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Anne of Green Gables | Study Guide

L. M. Montgomery

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Anne of Green Gables | Chapter 37 : The Reaper Whose Name Is Death | Summary



"Matthew, are you sick?" cries Marilla. Anne comes down the hall just in time to see Matthew collapse across the threshold. The hired man starts off for the doctor, stopping at Diana's house to ask Mrs. Barry to come over. Mrs. Lynde happens to be visiting, so both women rush to Green Gables. There they find a frenzied Marilla and Anne trying to revive Matthew. Mrs. Lynde tries Matthew's pulse, lays her ear over his heart, and looks up with tears in her eyes. Matthew is dead.

When the doctor arrives, he says Matthew likely died of a shock. The shock is printed in the newspaper Matthew was holding as he came in: Abbey Bank, which holds all the Cuthberts' money, has failed.

Matthew Cuthbert, always so shy and self-effacing, now is "a person of central importance." Friends and neighbors throng the house all day. Matthew is put into an open coffin in the parlor, surrounded with flowers Anne has picked for him.

The Barrys and Mrs. Lynde spend that night at Green Gables. Diana gently offers to sleep in Anne's room with her, but Anne wants to be alone, "quite silent and quiet and try to realize it." This is Anne's first "vigil with sorrow," but she can't cry. Finally she falls asleep. When she wakes in the middle of the night, the memory of Matthew's death washes over her, and finally she bursts into anguished tears.

Marilla comes in to comfort her, but Anne begs to be allowed to cry and asks Marilla to stay "for a little while with me ... Oh, Marilla, what will we do without him?" Marilla replies they still have each other. Speaking to Anne out of her heart, Marilla tells the girl she loves her like her own flesh and blood, that she has been Marilla's "joy and comfort" ever since she came to live with them.

Matthew is buried two days later. To Anne's bewildered surprise, life at Green Gables soon returns to normal. Is she being disloyal, she wonders, by continuing to find the world beautiful and interesting? Mrs. Allan reassures her: Matthew likes to know she's happy, adding that Marilla will be very lonely when Anne goes off to college.

Anne returns home and joins Marilla on the front steps. Marilla says she'll be seeing the eye specialist the following day. She'll be "more than thankful" if he can give her glasses that will really help her troubled eyes.

In a pensive mood, Marilla comments on how handsome Gilbert Blythe has become and how much he looks like his father at the same age. "People called [John Blythe] my beau," she says, but the two had a quarrel and she wouldn't forgive him. He never returned to her—"the Blythes were all mighty independent"—and she's always been sorry she didn't forgive him when she had the chance. You can never tell about people from their outsides, Marilla continues. No one remembers her little romance with John Blythe, but it all came back to her when she saw Gilbert in church.


The opening of Chapter 37 is shockingly effective. In the previous chapter, Montgomery all but promises Matthew will die soon, but that foreshadowing does nothing to prepare readers for his death at the beginning of the following chapter. Seeing competent Mrs. Lynde with tears in her eyes is startling as well, and this is followed almost immediately by news that Abbey Bank has failed—a terrible blow, but one Anne and Marilla can't take in at that moment.

This chapter's pacing is unusual. Readers may suspect Montgomery has introduced news of the bank for good reason, but the chapter moves along so briskly there's not much time to absorb the news. By evening, Matthew's body has already been laid out for viewing in the parlor—a task that has no doubt been carried out by Mrs. Lynde or other friendly neighbors. Funeral customs of the period mean that the body will remain in the parlor for three days, but Montgomery jumps from the first night of grief straight to the burial without describing the intervening days. This pacing reflects the sense of unreality felt by mourners in the first shock of a death. The story doesn't linger over the burial, either. Montgomery immediately moves things at Green Gables "into their old groove."

Diana is not surprised that Marilla collapses with sorrow shortly after Matthew dies, but she doesn't know what to make of Anne's composure. After all, Anne has cried so often before this. But she is beginning to exchange roles with Marilla here. That Marilla breaks down first makes her seem more vulnerable than Anne for the first time.

It's a poignant touch that Marilla can only find words to express her love for Anne after Matthew's death. They're words he too would have loved to hear her say. Marilla was also too late to forgive John Blythe, Gilbert's father, when they quarreled as young lovers. The coincidence of Marilla's also being involved with a Blythe may not quite be believable for readers, but Anne needs to learn the story. As she's now seen, death can snatch people away with terrible suddenness. Marilla's faded romance teaches her that it's also possible to lose a loved one through a misunderstanding.

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