By Chet Yarbrough
The Secret Garden
By: Frances Hodgson Burnett
Narrated by: Carrie Hope Fletcher
“The Secret Garden” is a period piece. One should read/listen to “The Secret Garden” with an understanding that it is a story of its time, not of the 21st century. It tells of wealth’s privilege at a time when poverty is ignored and perceived as a natural part of civilization. “The Secret Garden” was serialized in a 1911 publication called “The American Magazine”.
“The Secret Garden” is a story of childhood privilege and neglect. The story begins in India and ends in an English manor house. It is a story of how some children overcome the circumstance of parental neglect.
The first character introduced is Mary who lives in India with her British parents.
The second is Colin who lives with his father in England.
Because of implied wealth and virtual absence of parents, two ten-year-old cousins are raised by servants. Their early perception of the world is that they are masters of their domain. At the age of ten, both children have been neglected by their parents. Mary is characterized as unattractive with a beautiful mother who has turned her parental responsibility over to Indian servants. Mary’s father is never a part of the story.
Cholera strikes India in 19th century. Both of Mary’s parents die from Cholera, and she is carted off to England to live with her uncle.
Mary’s uncle lives in a 100-room mansion in the English countryside. Mary arrives at the manor and is greeted by servants, not her Uncle.
Her Uncle lost his beloved wife in the birth of their son. The son, Colin, is isolated in one room of the mansion, cared for by servants, and rarely visited by his father. Colin believes he is going to die because of a physical affliction that is presumed to have come from his father’s unspecified condition, a condition of melancholy more than physical being.
Mary begins to recognize people who care for her are not slaves when she returns to England. Her realization comes from being taken out of India’s way of life into an English countryside where servants are noted as somewhat independent while handcuffed by low wages paid by employers and the independently wealthy.
The consequence of Mary’s and Colin’s neglected upbringing is their characterization as imperious martinets who order their care givers as though they were slaves.
Mary begins to realize English servants are more than order takers. They have lives of their own. She begins to realize one must treat others as she wishes to be treated.
A secret garden is the center of the story because it is a symbol of life’s resurrection.
Even the most neglected and spoiled children can be metaphorically planted in a different environment to become more caring and understanding. A secret garden changes Mary and Colin into better human beings.
The key to understanding “The Secret Garden” is that thought makes humans who they are and what they become.
Colin is introduced as an invalid that is unable to cope with the world as it is. He is neglected by a father who may blame him for the death of his beloved wife. Colin is ten but acts like a two-year-old. He is as imperious as Mary when she lived in India. Because of Mary’s experience in India, she understands Colin’s reasons for acting as a two-year-old. In that understanding she uses her experience in India and her newly acquired knowledge of English life to lure Colin out of his melancholy. She talks of a secret garden that was created by Colin’s mother before her untimely death. Mary found the key to the Secret Garden and the metaphorical key to Colin’s health and happiness.
Frances Burnett created a story that explains how children who are neglected by parents can change the direction of their lives. The course of one’s life begins with thought. Good thoughts lead to good actions. Bad thoughts lead to bad actions. After Burnett’s story, a final thought is–weather neglected or not, it is a child’s choice.