Chapter 8: Trial by Fire
This chapter introduces Emily to more new experiences in school and meeting other children, while also showing more about Aunt Elizabeth and Laura's beliefs about raising children. Poor Emily, being in a new family, school, and town, hoping to fit in but thwarted at every opportunity. From entering school just a month before vacation--after all friendships have been formed and cemented--to wearing an apron with a high neck and sleeves – out of fashion even when her mother was little – and a sun bonnet, to arriving after the school day began, Emily is set to fail.
Coming from an understanding father to a tyrannical teacher, Emily is for the first time in her young life dealing with authority figures and peers of a very different ilk than hers. As the girl with “Black-eyes,” Jennie Strong, says, “You ain’t a bit like us.”
Maybe at this point in her first day of school, Emily regrets her wish of going with Aunt Elizabeth. But at lunch in the schoolyard everything turns, as Ilse Burns, the pariah of the schoolgirls club, defends Emily when Rhoda Stuart gives her the beautiful gift box with a snake. Ilse sees another underdog and steps in, threatening the others to leave Emily alone, before running away from school again, like an avenging angel, leaving the reader to really wonder at Ilse’s backstory.
Once Isle is gone, Rhoda offers what Emily accepts as a sincere apology, becoming her best friend. Emily’s attitude changes completely, she loves her life, and tries not see anything evil in Rhoda’s numerous prying questions.
On her way home, Emily summarizes her day to herself: “After all, she had kept the Starr flag flying, except for a temporary reverse in the matter of the snake.” Then she mourns the loss of her account book, where she expressed her thoughts and feelings with her father, as she cannot release her emotions and return to her normal world. The reader is left wondering if Emily will bounce back, and finds out that she does, standing up for herself against Aunt Elizabeth at the very end of the chapter.
Sara Rofofsky is a librarian and college educator. A life-long Jane fan, she also enjoys Anne, Emily, Valancy, and all of Montgomery’s heroines.