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Anne of Green Gables | Chapter 23 : Anne Comes to Grief in an Affair of Honor | Summary

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Summary

It turns out Anne will have to wait almost two months before she can go back to school. She's had a few mishaps since the "liniment cake episode," but nothing significant. A week after her tea at the manse, it's time for her to get into real trouble.

"Daring was the fashionable amusement" among Avonlea's school-age children. As the chapter title suggests, they take daring seriously and view backing off from a dare as dishonorable. When Diana gives a party for the girls in the class, they soon turn to daring one another. Anne dares nasty Josie Pye to walk along the top of the board fence along one side of the Barrys' garden. To Anne's annoyance, Josie does this with ease. Forgetting she's the one who issued the dare, Anne announces there's nothing wonderful about walking "a little, low, board fence. I knew a girl in Marysville who could walk the ridgepole of a roof." What else can Josie do but dare Anne to do the same thing?

Anne turns pale, but she feels she has no choice. She climbs a ladder to the roof, balances herself on the ridgepole, and takes a few steps. Then, inevitably, she loses her balance and falls off the roof on the other side of the house. After screaming in unison, her friends run around the house to find her lying "all white and limp." Mrs. Barry comes out to see what's the matter, and Anne realizes that she's seriously hurt.

Marilla is in the orchard when she spots the Barrys and Anne's friends coming toward her. Mr. Barry is carrying Anne. At the sight Marilla is stabbed with the realization Anne means everything to her. She recovers her self-possession when Anne explains what has happened, but before she can launch into a lecture, Anne has fainted. The doctor discovers Anne has broken her ankle. She'll need to stay at home for six or seven weeks before she can walk.

The following weeks are dull, but Anne has a flood of visitors—including Sunday School Superintendent Bell. Diana comes daily. Mrs. Allan comes 14 times. Even troublemaker Josie Pye visits. Anne greets Josie politely, thinking if she had been killed, Josie "would have had to carry a dark burden of remorse all her life." So the disaster isn't as disastrous as it might have been. And there's still the new teacher to look forward to.

Analysis

Clearly Anne's misfortune in this chapter is her own fault. Like many romantically inclined girls, Anne has always wished she could faint dead away; when it actually happens, she realizes fainting isn't fun after all. Yet Montgomery understands the way children think. Anne is fittingly punished for trying to walk the ridgepole, but there's no way she can back down once Josie has dared her, even though—as Diana points out—it's an unfair dare.

Despite the accident, this chapter has amusing and realistic details. Many children who have tried to imagine their parents as children will understand why Anne has trouble thinking Superintendent Bell was ever a boy. "When I try to imagine him as a boy," says Anne, "I see him with gray whiskers and spectacles, just as he looks in Sunday school, only small."

Sunday school superintendents turn up regularly in 19th-century children's fiction, as does Sunday school. It may surprise readers to learn Sunday school, like everything else, had to be invented. The movement to create Sunday schools began in Great Britain toward the end of the 18th century and was intended to help children who worked in factories on the other six days of the week—factory workers did not get Saturdays off. Reformers might not be able to keep children from having to work—child-labor laws would come later—but at least they could help them learn something on Sundays.

In the United States, the first Sunday schools were held at industrialist Samuel Slater's textile mills in Rhode Island. Sunday school was a popular idea, and by the middle of the 19th century many Protestant churches in Great Britain and North America ran their own Sunday schools. After mandatory state education came into law and children were required to attend school (or at least to try to attend), Sunday school studies became exclusively religious. Children learned Bible texts, hymns, prayers, and catechisms and had a brief chance to socialize as well. As in Anne of Green Gables, Sunday school picnics and other get-togethers were cherished events.

Superintendent Bell is an object of fun for Anne, but he's an important person in Avonlea. He recruits volunteers to teach, quizzes students about what they've learned, and gives them new lessons to study. He also reads the opening prayers at the Sunday service each week, thereby earning Anne's scorn. In this chapter, though, his visits to Anne give her a chance to get to know and respect him as an individual.

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