The Secret Garden | Study Guide

Frances Hodgson Burnett

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The Secret Garden | Chapter 27 : In the Garden | Summary



Burnett shifts the point of view away from Misselthwaite and the children, opening the final chapter with an overview of the power of positive thinking, comparing it to scientific discoveries. At first people refuse to believe something new can be done. Next they hope it can be done. And then it is done. The narrator uses Colin and Mary as examples of this process, reviewing both children's transformations. At first, Mary fills her head with disagreeable thoughts and never considers anything else possible. She then becomes interested in robins and other agreeable things and hopes she can get fat and strong and make friends. Then she becomes healthy and makes friends. Colin initially believes he is going to die. He then thinks perhaps he might not. Positive thoughts gradually push out the negative ones and "life [begins] to come back to him."

The narrator next shifts to Colin's father, Mr. Craven, who is undergoing a similar process. When his wife died, "his mind filled with dark and heart-broken thinking." He harbors these negative thoughts and never tries to replace them with agreeable or positive ones. During the months the children are working in the secret garden, he travels throughout Europe. He sees many beautiful places, but his thoughts remain dark. One day he is in a beautiful valley in Austria. After walking for some time and failing to let any of the surrounding beauty touch him, he rests along a stream. Everything is very still and he feels his mind and body grow quiet. He begins to notice things, such as a mass of blue forget-me-nots near the stream. His mind fills with thoughts of how he used to look at things in nature years ago. That simple thought slowly fills his mind and pushes away some of his dark thoughts. He sits there for a while and stares at the "bright delicate blueness." When he stands up, he feels like something has been "unbound and released in him." He whispers, "I almost feel as if—I were alive!" He later learns that at the very hour he made this statement, his son, Colin, had cried out, "I am going to live forever and ever and ever!" in the secret garden.

Craven sleeps peacefully that night, but the next night the dark thoughts return. He continues to travel throughout Europe. Sometimes his black thoughts disappear, for mere minutes or even a half hour, and he feels like "a living man and not a dead one." Although he does not know it, he is "'coming alive' with the garden." By the time he arrives in Lake Como, he is less plagued with bad dreams. His thoughts are changing, and his body and soul are becoming stronger. He considers returning to Misselthwaite Manor but is filled with dread when he anticipates seeing his invalid son. One moonlit night he sits outside at the lake's edge and breathes in the "heavenly scents of the night." He falls asleep and has a dream in which his deceased wife, Mrs. Craven, calls out to him. He calls back and asks her where she is. She tells him she is in the garden. The dream ends, but Craven does not wake. He sleeps outside all night. When he awakens, an Italian servant is standing over him and delivers his mail. One envelope contains a letter from Mrs. Sowerby. She advises him to come home and tells him she thinks he will "be glad to come" and "your lady would ask you to come if she was here."

Craven immediately decides to return home. During his long railroad journey, he thinks of his son and how "he had raved like a madman because the child was alive and the mother was dead." He remembers how he had refused to see him and when he did see him, he was sure he would soon die. He knew he had not been a good father, but he could not bear the sight of his son, who had eyes that looked so much like his dead wife. Because he was "coming alive" and thinking in new ways, he wonders if it is "too late to do anything." He hopes that maybe it is not too late. When he arrives in Yorkshire, he stops at Mrs. Sowerby's cottage before going home. She is not home, but seven or eight of her children are playing outside. He gives 'Lizabeth Ellen a golden sovereign and tells her, "If you divide that into eight parts there will be half a crown for each of you."

As he drives across the moor, he feels a sense of homecoming and a warming of his heart he has not felt for 10 years. He notices the beauty surrounding him and remembers how he had felt so many negative things when he last left the manor. He vows to find the buried garden key and open the locked-up garden. Once he is inside the manor, he goes to the library and asks for Mrs. Medlock to come. She tells him Colin is different and "more peculiar"; he "might be better" or he "might be changing for the worse." She reports his irregular appetite, weight gain, going outside, and laughing, and then tells Craven that Colin is in the garden. The words shake him to the core. When he recovers, he leaves to go to the hidden garden. He walks slowly and momentously, feeling "as if he were being drawn back to the place he had so long forsaken, and he did not know why." When he arrives at the garden door, he hears the sounds of running feet, suppressed voices, exclamations, smothered joyous cries, and laughter. Suddenly, the door is flung open and an unsuspecting Colin "bursts through it at full speed" and almost falls into his arms. Craven puts out his arms to keep Colin from falling and then holds Colin away to look at him. He is amazed at the sight of the tall, handsome boy "glowing with life." He sputters out, "Who?" several times. Colin draws himself up to his very tallest and says, "Father ... I'm Colin. You can't believe it. I scarcely can myself. I'm Colin." Colin announces he is going to be an athlete and live forever and ever. Mr. Craven puts his hands on his son and asks him to take him into the garden and tell him all about it. Colin tells the story and when he is finished, he says he is never going to use the chair again, he will walk back into the house with his father.

Ben Weatherstaff drinks a beer in the servants' quarters, all the while keeping a watchful eye out to see "the most dramatic event Misselthwaite Manor had seen during the present generation." Mrs. Medlock inquires if he had seen either Colin or Mr. Craven. Ben Weatherstaff replies affirmatively, but he declines to say anything other than "There's been things goin' on outside as you house people knows nowt about. An' what tha'll find out tha'll find out soon." Almost two minutes later, Mrs. Medlock shrieks, which draws every nearby servant to the servants' hall, where they watch Mr. Craven and Colin walk across the lawn "with their eyes almost starting out of their heads."


Mr. Craven undergoes a transformation parallel with his son's. He flees Misselthwaite Manor because he cannot bear his grief. He feels like a dead man and has no interest in life or anything else. He wanders aimlessly around Europe, all the while remaining captive to his morbid thoughts much as Colin was when he was convinced he was going to die. Then one day he notices a plant, and it transfixes him. Just as Mary pierces the protective shield in Colin's bubble, the plant pierces the protective armor Mr. Craven has built around himself to shield him from his grief. He becomes interested in something other than himself and his dark thoughts. His whispered utterance that he feels almost alive happens at the same time his son announces he is going to live forever and ever.

Craven takes a more passive role in his transformation than his son. He does not actively seek a goal, such as Colin's setting goals to stand, to walk, and to become an athlete. Nor does he exert his will and seek positive thoughts, as Colin does. Yet, the magic slowly fills him and positive thoughts come to him more frequently. His wife, Mrs. Craven, plays a role in his transformation, coming to him in a dream and urging him to go to the garden. His wife's presence is heightened by the roses at the lake's edge, representing both the roses his wife loved as children and the roses in her former garden that the children are bringing back to life. Craven gradually notices more beautiful things in nature and allows thoughts of them to fill his head, in much the same way Colin becomes interested in the garden and lets his head fill with new thoughts instead of thoughts of lumps and dying. As his thoughts become more positive, Craven begins to consider his son in a new light. Instead of resenting him because he is alive and his wife is not, he wants to forge a relationship with him. He is willing to see Colin and accept him even though he believes he is still a cripple and an invalid.

Mrs. Sowerby's intervention is most unusual for a person in her social class. Yet it is befitting her status as the archetypical mother. She intervenes because she knows Colin cannot continue his playacting any longer, and she wants him to have the satisfaction of revealing his newfound health to his father rather than having it transmitted by a servant or the doctor. Her concern also extends to Craven, as she believes he can use some healing, too, and the time is right for him to connect with his son.

Colin, Mary, and Mr. Craven are not the only ones who are transformed. Ben Weatherstaff also changes. No longer a taciturn gardener who keeps to himself, he is in the servants' quarters, drinking a beer and socializing, of a sort, with others. Misselthwaite Manor also is about to be transformed from a house with many empty rooms to a home filled with life and people who interact with one another.

Some contemporary critics find the ending disappointing. Feminist interpretations lament that Mary seems entirely excluded from the triumphant ending, with Colin and Mr. Craven walking together into the big house. They interpret the ending as Colin and Craven walking into a golden tomorrow while Mary is left behind and her life remains unchanged. Other critics disagree. There is only a bare mention of either Mary or Dickon once Craven and Colin see each other, so they do not attribute the lack of information about Mary to gender bias but to the author's intent to focus on the current transformations. Mary was the first individual to transform. Once she had begun the process, she nurtured Colin and helped him transform. Colin and his father transformed simultaneously, but separately. Now their relationship has just begun to transform. And as their relationship transforms, it will transform life within Misselthwaite Manor. Readers can use their imaginations, as Burnett so fervently advocated all people do, and imagine what that transformation will be like and how it will further transform Mary's life and her relationships with others. While this is certainly true, we must acknowledge Mary's shift from main character to supporting character in the final third of the novel.

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