Chapters 1, pp. 6-13
Busybody Mrs. Rachel Lynde, whose house is situated so that she may observe all the comings and goings of the residents of Avonlea, a village on Prince Edward Island in Canada, is sitting at her window one June afternoon when she sees farmer Matthew Cuthbert, wearing his Sunday best, driveby in his buggy. Mrs. Lynde cannot rest until, after tea, she walks over to Green Gables to find out from Matthew’s sister, Marilla Cuthbert, where her brother was going.
She is ushered into the Cuthberts’ spotless kitchen by Marilla, for whom sunshine “seemed to her too dancing and irresponsible a thing for a world which was meant to be taken seriously.” After some small talk, Mrs. Lynde asks where Matthew was going in his buggy. Marilla, a tall, plain, serious woman with gray threading through her dark hair, explains that Matthew has gone to Bright River to meet the train that is bringing an orphan boy from an asylum, or orphanage, in Nova Scotia. A friend, Mrs. Spencer, had told the Cuthberts that she was adopting an orphan girl to help her around the house, and she’d agreed to get the Cuthberts a boy to help Matthew on the farm. Matthew is sixty, she explains, and cannot do all of the farm work alone anymore. He has therefore gone to meet Mrs. Spencer and the boy at the Bright River train station.
Rachel is aghast that the Cuthbertswould take in a child. She cannot imagine a child in such a somber, although very upright, household. In fact, she cannot imagine taking in a strange child at all. She lists for Marilla all the cases she has heard of in which such a child turned out to be dangerous or lazy.
Marilla says that Matthew is set upon getting a boy to help, and she won’t go against him. Besides, she points out, her friend’s examples of bad orphans mostly involved bad girls—and the Cuthberts are getting a boy, which surely is safer. Marilla says she cannot imagine bringing up a little girl.
Mrs. Lynde bids her goodbye and promptly heads up the lane to another farm, that of Robert Bell, to spread the news that the Cuthberts are adopting a boy from an orphanage—and she pities the boy.
This chapter introduces one of the novel’s main characters, Marilla Cuthbert, and the setting, the farm of Green Gables near the small provincial town of Avonlea around the turn of the twentieth century, when many people still drove buggies but were able to take trains as well. Like most small country towns, Avonlea has a local gossip—in this case Rachel Lynde. It is through Mrs. Lynde’s eyes that readers first see Marilla as a spinster who lives a very upright, yet joyless, life. She seems to view taking in an orphan strictly as a business matter, to help with the success of their farm.
Chapter 2, pp. 13-26
Matthew arrives at the station and notices a thin little girl “sitting there waiting for something or somebody.” When Matthew inquires about the boy he is to pick up, the station master informs him that only the little girl arrived for him. She had, reports the station master, told him that she preferred to wait outside because she found “‘much more scope for imagination’” there.
Matthew, who is extremely shy, approaches the girl, who is about eleven years old and is wearing an ugly, too short dress and a faded sailor hat. She has thick red braids, a small, pale face, freckles, and large, greenish-gray eyes that are alive with spirit. As Matthew approaches the child, she begins to speak, overwhelming him with a story about how she had decided that, if no one came to collect her, she would sleep in a cherry tree. She asks Matthew if he agrees that sleeping among the white blossoms would be wonderful. Matthew, taken aback by the girl’s rush of words and her question, decides to take the girl home and let Marilla sort out what to do about her.
On the ride to Green Gables, the girl chatters incessantly, but enchantingly. She reveals that she is glad to be rid of the orphan’s asylum where she unhappily resided; the place had “‘little scope for the imagination,’” but she did the best she could by imagining that the other orphans had exotic backgrounds. She suddenly shifts to talking about the way the blossoming trees they are passing resemble brides in their frothy white blooms. In the same breath she frets that she is so plain that no one will ever marry her, except perhaps a foreign missionary, but if she should marry she will have a white dress—she has never had a pretty dress or pretty clothes, but she has certainly imagined wearing them. Without pausing she goes on to mention that Mrs. Spencer, who had collected her from the orphanage, had chided her for asking so many questions—and she supposes that she does ask a lot of questions, but she could not find out things if she did not ask questions. Finding out about things, she says, makes her feel alive, and besides, if there was nothing to find out or imagine about, life would be very dull.
Matthew finds that he is enjoying this girl’s persistent, erratic chatter, and he is surprised that she does not frighten him like other girls and women do. He tells her she can keep talking on—he doesn’t mind at all.
So the girl does chatter on. She reveals that she hates her red hair and freckles and can’t decide whether she would rather be very clever or very beautiful, if she could be either. She rhapsodizes over a beautiful stretch of road over which apple trees arch that locals call The Avenue, and she rechristens it the “White Way of Delight,” a much more imaginative name. She says that when she does not like the name of some place or someone, “‘I always imagine a new one and always think of them so.’” Then she tells how she has not had many pleasant experiences, but has imagined plenty of them, and she has longed for a pleasant home and hopes that this time she really will get one. Suddenly she cries out at the sight of a pond, Barry’s Pond, which she immediately renames “Lake of the Shining Waters.” Matthew tells her that the Barry family includes a girl her age, Diana.
The girl requests that Matthew not tell her where Green Gables is, for she would prefer to guess which farm and house it is. As they approach it, her eyes linger on one farm “far back from the road, dimly white with blossoming trees in the twilight of the surrounding woods.” The girl guesses that is Green Gables, and Matthew affirms her guess. She proclaims she must be in a dream and grows silent in rapture. Matthew worries about her disappointment when Marilla says, as she surely will, that the girl must be exchanged for a boy from the asylum. He feels the same guilt he feels when he has to kill a lamb or a calf on the farm.
Chapter two introduces the other two main characters of the novel, Matthew Cuthbert and a little girl. Matthew, like his sister Marilla, is older and set in his ways; he is cripplingly shy around females and has never married. But he reveals a soft heart, for he cannot imagine disappointing this unique, enchanting little girl.
The little girl reveals much about herself that is enchanting: She has a very lively imagination and a vibrant enthusiasm for life. Her imagination appears to have been her anchor during her unhappy, often ugly life. Readers, like Matthew, wonder how such an optimistic, lively, verbose child will take the news that she must be sent back to that ugly life.