When Anne arrives in Avonlea, she is a stray waif with a pitiable past, but she quickly establishes herself in Green Gables and the Avonlea community. She is not useful to Matthew and Marilla, her guardians, who wanted a boy orphan to help out on the farm. Still, Anne’s spirit brings vitality to the narrow, severe atmosphere at Green Gables. Her desire for beauty, imagination, and goodness motivates her behavior. Although some people, like Matthew, recognize Anne’s admirable qualities from the beginning, others misunderstand Anne and think her unorthodox behavior evidence of immorality. The very traits that make Anne unique and enrich her inner life also cause her to act passionately and stubbornly and to bungle chores. Reveries and daydreams constantly absorb her, taking up attention that Marilla feels should be spent thinking of decorum and duty.
As a child, Anne loves and hates with equal fervor. She makes lifelong alliances with people she considers kindred spirits and holds years-long grudges against people who cross her. Anne’s terrible temper flares at minimal provocations, and she screams and stamps her foot when anger overtakes her. Anne lusts for riches and elegance. She despises her red hair and longs for smooth ivory skin and golden hair. She imagines that which displeases her as different than what it is, dreaming up a more perfect world. As she grows older, Anne mellows. Her temper improves, she ceases to hate her looks, she appreciates the simplicity of her life and prefers it to riches, and although her imagination still serves her well, she loves the world as it is.
Marilla begins the novel a sharp, severe woman. Only a faint sense of humor lightens her severity; with Mrs. Rachel and Matthew, Marilla allows her biting wit to peep through her propriety. At first, Marilla’s narrowness and rigidity clash with Anne’s romanticism and imagination. Marilla scolds Anne for her unusual behavior, criticizing her when she screams at Mrs. Rachel or decorates her hat with flowers. Marilla is an equally harsh ruler of her own thoughts and behavior. When she finds herself agreeing with Anne’s candid, indecorous thoughts, she sternly rebukes herself. Marilla leads a rigid emotional life too. She rarely expresses her love for Anne, and when she does feel rushes of affection, she quickly stifles them.
Marilla’s love for Anne is evident in her kind, fair treatment of her adopted daughter. Even her strict rules show Anne that Marilla cares for her and wants her to grow up well behaved and successful. Anne’s unconventional ways interest Marilla as much as they shock her, and she must often suppress laughter at Anne’s outrageousness to give Anne the scolding she deserves. Marilla softens gradually until she is able to tell Anne she loves her and can confide in her, confessing her own romantic travails as a young girl. She becomes able to express emotion more openly and voice her pride in Anne’s successes.
At the age of sixty, Matthew is known as a strange, timid man. His painful shyness becomes paralyzing when he is forced to interact with women, and he spends most of his time away from people, working the land at Green Gables. Despite Matthew’s extreme shyness, Anne immediately appeals to him and sets him at ease. From the beginning, Matthew advocates for Anne. He expresses pride in all she does and seizes every opportunity to spoil her. Although when they adopt Anne Marilla makes Matthew promise not to interfere with the raising of the child, Matthew becomes increasingly involved in parental duties, especially when he feels Marilla is treating Anne too harshly. With his gentle persistence, he often wears away at Marilla until she agrees to let him and Anne have their way.
Whereas Anne and Marilla butt heads for years, Anne and Matthew instantly understand one another, and Anne listens to Matthew when no one else’s arguments can sway her. She recognizes him as a “kindred spirit” and confides in him when she wants a sympathetic ear. In contrast to Marilla’s manly severity and difficulty expressing emotion, Matthew exhibits motherly qualities. He openly tells Anne of his affection for her and pride in her, and he wants her to look pretty and feel comfortable with her friends. More gentle than Marilla, Matthew treats Anne with unflagging kindness. Anne influences Matthew positively; he loves her bright presence at Green Gables and becomes more outgoing and happier after she arrives.
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