The Secret Garden | Study Guide

Frances Hodgson Burnett

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The Secret Garden | Chapter 10 : Dickon | Summary



During the next week, Mary works in the garden and undergoes many changes, "becoming wider awake ... beginning to like to be out of doors." She can now "run faster, and longer, and ... skip up to a hundred." She continues to clear space around the bulbs so they have "all the breathing space they want." One day she talks with Ben Weatherstaff, who tells her that she is looking much better than when she first arrived. Mary asks about roses, and he explains he learned about them from his former mistress. He admits that once or twice a year he tends to the roses she planted 10 years ago and tells Mary how to tell if roses are dead or alive. After they talk, Mary realizes she likes him.

She then sees Dickon for the first time. He is sitting under a tree playing a wooden pipe. He has red cheeks and blue eyes and is surrounded by animals, including a brown squirrel, a pheasant, and two rabbits. He rises slowly after he finishes playing so he does not alarm the animals and greets Mary. Knowing "nothing about boys," Mary initially speaks "a little stiffly" to him even though he speaks to her "as if he knew her quite well." He gives her the garden tools and seeds he had purchased at her request and describes the different flowers that can grow from the seeds. They hear the chirps of the tame robin, and Dickon tells Mary it is "callin' some one he's friends with." Mary admits the robin "knows me a little" and, to her delight, Dickon tells her the robin likes her. Mary is greatly excited to learn the robin may really like her.

After Dickon offers to plant the seeds for Mary, she confides to him about the secret garden, saying she has "stolen a garden" nobody cares for or wants. As she explains, she begins to "feel hot and as contrary as she had ever felt in her life" and bursts out crying. Dickon expresses his "wonder and sympathy." Mary commands him to follow her so she can show him, and she takes him into the secret garden. He says, "It is a queer, pretty place! It's like as if a body was in a dream."


Mary and Ben Weatherstaff's relationship is changing. He is less gruff with her and seems to enjoy talking with her. He becomes transformed after the tame robin sits on his spade, which has never happened before. Although the robin frequently chirps and greets him, the old gardener is amazed at what the robin does, saying the bird sure knows "how to get at a chap." This foreshadows a future transformation in Ben Weatherstaff and his relationship with individuals living at Misselthwaite Manor. Weatherstaff compares Mary and the robin, saying both appear when he does not expect them. After the robin shows it really likes the old gardener, he is surprised and softens up. Mary similarly likes the old gardener, although she has yet to express her growing fondness for him.

Dickon is similar in many ways to Pan, the god of the wild in Greek mythology. He plays a flute, is surrounded by animals, and is able to communicate with them. In this way, Dickon represents an ultimate communion with nature, which brings nothing but goodness, compassion, and love. His communication skills also extend to Mary. He puts her at ease and immediately makes her feel as if he knows her well. Mary admires Dickon's ability to talk and is aware she lacks the same skill. This growing awareness helps her gain insights about herself and how she would like to improve her own behavior. Dickon models both communication skills and an empathetic approach to other beings.

Mary and the garden are experiencing parallel transformations. The outdoors is making Mary "wider awake" just as the warm sun and rain are making the bulbs "feel very much alive." The narrator describes the bulbs working "under the dark earth," which is similar to the factors working within Mary's subconscious that are helping her grow. The narrator also draws parallels between the roses and Mary. Both have been neglected for 10 years. Mary wonders if roses die "when they are left to themselves," a question she might ask about herself if she were more self-aware.

Mary has also become possessive about the garden. She says that "if no one found out about the secret garden, she should enjoy herself always." But by the end of the chapter, she has told Dickon all about it and taken him to see it, because she is sure she can trust him to keep it a secret. She also bursts into tears in front of him when she describes how neglected the garden is because she is really describing her own childhood in India, with its neglect and isolation. He responds to her outburst with "wonder and sympathy." This is another step on Mary's path to self-growth: she risks something she values by not only telling him about it but also telling him how much it matters to her. Sharing a secret with someone else is yet another important example of human bonding because it is a gesture of trust. Because she was so conceited in the beginning of the novel, it is sometimes easy to forget that Mary is a young girl who has lost both her parents and her home to come to a strange house in a country that is unfamiliar to her. She is also a child who has not experienced sufficient empathy or love to this point in the novel.

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