Anne of Green Gables Summary
Anne of Green Gables is a novel by Lucy Maud Montgomery that recounts the adolescence of a young orphan named Anne after she is adopted by the Cuthbert siblings.
Anne is adopted by Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert. Though Marilla is initially disappointed as she had wanted a boy, Matthew and Marilla both come to love Anne.
Though Anne has good intentions, her imaginative and mischievous nature frequently get her into trouble.
Anne does well academically. She enjoys going to school and wins a coveted scholarship to a prestigious college.
- When Matthew dies, Anne leaves college and returns to Avonlea to become a teacher.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2217
Anne of Green Gables is a 1908 coming-of-age novel about a free-spirited orphan girl. The book and its sequels have remained in print for over a hundred years, and the stories have been adapted for several film and stage productions.
At the beginning of Anne of Green Gables, Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert have decided to adopt an eleven-year-old orphan boy. Matthew is getting old and needs help around the farm, and they think a boy could both work for them and benefit from their home and care. Their friend Rachel Lynde, an outspoken gossip, thinks this is a terrible idea. Matthew and Marilla are brother and sister, an old bachelor and spinster, and they have no knowledge about raising children. Besides, the new child could be a bad seed.
However, Matthew and Marilla make their decision against Rachel's advice, and Matthew goes to the train station to get the boy. When he arrives, he finds a girl instead: a freckled redhead who sits waiting outside on a pile of shingles. She has chosen this spot instead of in the ladies’ waiting room because she finds “more scope for the imagination” outdoors. Matthew is terribly shy and soft-spoken, and he has trouble talking in the presence of any sort of girl. This imaginative, chattering child is more than he can handle on his own. He decides it is best if Marilla explains the situation, and he takes her home. On the way, she exclaims at the beauty of the sights they pass, and she gives fanciful new names to local streets and ponds.
When they reach Green Gables, the Cuthberts’ home, Anne is devastated to learn she is not wanted. She proclaims that she is in “the depths of despair." She cannot eat, so Marilla puts her to bed. Later, Marilla is shocked to learn that Matthew wants Anne to stay. Marilla demands to know what good the girl would be to them, and Matthew says, “We might be some good to her.” Marilla says Anne has “bewitched” him and insists that the girl has to go back to the orphanage.
The next morning, Marilla takes Anne to see Mrs. Spencer, the woman who mistakenly brought Anne to them. On the way, Marilla interrupts Anne’s fanciful chatter (“Wouldn’t it be nice if roses could talk?”) with questions about the girl’s life. Marilla insists that Anne tell the truth without adding in any imagined details. Anne explains that her parents died of fever when she was a baby. They had no relatives, and she was unwanted. Until the age of ten, she lived with two local families who required her to care for their young children. Both of the fathers in those families were drunks, and both ended up dying. After the second such experience, Anne ended up at an orphanage. Marilla asks if the families Anne lived with were good to her, and Anne says:
Oh, they meant to be…And when people mean to be good to you, you don’t mind very much when they’re not quite—always.
Marilla begins to feel sorry for Anne, realizing the girl has led a hard life of poverty and neglect.
When Mrs. Spencer learns that the Cuthberts do not want Anne, she suggests that the girl go to live with Mrs. Blewett, a local woman with a large family who finds it hard to hire help. Mrs. Blewett is known for being stingy and having a bad temper, and she obviously relishes the idea of gaining an unpaid servant in Anne. Marilla’s conscience objects to this arrangement, so she says she may keep the girl after all. When they get back, Matthew and Marilla talk alone, and they agree that they cannot let Mrs. Blewett take the girl. Marilla says:
I’ve never brought up a child, especially a girl, and I dare say I’ll make a terrible mess of it. But I’ll do my best.
She makes Matthew promise not to meddle, and he agrees, as long as Marilla treats the child kindly. “I think she’s one of the sort you can do anything with if you only get her to love you,” he says.
Marilla does not give Anne the good news right away. She puts Anne to bed, at which point she is shocked to find out that the girl does not know how to pray. Anne makes a prayer up on the spot, asking God to let her stay at Green Gables and be good-looking when she grows up. Marilla is shocked, but she understands that Anne is not being irreverent on purpose. She tells Matthew afterward that it is a good thing they have taken Anne in, but she also says her own next few years are going to be difficult.
The next day, Anne cries with joy when she learns she will be allowed to stay at Green Gables. Marilla sets the girl to work learning the Lord’s prayer right away, but Anne keeps getting sidetracked with daydreams and conversation. She tells Marilla how desperately she wants a “bosom friend,” her phrase for a best friend, and Marilla says that a pretty girl named Diana lives nearby. Anne is especially glad at the prospect of making a pretty friend because she knows that she, with her awful red hair, will never be beautiful herself.
Rachel Lynde is even more disapproving of the Cuthberts’ choice to keep Anne than she was of their original plan to adopt a boy. When Rachel sees Anne, she exclaims that the girl is “skinny and homely” with “hair as red as carrots.” Anne flies into a rage, declaring that she hates Rachel and saying:
How would you like to be told that you are fat and clumsy and probably hadn’t a spark of imagination in you!
After this outburst, Anne refuses to say she is sorry. She is banished to her bedroom for a whole day until, without Marilla’s knowledge, Matthew sneaks in and asks her to apologize. Anne agrees in an effort to please him. She goes to Rachel and delivers a long-winded, flowery apology:
Oh, Mrs. Lynde, please, please, please forgive me. If you refuse it will be a lifelong sorrow to me. You wouldn’t inflict a lifelong sorrow on a poor little orphan girl, would you, even if she had a dreadful temper?
Rachel does forgive her. She even says kindly that Anne’s hair may turn from red to auburn someday, and Anne is thrilled with this possibility.
Anne soon meets Diana, who is exactly the sort of “bosom friend” she wants. Later, the girls are invited to a picnic—a prospect that delights Anne to no end. However, Anne’s love of beauty gets her into trouble. Marilla insists that Anne wear plain, sensible dresses instead of frilly ones with puffed sleeves like the other girls. Anne finds it difficult to be plain and sensible, so one day on the way to Sunday school she adorns her hat with flowers. People think she looks ridiculous, and Marilla is embarrassed when she hears about it. A few days later, Anne nearly misses out on going to the picnic because Marilla suspects her of taking and losing a beautiful amethyst brooch. This turns out to be a misunderstanding, however, and Anne gets to go to the picnic after all.
Over the next few months, Anne has several similar misadventures. She grows popular with the girls at school, but she nearly drops out in shame when a boy, Gilbert Blythe, calls her “Carrots” because of her red hair. Shortly afterward, Anne accidentally gives Diana currant wine to drink instead of raspberry cordial. Diana gets drunk, and her mother decides that Anne is a bad seed. For months, Diana is not allowed to play with Anne.
One day, however, Diana arrives breathlessly at Anne’s door. She explains that her mother is away, and that her three-year-old sister, Minnie May, is sick. The nanny does not know what to do, so Anne, who has plenty of experience with sick babies, rushes to help. She saves the child’s life. This incident changes Diana’s mother’s mind about Anne, and the girls are allowed to play together again.
A year passes, and Anne gets into several more “scrapes,” as Marilla calls them. Anne and Diana offend Diana’s Aunt Josephine, a mistake which only Anne’s flowery apologies can smooth over. Anne develops a near-obsessive liking for the new minister’s wife, Mrs. Allen, but embarrasses herself by inviting her to tea and flavoring the cake with liniment instead of vanilla. At the end of the summer, Anne climbs Diana’s roof on a dare and ends up falling and breaking her ankle. Her entrance to the next year of school is delayed because of it.
Marilla is very strict, but Matthew tries to please Anne every way he can. He is not much interested in women’s fashions, but he notices one day that Anne looks different than the girls she plays with. Eventually he realizes that Anne’s dresses are cut plainly and severely, while the other girls wear ruffles and puffed sleeves. Matthew goes to the store to buy Anne a fashionable dress, but his shyness prevents him from explaining what he wants. He seeks out Rachel Lynde, who agrees to help. Matthew ends up giving a beautiful dress to Anne as a Christmas present. Anne is overjoyed, and she wears the dress to a school concert, where Matthew and Marilla are proud to watch her perform with the other children.
As Anne grows older, she keeps getting into “scrapes.” On one occasion, she accidentally dies her hair green in an attempt to make it black. On another, she and her friends act out the death of Elaine of Camelot. Anne’s friends set her adrift on the pond, where her boat sinks and she nearly drowns. Gilbert Blythe, whom Anne has hated since he nicknamed her “Carrots,” saves her life. Afterward, he tries to make friends, but Anne insists that she will hate him forever. Until now, Gilbert has never hated her back, but now he does. The two of them are the best students at their school, and they grow fiercely competitive.
In spite of Anne's many mishaps, she grows to love Matthew and Marilla. They grow to love her back, and they try give her all the advantages biological parents would give her. When it becomes clear that Anne is an excellent student, Marilla suggests that the girl join a group of advanced students who are studying for entrance to Queen’s Academy. Anne is surprised that Matthew and Marilla are willing to spend so much money on her education, and she studies especially hard to do them credit. Marilla and Rachel observe her behavior with approval, noting that she is growing up to become a fine young woman who does not get into so many “scrapes.”
Eventually Anne takes the examinations for entrance to the academy. She and Gilbert tie for first place in the results, and both elect to complete their course of study in one year instead of the usual two. When Anne goes away to school, she gets very homesick. However, she resolves to do so well that she will earn a scholarship to college and make Matthew proud. The homesickness wears off eventually, and she gains a group of imaginative and hardworking friends. When she takes her examinations, she beats Gilbert and wins the top award, the Avery scholarship.
While Anne is home at Green Gables for the summer, Matthew has a sudden attack and dies. Anne is devastated. Marilla comforts her, saying:
I know I’ve been kind of strict and harsh with you maybe—but you mustn’t think I didn’t love you as well as Matthew did, for all that…I love you as dear as if you were my own flesh and blood.
Shortly after this, Marilla learns from a doctor that she is going blind. She has to give up any work that is hard on the eyes, which means she cannot take care of Green Gables by herself. She tells Anne that she will have to sell her home, but Anne refuses to let her. Anne takes a teaching job nearby instead of going away to college, saying:
You surely don’t think I could leave you alone in your trouble, Marilla, after all you’ve done for me.
When Marilla protests, Anne waves away her objections, saying that her mind is made up.
Gilbert Blythe is also staying in town instead of going away. He gives up a chance to teach at the local school so that Anne can stay full-time with Marilla rather than working in a neighboring town. The next time Anne meets him, she thanks him, and Gilbert asks if they can be friends, and she finally agrees. They both continue their studies together on their own, even though they are not going away to college, and they decide to work together.
One evening at Green Gables, Anne reflects that she does not know what her future holds as she once thought she did. However, she is content to wait and see what comes.
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