Marilla sees Matthew’s gray, sad face and calls to him sharply. At that moment, Anne sees him collapse at the threshold of Green Gables. Marilla and Anne try to revive him, but he dies instantly of a shock-induced heart attack. The shock came from reading a notice that Abbey Bank, where the Cuthberts keep all their money, has failed. For the first time, Matthew becomes the center of Avonlea’s attention as friends visit and run errands for Marilla and Anne. Marilla grieves with impassioned sobs, but Anne cannot muster tears that first day and suffers from a dull inner ache. Marilla hears her weeping in the middle of the night and goes to comfort her. In a rare moment of spoken affection, Marilla tells Anne that despite her own harsh ways, she loves Anne and cannot imagine life without her.
When the pain of Matthew’s death becomes less immediate, Anne finds herself enjoying her friends’ company and life at Green Gables. Feeling guilty, she confesses to Mrs. Allan that she is thrilled by life but feels she should not be happy because of Matthew’s death. Mrs. Allan tells her that Matthew would want her to be happy. She muses to Anne that in the autumn Marilla will be terribly lonely at Green Gables. Sitting together at Green Gables, Marilla and Anne reminisce about the ridiculous incidents of Anne’s childhood. Marilla comments on how attractive and grown-up Gilbert Blythe looked at church the previous Sunday. She reveals that she and Gilbert’s father, John Blythe, courted when they were young, but after a fight she was too stubborn to forgive him and she lost him, much to her regret.
When I left Queen’s my future seemed to stretch out before me like a straight road. . . . Now there is a bend in it. . . . It has a fascination of its own, that bend.
Marilla goes to town to see a visiting eye doctor and returns with bad news: she must give up reading, sewing, and crying, or else she will go blind. That night, Anne reflects on all that has happened since her return from Queen’s Academy. She decides that she will stay at Green Gables to take care of Marilla rather than accept the Avery Scholarship, and once her mind is set, she finds comfort in her path of duty. A few days later, Anne learns that Marilla is considering selling Green Gables, since she will be unable to maintain it alone. Anne tells Marilla that she will stay at Green Gables and teach at a school called Carmody, since the Avonlea school post has already been assigned to Gilbert. Later, Mrs. Rachel informs her that Gilbert has gone to the Avonlea trustees and asked that the Avonlea post be given to Anne so that she can be closer to Marilla—a sacrifice that means Gilbert must teach at White Sands and pay for boarding. Anne is elated, knowing that she can live at home, comfort Marilla, and see Diana often. When she runs into Gilbert later, she breaks their tradition of silence to thank him for his generosity. She extends her hand, which he takes eagerly, and they begin the close friendship they have both wanted.
Anne struggles to understand Matthew’s death, her first real experience with losing a loved one. She has had experiences with death before: her biological parents died when she was a baby, and both of her foster fathers died. But Anne does not remember her parents or their deaths and was not close to her foster parents. Up until now, she has romanticized death and created stories about lovers and tragic endings; death has not been real for her, but a topic of fantasy. Now that Matthew is gone, Anne understands what it is to lose someone she loves, and she grieves. Although at first Anne cannot reconcile her feelings of grief with her continued pleasure in life, she eventually comes to accept these apparently contradictory feelings as part of a natural response to tragedy. Coming to understand death marks another step on Anne’s path to adulthood.
The death of Matthew and the decay of Marilla’s health cause Anne and Marilla to reverse roles. Anne’s adulthood begins with her decision to take care of the woman who has taken care of her since Anne was a child. As a young girl, Anne and her friends define adulthood as the age when a girl may have a beau or wear her hair up. Now, Anne understands that adulthood involves not superficialities but the assumption of responsibilities.
Anne’s willingness to begin a friendship with Gilbert also marks her maturity. Although Marilla does not moralize to Anne, she tells her a story that makes a clear point: she lost the man she loved, John Blythe, because of her Anne-like stubbornness, and years of loneliness and regret ensued. The fact that Marilla tells Anne this story illustrates the trust Marilla places in Anne. Marilla is a reserved, usually unemotional woman, but she manages to tell this painful story to Anne because she loves her so much. The story also suggests that Marilla now sees Anne not as a child but as a woman and a confidante who will understand delicate matters. Finally, it explains some of Marilla’s behavior. She is not sexless and cold, as she first appears; rather, she lives in the same town with the man she loved and lost and must bear her regrets and loneliness with fortitude that sometimes looks like ice. Because Anne understands the implications of the story and because she feels real gratitude for Gilbert’s sacrifice, she finds it in herself to forgive him.