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Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert are
unmarried siblings who live on their ancestral farm, Green Gables,
in the quiet town of Avonlea in Prince Edward Island, Canada. Matthew
is sixty, and since he is getting too old to handle the farm work on
his own, the Cuthberts decide to adopt an orphan boy to help him.
This decision shocks the town gossip, Mrs. Rachel Lynde, who does
not think Matthew and Marilla fit to raise a child.
Matthew, who is terrified of women, arrives at the train
station and finds a girl orphan instead of a boy; the orphanage
sent the eleven-year-old Anne Shirley by mistake. Anne’s talkativeness
and spirit charm Matthew, who shyly tells Marilla that he wants
to keep her. Marilla hesitates at first, but after a trial period,
she agrees to let Anne stay on.
Anne is a talkative and happy girl despite living an
impoverished life as an orphan. Though she lacks social graces and
education, she has a rich and sophisticated fantasy life and an
optimistic and generous spirit. Because Anne acts according to her
instincts and not according to a code of manners, she unintentionally
defies expectations of proper ladylike behavior. She attends church
for the first time wearing a wreath of wildflowers, for example,
and screams at Mrs. Rachel for making fun of her red hair. Anne
tries hard to oblige Marilla and follow her rules of social conduct,
but she makes many mistakes, using liniment instead of vanilla in
a cake, letting a mouse drown in the plum-pudding sauce, and delivering
a heartfelt but ridiculous prayer on her first attempt to pray before
Anne never had real friends before living at Green Gables,
so she was forced to invent imaginary playmates. In Avonlea, she
meets Diana Barry, a neighbor who quickly becomes her bosom friend. One
afternoon Anne invites Diana to tea and accidentally gives her red
currant wine instead of nonalcoholic raspberry cordial. Diana returns
home drunk, and Diana’s mother, thinking Anne has intoxicated Diana
on purpose, forbids the girls to speak. The agonizing period of
estrangement lasts until Anne saves Diana’s sister, who is sick
with the croup, which causes Mrs. Barry to forgive her.
At school, Anne feuds with a handsome, smart boy named
Gilbert Blythe. When they first meet, Gilbert taunts Anne by calling
her Carrots and pulling her red braid. Anne is extremely sensitive
about her red hair, and Gilbert’s teasing infuriates her. She screams
at him and smashes a slate over his head. This incident marks the
beginning of a rivalry between Anne and Gilbert, the two smartest
pupils, which lasts until the end of the novel.
As Anne grows up, she loses some of her childish flare
for the melodramatic and romantic, and turns her spirited attentions
to academics. A beloved teacher, Miss Stacy, recognizes Anne’s intelligence
and encourages her to join a special group of students preparing
for the entrance exam to Queen’s Academy. Her long-standing competition
with Gilbert Blythe changes to an affectionate and familiar rivalry
when, after four years of mutual silence, they both go to Queen’s
Academy. Striving to make Matthew and Marilla proud, Anne devotes
herself to her studies wholeheartedly and earns the prestigious
Avery Scholarship, which grants her enough money to attend a four-year
college the following fall.
Thrilled by her future prospects, Anne goes home to Green Gables.
Matthew, who has been having heart trouble, dies of a heart attack.
When Anne learns that Marilla is likely to go blind, she decides
to stay at Green Gables and teach nearby so that she can care for
Marilla, giving up her aspirations for a four-year degree. Gilbert hears
of her decision and gives up his post as the teacher at Avonlea school
so that Anne can teach there and be closer to Marilla. After five
years of rivalry, Gilbert and Anne forge a close friendship. Though
her future path has narrowed considerably, Anne remains eternally
optimistic and thinks cheerfully about her future.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Anne of Green Gables!