The Secret Garden book report - detailed analysis, book summary, literary elements, character analysis, Frances Eliza Hodgson Burnett biography and everything necessary for active class participation.
The Secret Garden is one of the most popular children's novels written by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It was first published in 1911 and consists of 27 chapters, in its earliest release, it was published in sequels and did not draw much attention initially. With time the novel became increasingly popular and is recognized as one of the most popular children's novels in English literature and certainly one of the most popular in 20-century literature.
The novel is focused on Mary (a little girl) who lost her parents at the age of nine, due to cholera. She was sent to Yorkshire, England where she met new friends and explored all of nature's wonders. Two cultures are being merged in this work: the Indian and the English. The Indian culture is shown in two different descriptions: one shows India as a land filled with disease and in the other one it is described as a wonderful land of snake tamers where people rode on elephants.
This theme is symbolic in more than one way. The first and most obvious symbol is one of the secret gardens which represents human's return to nature which in all of its blossoming has a healing effect on people. There is a clear battle between the socially accepted way of thinking which is represented by the children in the novel while the grownups are caught up in their collective thinking that they can not see what's right in front of them. The children face themselves, their fears, demons and aspects of their personality of which they can either come to terms with or make changes. The children practice the power of positive thinking which gives them power and strength to believe every problem has a solution.
Believing in miracles is completely justified in this novel, even though the miracles aren't clearly described but their effect on people's lives is clear. A lot of emphases is placed on kind words, good behavior, righteousness and kindness. These are the values the novel is trying to implement into young readers. There is a clear influence of Christian beliefs which are at times subtle. The novel had many adaptations which encouraged its popularity.
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Genre: children's novel, drama, fiction
Setting: turn of the 20th century; Yorkshire, England
Point of view: Mary's
Tone: realistic, progressive
Theme: Mary and Colin turn from self-absorbed, friendless and sickly children to mentally and physically ones; Mary, an orphan, heals after the deaths of her loved ones
There Is No One Left
Marry Lennox was a skinny girl with fair hair and a sad expression on her face. She lived on Misselthwaite estate with her aunt. Her father was an English government official and her mother lived for parties. Mary had her servant Aya. She was a little tyrant from a young age and when the time was right for her to learn how to read and write she managed to chase away all of her teachers. One day Mary woke up next to an unknown woman. She asked for Aya and when the servant gave an unsatisfactory response Mary started kicking and screaming. She went to play in the garden where she heard her mother talking to unfamiliar people. She found out that cholera was taking lives and that the servants were ill and that in it, the disease took Aya.
A few days later, early the next morning Mary could not hear any noises coming from the house, she took this as a sign that the disease was gone and everyone was cured. Mary waited for someone to come and get her, but no one was coming. A few minutes later she hears footsteps in the backyard at which time she is taken by medical professionals, soon enough she learns that her parents had also passed as a result of cholera.
Mistress Mary Quite Contrary
Mary thought about her mother. She knew she was beautiful but she was also aware of the fact that she knew nothing in-depth about her mother, so she didn't have much reason to miss her a lot. Since Mary always had someone taking care of her, she started to feel lonely. The girl was sent to stay with an English priest who had five other children to take care of. She hated the place so much that in a few days no one wanted to play with her anymore. Once while she was playing in the backyard Basil came up to her and asked her to play with him and she quite rudely denied it. He was offended and started singing a song named "Mistress Mary, quite contrary" which soon enough became her nickname; Mistress Mary.
Basil also let her know that soon she will be sent to her uncle Archibald Craven. The same day Mr And Mrs Crawford confirmed this revelation. On her way to Misselthwaite, she was accompanied by Mrs Medlock who took the time to give Mary a lot of information about the Archibald home and family. Mary tried to keep an uninterested facial expression but when Medlock said Craven recently lost his wife Mary unintentionally shouted.
Across The Moor
After a nap, Mary woke up to Mrs Medlock offering her some cold beef, chicken and tea. They were getting to their destination. Mary and Mrs Medlock entered a carriage and soon the old man Pitcher was opening up the front door for them. He told Mrs Medlock to get the girl settled in her room and that Craven had no desire to see her because he was flying out to London the next day. Mary was a bit scared to look straight at the walls covered with portraits.
Waking up in the morning Mary noticed interesting patterns on the wall tapestry. She was woken up by a maid who came to light up the fire. They talked about the place and the maid (Martha) stated that for her it was the most beautiful place in the world. All of a sudden Martha was careless enough to say she was hoping Mary would be black and Mary was very offended because black people in India were servants. The girl started crying and Martha, not knowing what she had done, comforted the girl. When Mary stopped crying, Martha ordered her to get dressed. Mary didn't know how to do that because Aya used to do it for her. Martha told her she had to learn how to do things on her own now.
Martha caught Mary's attention with the story about Dickon who had his own goal and who always played alone. She suggested to Mary to go outside and play. Mary was not pleased to play alone, but not having any other choice, she did. Mary explored the nature around her and then she reached a door leading to a big garden and Mary saw an unknown man. He didn't look very friendly, and it was clear that she was not allowed to enter that part of the garden. She thought to herself why Craven didn't allow people to enter his wife's garden and why he had buried the key. She started talking to the gardener and it turned out he was a good man, his name was Ben.
He said that he, much like the bird, was lonely and then Mary realized she was too. At the end of the conversation, Mary asked him about the garden and Ben's facial expression changed to the way it was before they met. He said she shouldn't stick her nose where it doesn't belong and left without saying another word.
The Cry In The Corridor
The first few days were all the same for Mary. After a few days spent in the garden, she realized what hunger was and finally accepted the food she had been declining for days. Mary went out to the garden, wandered around and found the same little birds every day. A particular bird (a robin) had started singing and she felt as if he understood her and it made her quite happy. The robin sat on a branch she couldn't reach and Mary saw the tree belonged to the garden in which she wasn't allowed to enter. She tried to find the garden door but couldn't.
In the evening, Mary gathered the strength to ask Martha about the garden. Marta was a talkative person, and she told Mary what had happened. She said that the garden belonged to Craven and his late wife and that only the two of them worked on it. They spent hours smiling and reading there. Mrs Craven planted roses and made a swing in the garden. The swing accidentally broke while she was on it and she got seriously hurt and died the next day. When Mary heard the story she thought she had heard someone crying in the hallway. She asked Martha if she heard it too and Martha said it was probably Betty with her toothache. Mary was sure Martha was telling a lie because she changed her behavior.
There Was Someone Crying - There Sure Was
It was raining the next day so Mary had to find something to entertain herself within the house. Martha told her it would be a good idea to visit the library with Mrs Madlock but Mary had something else planned. She decided to find the library on her own and she tried to count the doors in the house. Mary went out to the hallway and started to wander around. She saw many portraits and took a peek into one of the rooms.
On her way back, Mary heard the crying again but it was different. After placing her hand on the tapestry she discovered a secret door. Mrs Medlock appeared and dragged Mary back to her room, telling Mary that she will be forced to lock her inside her room if she ever dares to do something similar.
The Key To The Garden
When Mary woke up in the morning, the bright blue sky amazed her because she never seen such a clear sky in India. While talking to Martha she expressed a desire to get to know Dickon. Martha went home promising she would talk to Mrs Madlock about this.
In the garden, Mary started talking to Ben again, asking about the appearance of the secret garden and Ben told her only Robin can describe it accurately. Mary kept on wandering and she found the robin sitting on a pile of dirt. There was a hole next to him made by a dog. When Mary looked closer, she saw something on the ground. Mary tried to pull it out and it ended up being a key. She was sure it was the key to the garden.
The Robin Who Showed The Way
Mary guarded the key in her pocket. Mrs Medlock let Martha spend the night at her mother's house and to come back in time Martha had to get up at four in the morning. She told Mary everything that had happened. Mary wanted to know if Martha told her family anything about her. All of a sudden Martha stepped outside for a moment and she came back with a little gift for Mary.
Martha's mother bought a jumping rope for Mary so she would have fun and get a bit stronger. While she was playing outside she saw the robin and Ben again. The robin was cheerfully singing and Mary asked him to show her the doors to the secret garden because she was sure the robin helped her find the key. Just like in Aya's stories, a miracle happened. The robin sat on a branch right when the wind blew and uncovered a small lock. Mary had a tough time unlocking the doors but she did it. Mary finally entered the secret garden.
The Strangest House Anyone Ever Lived In
The garden was the most wonderful place on Earth, Mary thought. She explored it and discovered a million little rose bushes. She thought that if she had Ben's knowledge, she would know whether those plants were still alive. She saw a lot of weeds around the plants and started picking it out.
The time passed by fast and it was lunchtime. She asked Martha if she could get her a little shovel so that she could dig and plant and Martha agreed. Since Mary had some money, Martha wrote a letter to Martha's brother, sending the money and asking him to buy some gardening tools and seeds. Mary asked Martha again about the crying, but before she could answer Mrs Medlock came.
Mary thought about the garden often and she didn't hate the wind and the rain anymore. On one sunny day, she came even closer to Ben. She would appear out of nowhere because she was scared he would start avoiding her again. She started asking him about planting roses and how to take care of them. Ben had enough of her and told her to stop asking a question but despite all that Mary still cared for him.
Mary walked down the small road jumping her rope. When she saw a boy, she knew it was Dickon. He told her not to move and got up easily. There were squirrels and rabbits around him. He and Mary talked as if they knew each other for years. He was 12, had fluffy hair and blue eyes. Mary found out he understood her friend the robin and she asked him to show her the gardening tools and seeds he bought. Dickon asked her about her garden, and she blushed without knowing what to respond. She started getting excited and decided to tell him only if he promised to keep her secret.
The Nest Of The Missel Thrush
The garden left Dickon amazed. He started walking slower than Mary when she first discovered it. Dickon said Martha mentioned this garden before and that she was very interested in it. They wandered around, and Dickon explained how to know which roses were alive and which were dead. Dickon noticed the branches being trimmed a while ago. Both of them were happy about making the garden come to life again. Dickon promised to keep the secret and come every day to help her.
"Might I Have A Bit Of Earth"
Mary came running and caught her breath, hoping she didn't miss lunch. She told Martha about meeting Dickon and Martha advised her to talk to Ben about getting some earth. Martha also announced Craven wanted to see her. Martha's mother saw him in the city and told him he should see Mary before leaving again. His next journey won't end before fall or even winter. While they were talking Mrs Medlock entered and told Mary to start getting ready.
When Mary entered Craven's room she was a bit terrified. Craven was a pleasant man and told Mary there was nothing to fear. She saw Craven was a sad man. Mary asked him for a piece of Earth, and he told her she can take any piece of Earth she wanted. Craven gave her all the time in the world to play in the garden and visit Martha's mother. When she came back to the garden she found Dickon's message which stated he will be back.
I Am Colin
It was raining heavily that night and Mary couldn't fall asleep. She thought she heard someone crying again. This time Marry promised herself to find out what was going on and she started her small quest. She wandered the hallways without fearing Mrs Medlock catching her. Behind the wall, she heard someone crying and she saw a boy. He asked who it was and if he was dreaming again. Mary found out it was Colin, Raven's son. Colin was ill and sad about his father visiting him rarely. They talked about the secret garden and Mary promised to take him there soon so he would get some fresh air if the doctors allow. Mary wanted to leave but Colin asked her to stay until he fell asleep. She sang him a lullaby.
A Young Rajah
The morning was rainy. Martha came into Mary's room and knew she had something to confess. Mary told her all about seeing Colin. When she said the boy treated her nicely, Martha was surprised and let Mary know Colin was very spoiled and always made everyone do what he pleased. Martha was scared she would lose her job. Colin asked for Martha and told her he wanted to see Mary. Mary gladly accepted his invitation.
She came to the room and started a conversation. She told him she had no desire to listen to his stories about death and that from then on they will only talk about life. Mary talked to him about a young rajah and Dickon. Mrs Medlock and doctor Craven entered the room and they were completely stunned to see the girl there and Colin told him no one can know about it. He said he felt better ever since the girl visited him. When they left Colin complained about them forcing him to eat when he wasn't hungry.
Rainy days were replaced with sunny days. Mrs Medlock told Mary she was very clever to sneak into Colin's room but that everyone was thankful because the crying stopped and his nurse won't be fired.
Mary asked why Colin disliked people looking at him and he said he disliked it since he was a kid. She asked him carefully if he would have a problem with meeting a boy, she was referring to Dickon, and Colin accepted.
In the morning Mary went to check up on the garden. It was a sunny day and it made for everything to start blossoming. She found Dickon there and she couldn't believe he came in so early. They noticed their friend Raven starting a family and building a nest. Dickon said it would be best to leave him in peace to build his nest because they shouldn't scare him now. Mary told him all about Colin, and when Dickon heard it he felt relieved. He knew about Colin, and he was happy because he didn't have to hide it anymore. He thought it would be good to take Colin out and let him play in the garden, in the fresh air.
"I Won't", Said Mary
They've done a lot of work that morning and Mary went home later. She was so busy, she almost forgot about Colin. She told Martha to let Colin know she won't be visiting him that day because she wanted to work in the garden.
When she was done with her work she wanted to tell Colin all about it but it wasn't so easy. When she entered the room, Colin had one of his scenes. He threatened to forbid her from talking to Dickon and making her only talk to him. Mary considered him unbearable at that moment. She told him she will never visit him again and angrily left the room. When she came to her room she found many toys bought for her by Craven. Mary was so happy she completely suppressed her rage and wrote a letter of gratitude to Craven. Later Mary thought about everything that happened and she still hoped to see Colin again.
Mary got up early and worked in the garden the whole day and right after dinner, she went to bed, knowing she would fall asleep immediately. In the middle of the night, she was woken up by terrible screams and she knew what was going on. Everyone was walking up and down and Colin's nurse came begging Mary to come and help her calm Colin down. Filled with anger Mary went to his room and started yelling. The boy was stunned by her reaction.
Soon he started yelling, convinced he had a hunch on his back but it turned out to be his ribs because he wasn't eating right. He agreed to step outside and get some fresh air with Mary. When he calmed down, Mary decided to stay with him until he fell asleep. She wanted to sing him a lullaby, but he asked her to tell him all about the garden and her stories made him fall asleep.
Tha' Munnot Waste No Time
The next morning Mary wasn't an early bird because she was exhausted from the previous night. Before going to the garden with Dickon she let Colin know she will visit him later. Dickon came with his horse and he had two squirrels in his pockets. Mary and Dickon laughed while Mary tried to speak with a Yorkshire accent and the laughter was heard by Mrs Medlock. She couldn't believe her eyes. She decided to tell Colin about the garden and promise to take him there.
It Has Come
Every morning after Colin's tantrums, the doctor had to come and visit him. This time was different because he entered only to find Mary and Colin laughing. He was surprised because the boy was getting better. When the doctor went out he let Mrs Medlock know the boy's state was improving.
Colin slept that night without waking up once. In the morning Mary came and they had breakfast together while Mary told him all about a sheep Dickon had saved. Colin wanted Dickon to visit him and he said to his maid that a boy with animals will come and visit him and that she shouldn't ban him from entering the room. When Dickon came Colin was visibly excited and Dickon gave him a small sheep. He also told him all about saving the sheep and what he went through to find her.
I Shall Live Forever, And Ever, And Ever
Colin suddenly got ill. Dickon came to visit him every other day and when Colin got better he called the gardener Roach to his room because he had to tell him something. When Roach entered the room he was a bit surprised, despite knowing Dickon was in the room. There was a raven, a lamb and Dickon and Colin sitting in a chair. Dickon asked him to tell all of the gardeners to be in the garden because he was planning on coming out. Roach went out satisfied because this time Colin asked for something that can be done.
When they came out to the garden there was no one there. The more they approached the entrance, the quieter they talked. It was still their secret garden. When Colin finally entered and saw all of the plants and the wonders of nature he shouted that he will get better and live forever, and ever, and ever.
The children enjoyed the garden and practiced their Yorkshire accent. Colin noticed there was a branch missing on an old tree. To avoid further inconvenience Dickon and Mary changed the subject. Just when the sun was coming down Colin saw Ben on the ladder. Ben started shouting and threatening the girl and then he saw Colin. He spoke badly about him telling him he thought he was too skinny and had weak legs. Colin was infuriated, but this time he expressed his anger differently. He ordered Dickon to help him stand up, Colin looked Ben in the eyes and told him to come down from the ladder so they could clear everything up. Ben, pleasantly surprised, did it and cried while doing it.
When The Sun Went Down
Colin wanted to stand next to a tree before Ben came so he could have something to hold onto. Ben came and Colin asked him if he still looked like an ill man and Ben responded with "no"! Ben was still shocked to see a healthy boy. Mr Craven asked him to take care of the garden if something happens to him. He kept his promise until two years ago when he got ill and couldn't climb over the fence. Colin took a shovel and started digging and Ben offered to bring some roses to plant. Colin loved the idea and he wanted to do it before sundown so that he could enjoy the view.
When they came back doctor Craven was waiting for them. He said Colin should slow down on the visits to the garden but Colin declined his advice because he believes the garden was the only thing helping him get better. Mary managed to talk some sense into Colin and make him realize he was treated poorly by the maids and workers. She told him he was a bit weird and he said he will stop acting so bad as he'll be spending every day in the garden. Colin was sure there was some magic helping him so he asked his two friends and Ben to help him invoke the magic.
They sat in the garden as if it were a temple and Colin invoked the magic. Then he decided to take a walk through the garden on his own and when he came back, he was blushing. Colin expressed a desire to become a scientist. They talked about him being a doctor and they were all surprised when they saw him standing up straight like a real boy.
Let Them Laugh
Dickon didn't only work in the garden, he was also helping his mother grow potatoes and carrots. They would often be told and she would enjoy listening to Dickon's adventures. Dickon noticed Colin was getting better and that he didn't know how to hide it so that he would let his father know about his improvement before the doctors. His mother decided to help him and every morning she sent milk and little buns to the boys and they enjoyed it. Colin had to pretend in front of his maids and workers he was still feeling ill and he would often have laughed at every time he came to the garden. Mother's plan worked so that the maid showed an untracked plate to the doctor when he came to visit.
The garden was blossoming, and the little raven had a family. He watched carefully over Colin and Mary, but he didn't worry much about Dickon. Dickon spoke his language, so his presence didn't bother him much. He would often hide in the bushes and watch Colin walking slowly as if he was planning an attack. Then he concluded that Colin was still learning how to walk just like little birds learn how to fly. He told his wife about it so she wouldn't be worried about her little birds disappearing.
It was a rainy day so Mary came up with an idea to explore all of the rooms in the house because there was a lot and it would give Colin a chance to exercise. Colin said he couldn't wait for his father to come back so that he could show him everything he was able to do.
Colin gladly had his speech about magic and all of a sudden he got up to let everyone know he was healthy. Then he asked Dickon to sing a church song because he wasn't familiar with it since he never went to church. Colin was all of a sudden scared when he saw Mrs Sowerby (Dickon's mother) enter the garden. She brought some more buns and milk and watched them eat and drink. They retold her their adventures and agreed to visit her house. Colin wanted for her to be his mother and Mrs Sowerby told him his mother was definitely in this garden and that his father will come back soon.
In The Garden
Mr Craven traveled all around the world, but he couldn't keep dark thoughts away until a certain day while being next to a little creek he didn't feel he was getting better. He didn't know how to keep that positive thought, so the bad ones came flooding in. One day Mr Craven saw a letter from Mrs Sowerby on his desk. It stated he should come back immediately and that was exactly what he did.
When he came back, he went through the standard procedure. First, he went to the library where he asked to see Mrs Medlock so she could describe the boy's state to him. He asked about Colin and she sent him into the garden. Craven was walking insecurely, and when he came to the secret doors, a little boy ran to hug him. Craven was amazed. He couldn't believe his son grew up so much and that he was healthier than ever before.
Mrs Medlock invited Ben to have a beer with her to tell him about the most dramatic event ever. All of a sudden she looked through the window and shouted weakly. Craven and Colin were walking together with their heads held high.
Characters: Mary Lennox, Mrs Medlock, Mr Archibald Craven, Colin, Dickon, Martha, Mrs Sowerby, gardener Ben Weatherstaff, maid Aya, Basil, Mr and Mrs Crawford
Mary Lennox - a nine-year-old girl from India. She was spoiled and used to having things her way. She was very rude to her servants in India, often hitting them. She had a hard time adapting to new places and later on, when she realized she can't get everything her way, Mary became persistent, curious, hard-working and a good friend who enjoyed helping people.
Mrs Medlock - worked for Mr Craven and went to England with Mary. She would rarely come to visit Mary, despite it being her obligation. She was amazed at Mary's influence on Colin. Mrs Medlock was very busy and spent most of her time in the study or the library.
Mr Archibald Crave - an introvert, and he was always sad. In the beginning, he didn't even want to see Mary, and he kept his son in the room. Craven has been like that since his wife died. He didn't see happiness in anything, he was however still a good man. He gave everything he had to Mary and Colin, and he convinced Mary she should fear anything. In the end, he found comfort in nature and saw his son happy and healthy.
Colin - a 10-year-old boy, spent his life in a room being convinced he was ill until Mary came and convinced him otherwise. He was very spoiled and treated his servants badly. He had tantrums if something didn't go his way. He was weak, always tired and scared of fresh air because he thought he would get ill from it. When he started coming to the Garden, Colin realized he was fine and that he could do everything normal kids can. His faith in life was back and he decided to become a scientist when he grows up.
Dickon - Martha's 12 years old brother. He loved animals, knew a lot about planting, and he was able to talk to animals. Dickon loved helping his mother plant vegetables. He was hard-working, and nothing was hard for him. Dickon was free-spirited and loved to spend his days outside.
Martha - Dickon's sister and she was a maid at the Craven home. Martha became friends with Mary, she was hard-working, loved to talk and had a kind heart. She loved spending time with her mother, helping her in the kitchen.
Mrs Sowerby - a hard-working woman who maintained her house and fed 13 children. She was always cheerful and supported her kids in everything. Mrs Sowerby loved Mary as if she was her daughter and she helped them hide Colin's secret by sending them some food every day.
Gardener Ben - seems cold at first but he enjoyed talking to other people. He was often in a bad mood but he was happy to see Colin healthy and happy.
Aya - Martha's maid who died of cholera.
Mr And Mrs Crawford - the people who took care of Mary before she came to Yorkshire. They felt sorry for her because they thought she was lacking love from her parents.
Frances Eliza Hodgson Burnett was born in 1849 in Cheetham, England. She was one of the best Anglo-Saxon writers.
Amongst readers, she was appreciated for her children's stories and the most popular are "Little Lord Fauntleroy", "A little princess" and "The Secret Garden".
After her father died, her whole family moved from England to the USA and lived in Knoxville. Soon she started writing because she wanted to help her family with the bills. She started publishing in magazines when she was 19.
In 1870 her mother died and she married Swan Burnett 2 years later. The young family lived in Paris where her two sons were born. After that, they moved back to America, to Washington, where she started writing novels that the critics adored.
Even though she became famous when she published "Little Lord Fauntleroy" she was popular because the novel that she wrote in the 1890s.
She enjoyed a glamorous lifestyle and enjoyed her travels through England. In 1890 she bought a house in England and wrote "The Secret Garden". Soon afterward her oldest son Lionel suffers from tuberculosis. His death left a great mark on her and she had problems with depression.
In 1898 she divorced Swan Burnett and in 1900 she married Stephen Townsend who she also divorced after two years.
She died on Long Island in 1924.