Anne of Green Gables | Study Guide

L. M. Montgomery

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Anne of Green Gables | Plot Summary

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Summary

A Big Mistake

Anne of Green Gables takes place at the turn of the 20th century in Avonlea, a small town on Prince Edward Island. An elderly brother and his younger sister—Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert—decide to adopt a young orphan boy to help with chores on their farm. In return they'll give him a good home and schooling. The Cuthberts make arrangements with a Nova Scotia orphanage to have Mrs. Spencer, a local woman they know, bring the boy over on the ferry and put him on a train. Matthew will meet the boy at the Bright River railroad station, eight miles away.

On the appointed day Matthew drives the horse and buggy to Bright River. The platform is empty except for a shabbily dressed little girl sitting on a pile of shingles. The stationmaster tells him the train has come and gone and the little girl outside was dropped off for him. Confused, Matthew explains he's expecting a boy, not a girl, but the stationmaster knows nothing about the arrangements. He heads off for home, leaving Matthew on his own with the little girl. Her name is Anne Shirley, though that's not revealed immediately.

Before Matthew can explain there's been a mistake, Anne greets him by name and plunges into conversation. Because he can't leave her at the station, Matthew decides he might as well bring her home and have Marilla explain the situation to her.

Anne chatters happily as they drive. She's excited to be going to the farm, which is named Green Gables. In fact she's almost perfectly happy. The only reason she's not perfectly happy is she bears the burden of having red hair and freckles. Matthew barely says a word, but—to his own surprise—he finds he likes listening to the flow of talk. He's never been comfortable around little girls, but Anne seems different.

Marilla meets them at the door of Green Gables and stops, amazed: Where's the boy? As Matthew explains the mistake, Anne bursts into tears, and says, "Nobody ever did want me. I might have known it was all too beautiful to last." Since there's nothing to do but keep her until they've solved the problem, the Cuthberts feed Anne and put her to bed. There she cries herself to sleep.

Anne Stays

Marilla is stunned to learn Matthew has taken a fancy to Anne and wouldn't mind giving her a home. He says, "We might be some good to her ... She's a real interesting little thing." But his sister's mind is made up. The following afternoon they set off for Mrs. Spencer's house. As they drive, Marilla asks Anne about her background and, despite herself, begins to feel sorry for Anne. Orphaned as a baby, Anne was raised by a neighbor who then expected her to earn her keep minding the children and helping with chores. At eight she was passed along to another large family where, once again, she worked much too hard. When that family moved, Anne was sent to the orphanage, where she's been for the past four months.

Mrs. Spencer is at a loss to explain the mistake but offers an instant solution: a woman who lives nearby wants a girl who will do chores for her board and keep. Marilla can't find it in herself to send Anne to yet another place where she'll be overworked and overlooked. She's not sure what she's getting herself and Matthew into, but from now Anne Shirley will have a home at Green Gables.

Anne Thrives in Avonlea

Matthew is delighted; Anne is ecstatic. For Marilla, the change is hard. She's a sober soul, set in her ways and knows nothing about raising children—especially an unusual little being like Anne. Anne is full of odd fancies; she talks constantly; she's had no religious training. When she disagrees with Marilla, she speaks up for herself—politely, but determinedly. She is also capable of flying into rages, especially when someone brings up the color of her hair. When Marilla's friend does so, Anne shouts, "How dare you say I'm freckled and redheaded? You are a rude, impolite, unfeeling woman!" When her classmate Gilbert Blythe whispers "Carrots! Carrots!" at her, Anne cracks her slate over his head and refuses to speak to him for the next five years.

But Anne's spirit and imagination win people over in the end. Her best friend and "kindred spirit," Diana Barry, lives next door. They're inseparable until the day Anne accidentally gets Diana drunk and Mrs. Barry forbids the girls to speak to each other. (Mrs. Barry later changes her mind when Anne saves the life of Diana's little sister.) When Anne and Diana jump onto a bed without realizing Diana's elderly aunt is sleeping in it, Anne's apology brings Aunt Josephine around—and wins Anne a new ally.

Anne and Diana get into amusing scrapes with their school friends, and Anne's always in the middle of the action. Accepting a dare, she tries to walk the ridgepole of Diana's house and ends up breaking her ankle. Intending to dye her hair "raven black," she turns it green and must have it all clipped off. When the schoolmaster makes Anne sit with Gilbert Blythe as a punishment, Anne removes everything from her desk and refuses to return to school. Shy Matthew is sweet and supportive from the beginning; it takes Marilla longer, but she comes to love Anne as a daughter.

Anne Grows Up

As the months pass, Anne becomes more serene and less talkative, especially when her schoolmistress and Sunday school teacher take her under their wing. Her hair darkens to auburn, or so she hopes, and her freckles vanish. Along with Gilbert and a handful of other classmates, Anne is chosen to study for the entrance examinations to teachers' college. Anne and Gilbert share the top score on the exam, and their fierce rivalry propels them to the top of their class at college. Both complete two years' work in a year, and both win the highest honors possible. Anne's fanciful language becomes more subdued as she matures, and the writing changes to reflect her language.

Anne graduates from teachers' college and returns to Green Gables with a full scholarship to Redmond, a four-year university. But shortly after her graduation, Matthew suffers a fatal heart attack on hearing the family bank where the Cuthberts kept their savings has failed. Every cent of their money was in that bank. Close behind these shocks comes the dreadful news that Marilla may become blind within six months.

Anne Stays in Avonlea

Coming to Green Gables changed Anne's life forever. Now she can return the favor. Anne decides not to take the Redmond scholarship after all. Instead she'll stay home, teach school, and help Marilla. And she'll design her own college course so she can keep learning.

Gilbert Blythe was hired to teach at Avonlea School, but he kindly takes a job farther away so Anne can teach close to home. Anne musters the courage to thank him, and the two decide to end their five-year feud. "We were born to be good friends," exults Gilbert. The novel ends that night, as Anne gazes out of her window at the landscape. Her path to the future may have narrowed, but it will be planted with "flowers of quiet happiness." And there's always a bend in the road. Perhaps one day the dreams she's put aside will come true.

Anne of Green Gables Plot Diagram

Climax123456789Rising ActionFalling ActionResolutionIntroduction

Introduction

1 Anne arrives at Green Gables and finds she's not wanted.

Rising Action

2 Anne and Diana become best friends.

3 Angry with Gilbert and punished, Anne stops going to school.

4 Anne dyes her hair green.

5 Anne enrolls at Queen's Academy, a school for teachers.

6 Anne wins a scholarship to Redmond, a four-year college.

Climax

7 Matthew dies when he learns the bank has failed.

Falling Action

8 Anne decides to stay with Marilla rather than go to Redmond.

Resolution

9 Anne and Gilbert make up their quarrel at last.

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