Marilla begins the novel a sharp, severe woman. Only a faint sense of humor lightens her severity; with Mrs. Rachel and Matthew, Marilla allows her biting wit to peep through her propriety. At first, Marilla’s narrowness and rigidity clash with Anne’s romanticism and imagination. Marilla scolds Anne for her unusual behavior, criticizing her when she screams at Mrs. Rachel or decorates her hat with flowers. Marilla is an equally harsh ruler of her own thoughts and behavior. When she finds herself agreeing with Anne’s candid, indecorous thoughts, she sternly rebukes herself. Marilla leads a rigid emotional life too. She rarely expresses her love for Anne, and when she does feel rushes of affection, she quickly stifles them.
Marilla’s love for Anne is evident in her kind, fair treatment of her adopted daughter. Even her strict rules show Anne that Marilla cares for her and wants her to grow up well behaved and successful. Anne’s unconventional ways interest Marilla as much as they shock her, and she must often suppress laughter at Anne’s outrageousness to give Anne the scolding she deserves. Marilla softens gradually until she is able to tell Anne she loves her and can confide in her, confessing her own romantic travails as a young girl. She becomes able to express emotion more openly and voice her pride in Anne’s successes.