The Secret Garden | Study Guide

Frances Hodgson Burnett

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The Secret Garden | Chapter 16 : "I Won't," Said Mary | Summary



Mary spends the morning in the garden. When she comes in for lunch, Martha tells her Colin is expecting her to come talk, but Mary says he'll have to wait as she is busy. She returns to the garden—and Dickon. They have cleared most of the weeds, and the plants are ready to grow. Dickon tells Mary she is stronger and looking better, and Mary "is glowing with exercise and good spirits."

Late that afternoon, Mary runs back to the house eager to tell Colin all the good things she has experienced that day, such as being with Dickon's rook, Soot, and his fox cub, Captain. Martha is waiting in her room and tells her Colin is in a temper. Mary goes to his room. Colin is in bed and initially won't look at her. He tells her he expected her to come talk with him that morning. When she did not come, his head and back ached and he went to bed. Mary says she was with Dickon. Colin replies that he won't allow Dickon to come if she spends her time with Dickon instead of visiting him. Mary says she'll never come to visit Colin if he sends Dickon away, and Colin insists that she will have to if he orders it. Mary says they can drag her into his room, but no one can make her talk to or look at him. They get in a furious fight, and Colin accuses Dickon of being selfish. Mary retorts Dickon is "nicer than any other boy that ever lived" and "he's like an angel!" Colin disagrees, saying he is a "common cottage boy off the moor." Mary retorts that Dickon is "a thousand times better" than a common rajah.

Colin justifies his selfish demands by saying he is always ill and is going to die. Mary tells him he is not going to die, and that he simply says he will "to make people sorry." Colin is stunned. No one has ever told him this before. He orders Mary out of the room. She retorts she is never coming back. After Mary leaves, she sees Colin's nurse eavesdropping and laughing to herself. The nurse tells Mary it was good for someone to stand up to Colin, and that half of what ails him is hysterics and temper.

Mary returns to her room in a cross mood. She had planned to tell Colin all kinds of good things, and now she feels like never talking to him again. She finds a box Mr. Craven has sent her. It contains beautiful books (including two about gardens), a writing case, and some games. Surprised that Mr. Craven has remembered her, "her hard little heart grew quite warm." She starts thinking about Colin and how she cannot bear it when he feels his back for a lump. It frightens her, and she realizes how much it must frighten Colin, too. Mary realizes it is this fear that makes Colin cross and tired and perhaps inspired his bad temper that day. Although she vowed to never visit him again, she decides to go see him the next day.


Mary and Colin's argument shows how close both children have become, and how they both have some more psychological growing to do, particularly in Colin's case. He reverts to some of his worst behavior as he tries to order Mary around like a servant, insults Dickon's humble background, and uses his illness to manipulate everyone into feeling sorry for him. Mary ignores Colin's desire to see her and does what she wants—goes out to the garden. When he expresses his displeasure about this, she becomes "sour and obstinate," fails to understand his jealousy and sense of feeling left out, and then threatens to never see him again. Neither child hesitates to express anger or frustration, and each child calls out the other's selfishness. This realistic depiction of the characters is one reason for the novel's continuing resonance with its audiences: perfect characters tend to be tiresome to read about, but these two selfish and outspoken children are unpredictable and accessible. Mary is especially candid, identifying Colin's self-absorption and the way his illness is a form of self-pity and a way to control others. Colin is correct in labeling Mary "selfish," too. As bad as it may seem, the children's fight is an important turning point. It helps both of them move forward in their personal development. It is healthy for both Mary and Colin to vent their honest feelings and to shake each other up. Colin, in particular, needs to hear the truth about himself.

After the argument, Mr. Craven's gift softens Mary, and she sees things from Colin's perspective better than before. She realizes that Colin "had never told anyone but Mary that most of his 'tantrums' ... grew out of his hysterical hidden fear" of growing hunchbacked and dying young. Mary remembers feeling sorry for him about it and realizes that it may have been what caused his outburst. She determines to go and see him again, reversing her decision to avoid him. Mary has taken another important step in developing her empathy for others: recognizing that the motivations behind someone's anger or other unpleasant emotion may be rooted in vulnerability. This, of course, is true for her as well, although she may not be consciously aware of it. Now that she fully understands Colin's fear, she is willing to do what he asks, or at least to compromise. This experience helps Mary transform into a less self-absorbed and more caring, nurturing person.

Mary's perception of Dickon as angelic illustrates his heavenly and "magical" qualities. This reflects not only his character—he is gentle and nurturing, and has excellent interpersonal skills—but also his effect on Mary. Whether she realizes it or not, he is helping her heal and grow. Consistent with Burnett's spiritual philosophy, he is an agent through which magic, or the power of something greater than oneself, is working. The concept of random acts of kindness is also at play in this chapter. Mr. Craven's gift has a transforming effect on Mary. She had not expected him to think of her, and when she receives tangible evidence he has, it moves her and makes her more receptive to understanding Colin's point of view. Generosity is an essential part of the healing process in The Secret Garden.

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