The Secret Garden | Study Guide

Frances Hodgson Burnett

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The Secret Garden | Chapter 26 : "It's Mother!" | Summary



One day Colin gives a Magic lecture after the morning incantations. He explains that he needs to practice lecturing since he plans to make scientific discoveries when he is grown and will then be "obliged to lecture about them." Ben Weatherstaff watches Colin lecture with "critical affection" and notes Colin's eyes are beginning to hold the same light he remembered in his mother's. After the lecture, Weatherstaff tells Colin he believes he has gained even more weight. Colin agrees and says his scientific experiment has been a success.

Colin continues to lecture as the group weeds, stating that "Magic works best when you work." He says he is going to read about bones and muscles and write a book about Magic. A short time later, he stands up "to his tallest height" and throws "out his arms exultantly." His face glows and his eyes widen with joy. He exclaims over and over, "I'm well!" Filled with emotion and "a sort of rapturous belief," he declares he will live forever and find out all sorts of things and "never stop making Magic." Ben Weatherstaff suggests they sing the Doxology, a song they sing in church and one Mrs. Sowerby, "believes th' skylarks sings [...] when they gets up i' th' mornin'." The males take off their caps and Dickon sings the song, which praises "God from whom all blessings flow" and for creating all creatures, while everyone listens reverently. Colin says he likes it because "perhaps it means just what I mean when I want to shout out that I am thankful to the Magic." Then he says, "Perhaps they are both the same thing. How can we know the exact names of everything?" He asks Colin to sing the song again, and this time everyone, including Ben Weatherstaff, joins in. Weatherstaff acknowledges he never had any use for the Doxology before, but perhaps he will change his mind.

After they finish signing, Colin notices someone coming toward them. It is Dickon's mother, Mrs. Sowerby. No one is alarmed she is in their secret garden. Colin tells her that even when he was ill, he wanted to see her—and Dickon and the secret garden—even though he'd "never wanted to see any one or anything before." Mrs. Sowerby calls him a dear lad, in just the same way "she might have said it to Dickon," and tells Colin he is getting strong legs and that is sure to make his father, Mr. Craven, like him—and that she thinks he may be coming home soon. She tells Mary she is getting to be quite hearty and is going to be as pretty as her mother—"like a blush rose"—when she grows up.

Colin and Mary stand on either side of Mrs. Sowerby and show her the garden, all the while feeling "a sort of warm, supported feeling" as "if she understood them as Dickon understood his 'creatures.'" Colin asks if she believes in Magic. She replies she does, but "never knowed it by that name." She says it doesn't matter what name one calls it, that whatever thing makes the sun shine and plants grow is the same thing that made Colin well, and the most important thing is to believe in it. She calls it the Big Good Thing and the Joy Maker.

The children discuss their upcoming visit to Mrs. Sowerby's cottage. As Mrs. Sowerby prepares to leave, Colin takes hold of her blue cloak and says he wishes she were his mother. Mrs. Sowerby embraces him, as if he were her child, and tells him his own mother is in the garden. "She couldna' keep out of it."


Colin is preparing for his adulthood in much the same way he learned to walk: one step at a time. His comment that "Magic works best when you work" reflects his awareness that he cannot rely on magic alone, but needs to help himself. He gives short lectures because he expects to give them when he is grown. He makes up his ideas as he goes, knowing they will become better formulated with time and practice. He creates grand plans for his future. He wants to read about how to help his body become stronger, and he plans to write a book. In contrast, Mary is not expressing any ambitions about her future. She does not say anything about what she wants to do when she grows up. Mrs. Sowerby gives positive feedback to both children, telling Colin he will have strong legs and Mary will be as pretty as her mother.

Some critics and readers consider the differences between Colin and Mary—and how Mrs. Sowerby treats them—as indicative of gender-based biases. Colin obviously expects to have a career when he grows up, but Mary does not express any similar goals. Nor does it appear one is expected of her. Instead, based on Mrs. Sowerby's words, she is being encouraged to be as pretty as her mother, as if that were a lofty goal she should aspire to.

Other critics and readers object to such a feminist interpretation. Mrs. Sowerby's words can be interpreted as telling both Colin and Mary they will acquire a trait their parents would admire, which may be a way for them to find a connection with that parent and a sense that the parent would be proud of them.

Colin's pronouncements of all he wants to learn reveal he is fully transformed. He is interested in so many things, which is a complete reversal from just a few months ago when he did not want to go outside his room. His world has expanded. He no longer wants to live in a bubble, nor does he fear people looking at him. He is planning a future in which he will speak to large audiences, letting many, many people look at him. He is well—both mentally and physically—and will continue to develop into a healthier individual.

Colin's declaration that he will live forever is an expression of his belief in eternal life, although he is likely thinking of physical life. His appropriation of the Doxology, a universal expression of Christian faith, as "my song" expresses both Colin's joy in his transformation, and his unconscious assumption, carried over from the earlier part of that book, that he is entitled to whatever he wants.

The comments about the names of things reveals Burnett's spiritual beliefs. Although she is a Christian and believes in God, she acknowledges the validity of other faiths and beliefs that use different names and different practices for a supreme being or power greater than oneself. In this chapter, she equates Magic with a supreme being. While she believes in God, who created the world and makes plants grow, she acknowledges this could also be called the Big Good Thing or the Joy Maker. What matters is not its name, but that people believe in something that makes them joyous.

Colin craves a mother's affection and expresses this desire directly to Mrs. Sowerby. She wraps him in her blue cloak, a symbol of the greatest role model of motherhood, the Virgin Mary. Yet, she does not try to replace his own mother. Instead, she tells Colin his mother is in the garden and could not stay out of it, giving him a connection to his own mother he can hold on to forever. In contrast, Mary does not seek any parental connection. She is much more independent and self-sustained than Colin and looks to her peers, such as Dickon, for connection.

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