika that audiences possess free reign over textual interpretation, therefore upholding a queer reading of Marnie, plot twist and all.

In defending the queerness of Anna and Marnie’s relationship, Veronika highlights an aspect of their pair dynamics that targets Jamie’s opinion about how Japanese audiences would not consider the girls’ actions to be particularly romantic in nature (oh-totoro): “the connection between [Anna and Marnie] runs deeper than skin touch. . . . Notably, for children, as for queer people, the line between love and friendship is not always clearcut [sic] and sometimes can be non-existent” (babydykediaries). Throughout Marnie, we see the two girls grow closer through sharing personal anecdotes and confessing secrets they have never spoken aloud; their attachment to one another thrives on the support and companionship they offer one another.

Nagaike concurs with this notion, citing Adrienne Rich’s concept of compulsory heterosexism as an example, which “implies that lesbianism should not be narrowly defined merely as a single sexual orientation, but rather viewed as part of a female-oriented continuum that reflects women's psychological experiences in bonding with other women.” This is reminiscent of Nagaike’s point regarding the focal point of lesbian narratives in Yurihime magazine (quoted above), how it aspires to present tales that do not rely on the eroticization of lesbianism and demonstrate that lesbianism is not wholly nor inherently sexual. Placing this in the context of Marnie, I would most certainly be inclined to agree both Veronika and Nagaike, even more so when considering the fact that Anna and Marnie are adolescent girls who should not be inappropriately sexualized for the sake of recognizing their deep-rooted bond.

Unfortunately, the final, conclusive thought in Veronika’s post is one I am not quite on board with, as she declares that “[t]he story of Anna and Marnie’s relationship is beautiful and heart-wrenching, but the ultimate message to the queer audience remains the same. Intentionally or unintentionally, When Marnie Was There captures our society’s attitude towards queer children — ‘It is just a phase’” (babydykediaries).

This accusation feels unjustified in how it insinuates that Studio Ghibli should be to blame for having “unintentionally” projected a societal view that discriminates against self-discovery in sexual orientation among children. I do not think being deliberately homophobic is an equal offense to having unconsciously echoed homophobic beliefs: While the former typically stems from an intent to offend and hurt, the latter seems, at most, indicative of a lack of knowledge or forethought. What’s more, this ideological gatekeeping exhibits no consideration for queer-identifying peoples who do experience phases, potentially as a result of their still-developing personalities, needs, and interests.

Is there no value in striving to find a more comfortable, authentic way to live through trial and error? Must queer identity remain constant and stagnant to be deemed acceptable? Veronika’s statement likewise exposes a gray area within queer representation: It remains a shining beacon on the pedestal of media recognition. Yet, many queer audiences do not want to be solely defined by their sexuality, but cannot precisely determine the criteria for what is “proper” representation. Seeing as Veronika similarly fails to draw this line, I am unable to fully align myself with her perspective.

Having critiqued and contextualized the three Marnie critics’ claims, I will complete my investigation by analyzing moments in the film that best reflect the queer reading I found possible whilst watching the movie. In doing so, I hope to establish my own perspective and tie in those of the previously referenced authors to showcase points of correspondence. Shortly after arriving in Hokkaido, Anna finds herself attending a traditional festival with some neighboring girls, partaking in festivities like writing one’s greatest wish on a piece of paper and hanging it on a tree. I see elements of queer identity in Anna’s wish “for a normal life every day” (00:26:23-00:26:30).

Having been abandoned by her birth parents, doubting her foster parents’ love after discovering that they receive government-issued subsidies to care for her, being sent away to a far-off place for recovery, and being of mixed-race ancestry, Anna’s tumultuous upbringing leads her to self-ostracization (Yonebayashi). This is not unlike the often devastating life events that force queer youth into becoming social outsiders and questioning their right to peaceful existence, which is why Anna’s gradual maturation after bonding with Marnie makes for such a compellingly relatable journey of personal development: “As I watched Anna open her heart for the first time, I distinctly remembered what it felt like to be a baby queer.

I remembered what it felt like to be different, to be an outcast” (babydykediaries). The basis of who Anna is as a character serves as an allegory of the toils of queer adolescence and exemplifies the freedom one can experience through self-love and self-acceptance.

Additionally, Anna’s first encounter with Marnie occurs on the same night as the festival—the star festival known as Tanabata, to be exact (“Tanabata” (Star Festival)). According to the article on, this festival emerged as a cross-cultural mix between Chinese and Japanese folklore, celebrating the legendary annual meeting of two star-crossed lovers who are separated by both time and space on all days but the 7th of July every year. Upon initial discovery of Tanabata’s significance, I was instantly taken by the production team’s decision to incorporate it into Ghibli’s rendition of Anna and Marnie’s tale. Given the fact that this is a Japanese occasion of celebration, I do not think the original tale by Robinson would have contained anything similar, thereby making it unique to Ghibli’s interpretation of her story.

Thus, I firmly believe that the choice of having the girls’ first meeting occur on the evening of Tanabata was intended to liken them to the mythic lovers Orihime and Hikoboshi. Quoting Honda Masuko, Nagaike cites a comparable thought regarding the inner sanctum of girls’ schools: “[they] provide a moratorium space, where girls can escape social expectations and are allowed to establish and enjoy their own tastes and culture for a limited period of time.” On the same night that the heavens themselves bend to the will and power of love, Anna and Marnie are able to similarly transcend the limitations of time and space. As a result, they are able to cross paths in a way that creates a new plane of existence for their next encounters, a sanctuary far from the reaches of adult supervision.

Briefly transitioning to something much more simplistic and less reliant on Marnie’s plot, Anna’s and Marnie’s character designs seem to fulfill the stereotypical image of a butch/femme lesbian couple. Anna is the tomboy of the two; with dark cropped hair and a penchant for gender-neutral clothing, she is constantly shown wearing boxy shirts and cargo shorts that do not draw attention to her figure. Marnie, conversely, is much more feminine; with flowing blonde locks, and a love for anything froufrou, she frequently appears throughout the film in delicate, elegant dresses that reflect her upper-class upbringing.

Much like the clear-cut dynamic between Sailor Moon’s Haruka and Michiru, in which “Haruka dresses and speaks like a man, Michiru is shorter, more kawaii (cute), and more in need of protection” (Nagaike), Anna takes on the role of Kazuhiko during the silo scene and shields Marnie from the terrors of the stormy night. I would be greatly interested in evaluating how popular opinion regarding Marnie would change if the two really were a canonically lesbian couple. Would the debate therefore shift to one regarding stereotyping and representation?

Most definitely, it cannot be denied that there are indeed many queer relationships with distinct butch/femme dynamics, but would the depiction of Anna and Marnie simultaneously reduce the diversity of queer identity by falling victim to heteronormativity (Nordin 63-64)? As explored in my discussion of the closing paragraph in Veronika’s “Queer Childhood in When Marnie Was There (Omoide No Marnie),” I do not think queer audiences have quite reached a settlement on what constitutes “ideal” representation.

As for the queerbaiting debate on a whole, I find it difficult to accept such accusations when those who cry queerbaiting have not even determined who truly is to be held accountable for it: “The accusation of queerbaiting focuses on the author, but it is not always clear who the author is, who controls the text, or in [scholar John Fiske’s] terms[,] the structures of a text. Is it the screenwriter, the producer, the director or the actor?” (Nordin 64-65). Following this logic presented by Nordin, who is to blame for the supposed queerbaiting in Marnie? Is it its director, or screenwriters, or animators, or voice-actors?

Or, is it Joan G. Robinson for having written the novel on which Marnie was based? I would invite Marnie’s critics to ponder these questions and Douglas’s earlier point about viewing the movie as a sign of progress. As works become increasingly scrutinized for potential queerbaiting, I sincerely hope that critics do not lose sight of the subversive power of queer readings. To study the intersections of gender, power, and sexuality within popular media is to forever carve a space for queer identity within academic discussion; it is to stake a claim over a fundamental right to exist. I would much rather have media that unintentionally reflects queer experiences, rather than media that slaps on the label of “queer representation” just to seem progressive.

This is not to say that queerbaiting is a forgivable or acceptable form of representation, but no amount of nitpicking and focusing on the past will be able to pave the way for a better future. In due time, I would love to see such concerns be expressed through open, communal dialogues, not solitary, accusatory blog posts.

Ultimately, I do not consider Anna and Marnie’s bond the peak of queer representation in Studio Ghibli’s Marnie. Instead, I perceive the film’s portrayal of Anna’s character development to be where the heart of its queerness lies. Veronika believes that “Marnie is a movie about queer childhood” (babydykediaries), and I wholeheartedly agree. To me, Marnie is an extension of Anna and who she wishes she could be: Despite possessing the obvious features of a foreigner (blonde hair, blue eyes), Marnie carries herself with dignity and pride, exhibiting not a single ounce of insecurity towards her mixed-race ancestry.

Whereas Anna is convinced that her foster parents do not and cannot truly care for her, Marnie seems to enjoy a picture-perfect life, cherished by both her birth parents—a luxury countless queer children are unable to enjoy. Later, when the two admit to one another that they are envious of each other’s lives, Anna tearfully jokes that “it’s like [they] traded places” (01:12:17-01:12:23). The queerness of Anna’s character blossoms to fruition by the end of the film, once she learns of how Marnie found peace from a turbulent life by having gotten to raise Anna from infancy, prior to her passing (Yonebayashi).

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This propels the previously timid Anna forward and opens her heart to a new perspective, allowing her to gain a better understanding of her foster parents, her grandmother Marnie, and herself. Anna is queer in how she comes to accept herself for all the flaws and imperfections that make her who she is.

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This essay was reviewed by
Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

Cite this Essay

Analysis of Joan G. Robinson’s Book “When Marnie Was There”. (2019, February 12). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 24, 2024, from
“Analysis of Joan G. Robinson’s Book “When Marnie Was There”.” GradesFixer, 12 Feb. 2019,
Analysis of Joan G. Robinson’s Book “When Marnie Was There”. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 24 Feb. 2024].
Analysis of Joan G. Robinson’s Book “When Marnie Was There” [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2019 Feb 12 [cited 2024 Feb 24]. Available from:
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