The Secret Garden | Study Guide

Frances Hodgson Burnett

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The Secret Garden | Chapter 13 : "I Am Colin" | Summary



In the middle of the night, Mary awakens to the sound of rain. Unable to fall back asleep, she hears the sound of crying again. She gets out of bed, takes a candle, and goes down the long corridors to find the source. When she reaches a room where she "could hear the crying quite plainly," she pushes open the door and enters. There she sees the person who has been crying: an ill-looking boy with a "sharp, delicate face" lying in a four-posted bed. When the boy sees Mary, he asks if she is a ghost. She says no, and asks him if he is. He declares, "I am Colin Craven." When he again questions whether she is real, she lets him touch her woolen robe to prove she is.

They discover they are cousins. Neither has been told of the other's existence or presence in the house. Colin explains no one told Mary about him because if they had he "should have been afraid [she] would see [him]," and he does not like people to see him and talk about him. Colin tells Mary he is ill and that if he lives he may be a hunchback. He doesn't expect to live, however, but to die young. In answer to Mary's query, he explains that he is not locked in the room but prefers to remain in it because it "tires [him] too much" to be moved out of it. His father visits him when Colin is sleeping but does not like to see him. He thinks his "father hates to think I may be like him." Also, Colin's mother died when he was born and "it makes [his father] wretched to look at me." Mary makes a comment about how Mr. Craven hates the garden because his wife died and Colin asks, "What garden?" She quickly asks him another question to avoid answering him.

Colin tells Mary more about his life, his trips to the seaside, and his doctor. He wonders if he is dreaming because his encounter with Mary does not seem real. Recognizing that he does not like people to see him, Mary asks if he would like her to leave. He says no and tells her to prove she is real by sitting on a footstool and telling him about herself. As she tells him about India and coming to Misselthwaite, Colin appears to grow drowsy but suddenly asks how old she is. Mary says she is 10, the same age as he. Colin asks how she knows that, and she tells him the garden door has been locked since he was born, which was 10 years ago. Colin wants to know all about the garden. Mary tells him no one has been allowed to go into it for 10 years, Mr. Craven hates it, and the servants won't talk about it.

Colin tells Mary he does not want to live, nor does he want to die. He wants to talk about the garden, but he also wants to see it. He announces his plan to make the servants take him there. Mary is afraid that if this happens, she will no longer feel like "a missel thrush with a safe-hidden nest." She tries to talk him out of his plan, telling him if he does it that way, the garden will no longer be a secret. She pretends that she does not know where the garden is. Mary and Colin decide that she will try to find the garden. If she does, he can have a boy push his wheelchair and he can visit the garden, but keep it a secret. Mary tells him what she thinks the secret garden would look like.

Colin then shares a secret with her. He has already shared the secret that he believes he is going to die. Now he has her pull a cord to draw back a curtain, revealing a portrait of his mother. He says he sometimes hates her because she died. He thinks, had she lived, he should not be so ill and he should not expect to die. Mary promises to come to visit and talk as often as she can, but she reminds Colin that she has to look for the door to the secret garden. He tells her that he plans to keep their visits a secret. He will ask Martha to tell Mary when to visit him. Mary sings a song in Hindustani until he falls asleep.


Colin's and Mary's lives have many parallels. Both are the same age and have lost their mothers. Neither has received enough parental nurturing; instead, both have been, since they were born, cared for by servants who were "obliged to please" them and give them their own way. For the previous 10 years, both have been sickly, seldom go outside, and have little physical exercise or other activities to engage in or interest them. While Mary is beginning to change, Colin is still a spoiled, sickly child who lives in a self-contained bubble that keeps him from enjoying life. Like her, Colin is symbolically connected to the secret garden through death and loss. Colin and the secret garden have both been secluded from the world since the death of Mrs. Craven. It is too painful for Mr. Craven to interact with Colin or Mary much, so he avoids them as much as possible, just as he avoids the garden.

Mary's improving mental health allows her to recognize Colin's self-absorption and spoiled nature, although she does not realize that she was once very similar. Although she lacks self-awareness, her empathy continues to bloom. Her concern for someone else's desires prompts her to ask Colin if he wants to see her. She is willing to leave if he doesn't want her there, and she sings Colin to sleep because she feels sorry for him and does not want him to lie awake feeling miserable.

For some reason, Colin feels an affinity to this stranger who appears in the middle of the night. Colin's mentioning of ghosts and his wondering if he is dreaming suggests something beyond the ordinary, real world is at work, as if magic or similar forces are bringing both children together. Colin feels so open toward Mary that he shares two secrets with her, including his deepest thoughts about his mother, and about his father, who he believes "hates him." Mary feels friendly toward Colin and concerned for him, but she also has doubts. She is not yet ready to share the entire truth about the secret garden because she does not know if she can trust him. Colin is different from Dickon; whereas Dickon nurtures Mary and makes her feel at ease, Mary is trying to comfort Colin and make him feel at ease. She is beginning to transfer the nurturing skills she is learning from Dickon and apply them to Colin.

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