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Anne of Green Gables | Chapter 5 : Anne's History | Summary

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Summary

Marilla and Anne set out on the five miles it will take to reach White Sands and Mrs. Spencer, who will arrange Anne's return to the orphanage. Anne announces she has decided to enjoy the drive despite its sad destination. Anne talks romantically about herself and Avonlea and convinces herself "you can nearly always enjoy things if you make up your mind firmly that you will."

Marilla asks Anne for a brief autobiography: "I don't want any of your imaginings. Just you stick to bald facts." Though Anne would rather tell a fictionalized, romantic tale about herself, she tells her story cheerfully enough, though it's clear her life has been hard. She was born to Walter and Bertha Shirley, poor, young schoolteachers in Bolingbroke, Nova Scotia. Her parents died when she was three months old, and no one knew what to do with her. At last Bertha Shirley's "scrub woman," Mrs. Thomas, offered to give the baby a home "though she was poor and had a drunken husband." Anne helped look after the Thomas children until Mr. Thomas died and the household was broken up. At that point Mrs. Hammond took her in. There were eight children in the Hammond family, including three sets of twins. "I used to get so dreadfully tired carrying them about," Anne confesses.

When Mr. Hammond died, Mrs. Hammond divided the children among her relatives and sent Anne to a nearby orphan asylum. "They didn't want me at the asylum, either ... but they had to take me," she says. She has had only rudimentary schooling, though it's clear she is a precocious and voracious reader, deeply influenced by what she reads.

Marilla abruptly asks whether Mrs. Thomas and Mrs. Hammond were good to Anne. Anne falters at the question. She says loyally, "They MEANT to be ... They had a good deal to worry them, you know." Marilla is touched by what Anne has gone through and thinks it's easy to see why the girl was so thrilled at the idea of having a real home and people to care for her. Perhaps they should take her in after all: "She's ladylike," she reassures herself. "It's likely her people were nice folks."

Anne is in raptures over the sea view, but her courage begins to fail as they approach White Sands.

Analysis

Novels of the 19th and early 20th century often rely on the convention "breeding will out"; children born to privileged people will be well-bred and well-spoken no matter who raises them. Marilla reveals this prejudice when she reflects Anne's relatives were likely "nice folks." It's more likely Anne would speak like a child from either the Thomas or Hammond families, especially since she hasn't had much schooling, but "lower-class" dialogue would make her less appealing to turn-of-the-century readers. Montgomery, therefore, has her speak like a member of the educated middle class. Indeed, in this chapter Anne appears to have read more than Marilla herself, in accordance with what readers of the period would expect.

It's clear Anne is naturally kind despite her harsh upbringing. No one she has lived with is likely to have taught her not to criticize people; her loyalty to the Thomas and Hammond families is part of her character and makes a strong impression on Marilla. Modern readers, too, may feel more sympathy when Anne gushes about this or that. She has schooled herself to think about the positive and to appreciate what beauty she finds. In this chapter Montgomery reveals Anne as a brave and gallant soul who makes the best of whatever life hands her.

Anne's description of the Hammond household leaps out of her story, as she says, "I went up the river to live with [them] in a little clearing among the stumps." The sentence conjures up an image of serious rural isolation. Mr. Hammond works in a sawmill, meaning the family must live "up river" in a forest. Anne of Green Gables was published in 1908, a period when the Canadian lumber industry was struggling and finding good logging sites was becoming more and more difficult. It's painful to think of a girl like Anne Shirley living in such a place.

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