Anne announces that she is determined to enjoy the ride back to Mrs. Spencer’s orphanage. Marilla, realizing that Anne must talk about something, decides to pick the topic herself, and asks Anne about her past. Anne says she would prefer to tell what she imagines about herself, as her imagination is so much richer than her history, but she agrees to tell her story. Her parents, Walter and Bertha Shirley, were teachers, and both died of fever when Anne was a baby. She was adopted by Mrs. Thomas, a poor woman with a drunken husband, who wanted Anne only so she would have help with her children. Eight years later, after the death of Mr. Thomas, Mrs. Thomas gave Anne to another poor woman, Mrs. Hammond, and Anne cared for Mrs. Hammond’s three sets of twins. After two years, Mr. Hammond died, and Anne was sent to the orphanage, where she lived for four months. She received little schooling but compensated for her lack of formal education by reading voraciously.
After hearing Anne’s sad history, Marilla pities her for the first time. Anne, however, refuses to feel sorry for herself, crediting her various foster mothers with good intentions, even if the women were not always kind. Marilla begins to consider keeping Anne. She thinks Anne ladylike and supposes Anne could easily be trained out of her bad habits.
Marilla and Anne arrive at Mrs. Spencer’s orphanage and explain the mistake. Mrs. Spencer apologizes and says that the situation will work out for the best anyway. Another woman, Mrs. Peter Blewett, wants to adopt a girl to help with her rambunctious children, so Anne can be handed over to her, allowing the Cuthberts to adopt the boy they originally wanted. This news does not please Marilla, for Mrs. Blewett is known for her nastiness and stinginess, and for driving her servants hard. Marilla feels a twinge of guilt at the thought of relinquishing Anne to her. Mrs. Blewett comes to borrow a recipe from Mrs. Spencer, and her presence terrifies Anne. Marilla takes Anne back to Green Gables, saying she needs time to think about the proposition.
At home, she tells Matthew that she is willing to keep Anne if he agrees not to interfere with her child-rearing methods. Marilla admits to nervousness at the prospect of raising a girl but tells Matthew, “Perhaps an old maid doesn’t know much about bringing up a child, but I guess she knows more than an old bachelor.” Matthew, delighted by Marilla’s decision, asks only that Marilla be good and kind to Anne. Marilla reflects that she has invited a challenge into her life. She cannot quite believe what she is about to do, and she is even more surprised that Matthew, famous for his fear of women, is so adamant about keeping Anne. She decides to wait until the following day to tell Anne of their decision.
At bedtime, Marilla begins her program of moral and social education for Anne. She scolds Anne for leaving her clothes all over the floor the previous night and for failing to pray before bed. Anne replies that she has never said a prayer and does not know how to pray, though she would be happy to learn. Anne begins to ruminate on the language of prayer and religion. At the asylum, she was taught that God is “infinite, eternal, and unchangeable,” a description she thought grand. She explains that she rejected God because Mrs. Thomas told her God gave her red hair on purpose.
Despite her distaste for God, Anne wants to oblige Marilla. Marilla, horrified that a near-heathen is staying under her roof, begins to teach Anne the prayer “Now I lay me down to sleep,” but she senses that this prayer for innocent children is inappropriate for Anne, who has already had such a hard life. She lets Anne create her own prayer, and Anne improvises a flowery speech thanking God for such gifts as Bonny the geranium and the White Way of Delight, which is what she calls the main road of Avonlea. She prays for Green Gables to become her home, and to become pretty when she grows up. She ends the prayer by saying, “Yours respectfully, Anne Shirley.” Marilla resolves to send Anne to Sunday school as soon as she can make her some proper clothes.
The next afternoon, Anne begs Marilla to tell her whether she can stay at Green Gables. Marilla makes Anne wash the dishcloth in hot water before announcing that she can stay. When Anne hears the good news, she cries with happiness, promising to be good and obedient, two qualities she senses Marilla values above all others. Anne asks whether she should continue to refer to Marilla as Miss Cuthbert or whether she might call her Aunt Marilla. Calling Marilla her aunt, says Anne, would be almost as good as having an actual relative. Marilla says Anne should call her Marilla.
Afraid that Anne might repeat the prayer debacle of the previous night, Marilla instructs Anne to retrieve a copy of the Lord’s Prayer from the next room and memorize it. Anne does not return for ten minutes. Marilla finds her kneeling before a picture entitled “Christ Blessing Little Children,” rapt and starry-eyed. Anne is imagining herself as a little girl in the picture whom the other children ignore but who creeps into the crowd hoping for Christ’s attention and blessing. Marilla chastises her for being irreverent, which surprises Anne.
Anne sits at the kitchen table to memorize Lord’s Prayer. She asks Marilla if she will have a “bosom friend” or “kindred spirit” at Avonlea. Marilla says a little girl named Diana Barry lives nearby, and Anne asks about Diana’s hair color, saying red hair in a bosom friend would be unendurable. She tells Marilla about her previous best friends, both imaginary. At Mrs. Thomas’s, she created an imaginary best friend to whom she spoke in the glass door of a bookcase. When she moved to Mrs. Hammond’s, she found a new best friend in the echo of her own voice in a nearby valley. Marilla, fed up with Anne’s chatter, sends her to her room, where she daydreams. She tries to imagine that she is Lady Cordelia Fitzgerald, but finding this persona unconvincing, she appeases herself with her new real name: Anne of Green Gables.
In these chapters, we learn that Anne has had a difficult life. She realizes that her foster mothers did not care for her; they simply wanted a maid and a babysitter. Considering the pain of Anne’s life, her refusal to criticize her foster mothers makes her seem strong and surprisingly optimistic. She also expresses satisfaction in her friends, although they were imaginary. Along with her strength and optimism, Anne possesses a mature ability to use herself as a resource and find happiness in her own company.
Anne is guided not by the rules of social decorum but by her imagination, as Marilla recognizes when she lets Anne make up her own prayer rather than recite “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep.” For Anne, the reality that society presents can be altered by imagining a different reality. She thinks her own name and life dull, so she renames herself Cordelia and imagines herself a fine lady. She does not have friends, so she makes friends of her reflection and voice. She sees the good in people and places, and then imagines them as even better than they are.
Anne practices her own form of spirituality, which she has developed independently and which consists of a belief that miracles and perfection exist in life. Demoralizing experiences have turned her away from Christian tenets and toward a spiritual life centered on love of the natural world. Marilla cannot understand Anne’s form of spirituality because it diverges from traditional religion. When Marilla asks Anne to pray in a Christian way, Anne begins to forge a mixture of her own spirituality and Marilla’s religion. Anne prays before bed as Marilla’s religion dictates, but she makes up her own flowery, unorthodox prayer. She looks at Marilla’s picture of Christ, but she uses her imagination to insert herself into the scene.
Although Marilla disapproves of Anne’s infractions, she does sympathize with Anne and begins to temper her sternness with sympathy. Although she insists that Anne call her Marilla instead of using the more affectionate name Aunt Marilla, she exhibits compassion for Anne, pitying her plight at the hands of cruel foster mothers, and refusing to hand her over to the unpleasant Mrs. Blewett. She does not even criticize Anne for her unorthodox prayer; although she comes down hard on Anne’s improper behavior, she understands that Anne acts oddly not because of perversity or rebelliousness, but because she has never been taught differently. She seems to know that Anne has a good heart and wants to do the right thing.