Anne of Green Gables | Study Guide

L. M. Montgomery

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Anne of Green Gables | Chapter 2 : Mathew Cuthbert Is Surprised | Summary

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Summary

Matthew Cuthbert and the "sorrel mare" drive quietly toward the railroad station, enjoying the drive except when he has to nod a greeting to women he passes. He's always afraid women are secretly laughing at him.

The station platform is deserted except for a tense-looking little girl sitting on a pile of shingles. The stationmaster explains the child has been dropped off for Matthew, who is shocked: he was expecting a boy. The stationmaster can't explain the mistake and leaves Matthew to cope on his own.

The little girl Matthew confronts is about 11, redheaded, and dressed in a skimpy dress made of "wincey" (a blend of linen and wool). A closer observer than Matthew might notice the girl is also beautiful in an unusual way, as "no commonplace soul inhabited the body of this stray woman-child." The girl greets Matthew with such enthusiasm he can't bring himself to say he was expecting to pick up a boy. He'll take her home and get Marilla to explain the mistake.

During the eight-mile ride home, the still-unnamed little girl chatters nonstop while Matthew listens in confused silence. Though her manner is cheerful, it's clear she has suffered in both her earlier life and four-month stay at the orphanage. She has used her vivid imagination and natural curiosity to carry her over the hardest times. As she comments to Matthew, "Isn't it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about?"

To his surprise Matthew finds himself enjoying this odd little girl, though he finds her flow of words hard to follow. He listens almost dizzily as she bemoans her red hair and freckles, renames local attractions to make them more interesting, and correctly guesses which house is Green Gables. "Oh, it seems as if I must be in a dream," she says rapturously, "but it IS real and we're nearly home." Matthew dreads seeing the girl's reaction when she learns the truth.

Analysis

Modern readers may be surprised at the amount of description Montgomery uses. At times the author's lush language seems like an interruption to the narrative. But lyrical description is a trademark of Montgomery's and bears close reading. Often the narrator personifies the landscape as female. A wild plum is like "a white-clad girl tip-toeing to her own reflection," and Anne herself compares another wild plum to a bride. Birches are "slim," a description Montgomery will often use to describe Anne.

Montgomery also uses quasi-religious imagery to render scenery and its effect on Anne. A "painted sunset sky shone like a great rose window," and seeing it, Anne leans back in the buggy, "her thin hands clasped before her, her face lifted rapturously." When Montgomery paints a picture, the language she uses reflects the way Anne would see it.

An important element in this book is the close relationship between Anne and Matthew. Later Anne will refer to Matthew as a "kindred spirit," a term she uses for people she sees as soul mates. There's little in Chapter 2 to suggest Anne and Matthew have much in common. She is hyperverbal and desperate to connect with other people; he shuns strangers, especially women, and clearly doesn't understand Anne yet. When she's struck dumb by the sight of the Avenue, Matthew attributes her silence to hunger and fatigue, "the only reason he could think of." Indeed the two hardly seem like kindred spirits—kindred spirits being a bond between Anne and others with whom she connects closely.

But Anne and Matthew are linked by a bond of loneliness. Self-aware Anne knows she's longing to be part of a family. Matthew has never realized his isolation troubles him, but his abrupt decision to adopt a child indicates at some level he also yearns for family life. Anne and Matthew couldn't be more different, but their literal longing for "kin" makes them "kindred."

Although Anne's chatter is charming, it's sometimes almost too fanciful to bear. When she renames the Avenue "the White Way of Delight" and Barry's pond the "Lake of Shining Waters," readers may cringe inwardly. Did children ever talk this way, even in 1908? Does Anne have any friends her own age? Probably not. As she'll later tell Marilla, Anne's childhood has been spent mostly taking care of other people's babies in exchange for room and board, and she's lived in the orphanage for only four months. Being deprived of a peer group means she hasn't had much chance to listen to the ordinary speech of other children; her life as a glorified servant has meant there was no one to listen to her. It's no wonder Anne talks almost obsessively when she gets a chance, her romanticized language coming from her reading and vivid imagination. Nonetheless it fits Anne and her imaginative fantasies.

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