The Secret Garden | Study Guide

Frances Hodgson Burnett

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The Secret Garden | Chapter 6 : "There Was Some One Crying—There Was!" | Summary

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Summary

It rains the next day and Mary cannot go outside. She asks Martha what her family does in their four-room cottage on rainy days. Martha regales her with stories about her siblings, especially Dickon, who has a tame fox cub and a tame crow named Soot. After Mary notes she has nothing to play with, Martha asks if she can knit, sew, or read. Since Mary can read, Martha suggests she get permission from Mrs. Medlock to go into the library as she ought to be "learnin' thy book a good bit now."

Mary reflects about the "queer place" she is living in, where "one scarcely ever saw any one at all." The only people she sees are servants who live "a luxurious life below stairs." Although Mrs. Medlock checks on her periodically, she never asks what she's been doing or tells her what to do. This is so unlike her life in India, where her Ayah had "waited on her hand and foot" and never left her alone. Mary concludes it must be "the English way of treating children."

Because Martha does not wait on her hand and foot, Mary learns new things, such as how to dress herself. This inspires her to entertain herself. She forgoes getting permission from Mrs. Medlock and explores the house—"the hundred rooms with closed doors." She wanders throughout the manor's many corridors and passages. She settles in one room with a cabinet filled with ivory elephants from India and plays with them for a long time. In that room she encounters the only other living creatures she has seen during her explorations—a mother mouse and six baby mice nesting in a velvet cushion.

Mary keeps getting lost on her way back to her own rooms. Eventually she finds the right floor. Then she hears the same crying sound she heard the night before. She accidentally touches a tapestry on a wall, and it springs back, as a door hidden behind it opens. Mary enters the door and walks down a corridor. She runs into Mrs. Medlock, who scolds her for being in the corridor and tells her to get back to her rooms. Mary asks about the crying, and Mrs. Medlock tells her there is no crying—Mary "didn't hear anything of the sort." Mary returns to her room convinced someone was crying and determines to find out who it is.

Analysis

Mary's healing continues as she becomes more self-motivated and finds things to do. She learns to dress herself and engages more with Martha, who acts more like an older sister than a servant, and finds that she misses Martha when she's not around. She is also increasingly independent, and decides to explore the interior of the house on her own. Her interest in playing with the ivory elephants demonstrates that she is already becoming more independent and developing her imagination and creativity.

The narrator reveals details about Misselthwaite Manor's character. It is an enormous house, but it is not a home. Its rooms are mainly empty and devoid of life. The only lively human activity is in the servants' quarters. The remainder of the house is like a mausoleum, filled with portraits of dead people. The fact that the only living creatures Mary encounters on the upper floors are mice nesting in a sofa cushion reveals just how desolate the manor is. The house is similar to houses that appear in Gothic or horror literature: vast, cold, and creepy. It doesn't help that Mary hears the sound of a child crying from somewhere within the foreboding structure. Instead of being frightened, Mary is intrigued. She ventures out and explores, showing her characteristic sense of curiosity. When Mrs. Medlock tells her to ignore what she's heard, and then threatens to "box [her] ears," Mary is not intimidated. She trusts her own instincts and determines to find the source of the crying no matter what Mrs. Medlock says. Her stay in the manor house is making her resourceful.

The manor's furnishings are typical of the Victorian age, featuring many large family portraits, much heavy, dark furniture and elaborate tapestries. Yet, among these sterile items, Mary finds something—ivory elephants—that reminds her of her former life in India. They are the first toys she plays with in her new home, and she is able to be a child—a child who is self-directed and uses her imagination—as she plays with them.

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