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Anne of Green Gables | Chapter 6 : Marilla Makes Up Her Mind | Summary

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Summary

Mrs. Spencer welcomes Marilla and Anne when they arrive at her house. Marilla explains the mistake that has brought her here. Mrs. Spencer is certain she was told the Cuthberts wanted to adopt a girl, but she assures Marilla the problem has an easy solution. Mrs. Blewett has been hoping to find an orphan girl to help with her large family. Conveniently Mrs. Blewett is driving up the lane that minute, and Mrs. Spencer invites her in.

Marilla is already having doubts about turning Anne over to Mrs. Blewett's "tender mercies," having heard horror stories about the other woman's bad temper and badly behaved children. Anne, too, dreads Mrs. Blewett—a sharp-faced, sharp-eyed woman—the instant she sees her. Mrs. Blewett comments on Anne's wiriness and warns, "I'll expect you to earn your keep, and no mistake about that." She offers to take Anne with her immediately.

Marilla is uncomfortably sure if she hands Anne over, she'll forever regret handing "a sensitive, 'high-strung' child over to such a woman!" She says she and Matthew haven't completely made up their minds what to do about Anne. They need a day to think about the matter, and they'll send Anne to Mrs. Blewett's the following evening if they decide not to keep her. Grumpily Mrs. Blewett agrees.

Transfigured by joy, Anne, in a whisper, asks Marilla if what she heard is true or just a product of her overactive imagination. Marilla answers tartly Anne will need to learn how to control her imagination—but yes, she did hear Marilla correctly. They'll give the matter a day's thought, and perhaps Anne will be allowed to stay at Green Gables.

Back in Avonlea Marilla privately tells Matthew what took place in White Sands. "Since you seem to want her, I suppose I'm willing—or have to be," she says grudgingly. But Matthew must agree to abide by Marilla's "methods." She may not know much about childrearing, but Matthew surely knows even less. Matthew agrees to give Marilla her own way in matters concerning Anne, adding he thinks Anne will be easy to raise if she can be brought to love them. Marilla doubts that but reflects she and Matthew have "decided on the experiment." Now they'll have to wait and see what happens.

Analysis

In this chapter Anne is treated almost like a piece of property. Marilla is increasingly drawn to the girl, but a mistake was made and Marilla wants it rectified. Kind as Mrs. Spencer may be, it never occurs to her to apologize to Anne for what has happened. And Mrs. Blewett sees Anne not as a lonely child but as an extra pair of hands to help the household.

In the first decade of the 20th century, the concept of children's rights was inconceivable. In 1893, only 15 years before Anne of Green Gables was published, the province of Ontario enacted the Act for the Prevention of Cruelty to and Better Protection of Children, the first childhood welfare program in Canada; the other provinces followed suit. But improving welfare doesn't necessarily mean improving rights.

Free compulsory public schooling gradually became mandatory across Canada toward the end of the 19th century. However, compulsory had different meanings to different people. Many families—especially those whose business was farming, logging, trapping, or fishing—could not have survived without their children's help; the children attended school only when they weren't needed at home. Most children left school permanently at 14.

For an orphan like Anne an education was not considered essential, and families who used orphans as a free source of labor were disinclined to send them to school. As Anne says in Chapter 5, she began regular school attendance once she reached the orphanage—and she was at the orphanage for only four months. In Nova Scotia in 1901, a law was passed banning child labor in factories, but factory investigations weren't mandatory for several more years. However, Anne was not an official laborer: she wasn't paid for her work.

This background information explains why the three adults in this chapter don't question whether Anne herself should have a say in where she lives or what she does. At this point in North America, an 11-year-old orphan has no rights.

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