Throughout the novel, Mary and Colin are described as being "a perfect match" for one another. Why? What are their similarities? When first we meet them, they are both extremely unlikable. Does the narrator hold them responsible for their flaws? If they are not responsible, who is?
A number of striking similarities between Mary and Colin are immediately apparent: they are both ten years old; they have both passed sickly, neglected childhoods; both are unbelievably spoiled; and both have been looked after by retinues of servants who have been ordered to obey their every whim. Both children have parents that have denied their existence and hidden them away like secrets. No one ever sees Colin or Mary: the English soldiers who discover in her parents' bungalow declare that they never knew that "that pretty woman" had had a child at all. Upon first seeing Colin, Mary exclaims, almost identically, "I never knew [Master Craven] had a child!" Mary is "a perfect match" for Colin insofar as they can each understand the predicament of the other.
Mary's statement, in Chapter XIV, that she and Colin "stared" at each other supports their similarity. The word "stare" here implies an equal, reciprocal relation. Colin is not merely a spectacle to Mary, any more than she is a spectacle to him. They meet on equal footing, as two ten-year-old children; there is no pity on either side. Mary's lack of pity is beneficial to Colin in another way. Her attitude empowers her to disobey his interdictions. She is bold enough (and furious enough) to contradict him when he says that he is going to become a hunchback and die an early death. It is essential for Colin to have his negative thoughts contradicted, so that positive ones may be put in their place; this is one of the central tenets of both New Thought and Christian Science.
Underlying the idea that Colin must relinquish his negative thoughts in order to be healed is the belief that nothing truly ails Colin's body—his disease is entirely a product of his mind. Neither Colin nor Mary are held responsible for their own awfulness—the blame lies squarely with their parents, whose neglect caused them to become bitter and spoiled. The clergyman notes that Mary's mother "scarcely ever looked at [Mary]," and so Mary inherited neither her beauty nor her charm. Colin, for his part, never had a mother, and his father cannot bear to look at him. As Susan Sowerby says, "Children who are not wanted scarce ever thrive"—children need to be loved if they are to be virtuous and healthy. As soon as their circumstances change, Colin and Mary do as well; having affection for and inspiring affection in other people (combined with the work of the secret garden) leads to their redemption.
One of the central motifs of The Secret Garden is the idea of magic. What is magic? What are some of its features? Where does it come from? What are its effects? Refer to Hodgson Burnett's own philosophical beliefs in your answer.
Colin Craven's absolute engrossment in the garden and its creatures fuses him absolutely with the stuff of life, and with the work of living—he is now certain that he is going to live to be a man, and proposes that he will be the sort of "scientist" who studies magic. Of course, the only kind of scientist who might study what Hodgson Burnett calls magic is a Christian Scientist—throughout the novel, the idea of magic is heavily influenced by the tenets of both Christian Science and New Thought. One definition of magic that the novel provides is the conception of magic as a kind of life force—it enables Colin stand, and the flowers to work out of the earth. It is also aligned with the Christian God, in that Colin says that the Doxology (a Christian hymn) offers thanks to the same thing he does when he says that he is thankful for the magic. This Christian connotation is strengthened in a number of ways, among them in Mrs. Sowerby's description of magic as a kind of creator, who is present in all things, and even creates human beings themselves—clearly associating him with the all-powerful, all- knowing, and omnipresent Christian God. The children's magic circle is compared to both "a prayer-meeting" and "a sort of temple"; Colin is described as being "a sort of priest." The chanting they perform to call upon the healing properties of the magic is very similar to the healing prayers of a Christian Science medical practitioner. The idea that one need only "say things over and over and think about them until they stay in your mind forever" is also taken from the Christian Scientist emphasis upon the power and necessity of positive thinking; this, too, is presented as being a form of magic.
Throughout the novel, the secret garden is subtly compared to the Garden of Eden. How is this comparison suggested? What are its implications?
Eden, also called Paradise, was the garden in which the first humans created by God (Adam and Eve) lived until the time of the Fall. The "Fall" refers to the moment that God cast Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden for tasting of the Tree of Knowledge. The secret garden is connected with Eden through Martha's story of the divine times had there by Master Craven and his wife before her quite literal "fall"—before, that is, she fell out of the rose-tree to her death. It is also similar to Eden insofar as it represents a Paradise of innocence and ideality for Mary, Dickon, and Colin. As in Eden, they enjoy a uniquely close relationship with God (who occasionally is referred to as magic, and as "the Big Good Thing") when they are within its walls. Mary and Dickon's seclusion in the secret garden conjures up that enjoyed by Master and Mistress Craven. This echo is strengthened by the fact that Mary bends down and kisses the newly opened crocuses, just as Mistress Craven kissed her roses. The Eden- like quality of their time in the garden is only strengthened by the presence of Dickon's docile "creatures," which recall the animals created by the Christian God to keep the first people company.
The Secret Garden, as its title suggests, is a novel organized around the motif of secrets. Which are the narrative's most pivotal secrets? How are they discovered? Explain the significance of the ways in which they are discovered.
How does "Indian-ness" function in the novel? How does Mary characterize the natives? How does the narrator describe them? In what ways are they similar to the English? In what ways are they different?
Compare Dickon's background with Mary's and Colin's. How is it different? How do class differences function in the novel? Why is Dickon so often described as "common"? Does this contradict or support the idea that he is "a Yorkshire angel"?
Examine the situation of servants in the novel. What is a servant's life like? How are they treated? How does the narrator regard servants? Take your examples from both Yorkshire and India. Compare the situation of servants in Yorkshire with that of servants in India.
Which characters are most strongly associated with the world of the manor house? Which characters are most strongly associated with the secret garden? What does this opposition suggest?
This book is very easy to understand so you do not need the spark notes.
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