Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Mary, Mary is extremely contrary.

In fact, 10-year-old Mary is so contrary it gives her a sour expression and no one likes her. While growing up in India, Mary's parents don't pay any attention to her. When there is a cholera outbreak and her nanny, mother, and father die all the servants flee forgetting about Mary and abandoning her to an empty house. When she is found alone, she is shipped off to an uncle, Archibald Craven, in England who doesn't want to have anything to do with her as well. Isolated and alone in her uncle's big mansion on the Moors, Mary is befriended by Martha, the maidservant, who tells her the story of how her uncle's wife died falling from a tree in a garden on the grounds. Mr. Craven was so distraught by her death that he locked the garden up, threw away the key, and commanded that no one enter the garden again. This was 10 years ago. Fascinated by the hidden garden, Mary is determined to find it. With the help of a robin she discovers the key and the garden. When she decides to plant seeds she seeks the help of Martha who introduces Mary to her brother, Dickon, a twelve-year-old boy who can talk to animals and is adored by all who meet him. They forge a friendship and Mary soon finds her sour face replaced by a happy smile.

One night Mary is awakened by crying and discovers Mr. Craven's ten-year-old sickly son, Colin, who has never walked and who people thought would die shortly after he was born. He is more contrary than Mary and has screaming temper tantrums when he doesn't get his way. Mary stands up to him like no one ever has and snaps him back to life by telling him about the secret garden. He wants to see the garden so much that he works on getting stronger believing the garden has Magic that can heal him from his sickness. The garden heals more than just Colin.

This story doesn't have much action. The plot progresses from the tension created by the characters internal changes to happy, healthy children. Published in 1911, the author's heavy emphasis on nature is typical of the Romantic Era where strong emotions are expressed when the character confronts nature in its wildness and beauty. Mary's joy is extreme and melodramatic when seeing the blue sky or flowers budding or a robin building a nest. For Colin nature is like a religious experience. For instance, he is so thrilled with the growth of the garden he recites the Doxology.

Students might struggle with the characters using a Yorkshire accent. The vocabulary is high and the content deals with death and grief. The garden is a symbol of rebirth for two children who have been abandoned by their parents. Dickon is like the god, Pan and Susan Sowerby is the motherly figure. A wonderful story.

Reading Level: Young Adult

:-) :-) :-):-) :-) 5 out of 5 Smileys

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