The Secret Garden | Study Guide

Frances Hodgson Burnett

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The Secret Garden | Chapter 25 : The Curtain | Summary

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Summary

The tame robin's mate lays eggs in the secret garden. The children avoid the corner where the nest is because they do not want to disturb or frighten the robins. Dickon somehow communicates to the robins that he understands "the wonderfulness of what was happening to them—the immense, tender, terrible, heart-breaking beauty and solemnity of Eggs." He would not take an egg away or do anything to harm them.

The chapter briefly switches to the perspective of the robin. The bird considers Dickon one of them, a "robin without beak or feathers." He is less certain of Colin and Mary and anxiously watches them. He notices how awkwardly Colin moves and walks. He does not mention this to his mate as "her terror was so great that he was afraid it might be injurious to the Eggs." One day the robin remembers how awkwardly he had moved when he learned to fly. He realizes Colin is learning to walk, and his movements are nothing to be afraid of. He shares his insights with his mate, who is greatly comforted. They both realize their fledglings will also move in a similar manner as they learn to walk and fly. The robins, however, are puzzled by the humans' strange movements when they do their exercises, but they trust they cannot be harmful since Dickon is also doing them.

The book returns to the narrator's perspective. One rainy morning, Colin declares that he wishes his father, Mr. Craven, would come home as he is finding it increasingly difficult to lie still and pretend he is sick. He and Mary explore the mansion as they cannot go outside. Colin instructs John, his footman, to wheel his chair to a certain location and then to leave them alone. He and Mary run in the gallery, do their exercises, and explore the manor's many corridors and rooms. They play with the ivory elephants in the Indian room and look at the portraits of their relatives. At lunch, they eat ravenously, confounding Colin's nurse and the footman by their suddenly increased appetites. After lunch, they retire to Colin's room. Colin has drawn back the curtain from his mother's portrait, and he tells Mary he now likes to see her picture, and that his mother's laughing no longer angers him.

Analysis

The eggs represent the creation of new life. Burnett capitalizes the word "Eggs" to signify the sanctity of life and birth. The robins' nesting and creation of new life is parallel to the transformation of Colin taking place in the garden. The robins are concerned about intruders who pose a threat to their eggs, and they don't want anything to disturb them. Colin, in the same way, wants to be free of human interference from everyone other than Mary and Dickon. Both the robins and Colin need very secure environments for this process of creation and transformation. The robins are very protective of their eggs. Colin has several individuals who serve in similar protective roles, watching over him as he changes into a new person. Both Dickon and Mary watch over him, as does Mrs. Sowerby, through Dickon. In addition, Mrs. Craven's spirit is present in the garden, watching over Colin. Ben Weatherstaff also has developed quasi-paternal feelings for him.

The tame robin's perception of Dickon as a robin without feathers reinforces Dickon's oneness with nature and possession of universal traits that transcend his humanness. The robin's comparison of Colin to a fledgling that is just learning to fly reveals the ability to understand someone else's situation through empathy. By connecting something that puzzles him to his own experiences, the robin is able to make sense of it. The narrator shows Burnett's belief in the wholesomeness of nature by expressing how robins develop their muscles in a natural manner, while humans need to do exercises to keep them strong.

Colin's physical transformation is well underway. He has a huge appetite, craves exercise, and needs to be physically active. He now considers himself a "real boy" and is impatient to show his father, Mr. Craven, who he is so he can stop pretending to be an invalid. Like Mary, he has also developed to the point where he thinks beyond his own desires to the needs of others. Just as Mary began to heal him once she was less self-absorbed, he now wants to heal his father. He wants his father to be cheerful and sees himself as someone who can help make that happen. He also has changed his perceptions of his mother. Colin pulls back the curtain on the portrait so his mother is "looking" at him. He no longer perceives her as laughing at him, but laughing because she finds joy in looking at him. Colin likes people now and wants others to be happy just as he is happy, although his personality does not change as drastically as Mary's has: he retains his autocratic demeanor, a personality trait considered, at the time, more suitable for boys and men than for girls and women.

Colin and Mary's exploration of the mansion foreshadows something that will occur within it. Up to this point, they have spent their time in the garden or in Colin's room. A transformation parallel to that taking place within the garden will soon take place within the manor house.

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