The Secret Garden | Study Guide

Frances Hodgson Burnett

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The Secret Garden | Chapter 7 : The Key to the Garden | Summary

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Summary

Two days later the rain stops, and the moor is transformed into a place of beauty filled with spring growth. Mary tells Martha she wants to visit her cottage. She says she likes Martha's mother, Mrs. Sowerby, and Martha's brother Dickon, although she has not met them yet. Martha wonders out loud what Dickon would think of Mary. Mary asserts that Dickon would not like her, to which Martha responds, "How does tha' like thyself?" A reflective Mary replies she does not like herself at all.

It is Martha's day off, and after she leaves to return to her family's cottage, Mary feels very lonely. She goes outside and runs into Ben Weatherstaff. He talks to her "of his own accord" and tells her about the green sprouts and the flowers they will become. The tame robin joins them, and Mary asks the old gardener about the garden where the robin lives. Ben Weatherstaff gets surly and tells her to ask the robin any questions she has about the garden, since the bird is the only one who has been in it during the last 10 years.

Mary walks away, thinking about the people and things she is beginning to like: Dickon, Martha's mother, the robin, the garden, and Martha. As she walks along the ivy-covered wall abutting the garden where the tame robin lives, the bird appears and starts chirping and twittering. Immensely pleased that he remembers her, Mary gently draws closer to the robin and makes chirping sounds. The robin hops in the dirt as Mary watches. She notices a hole where a dog had tried to dig up a mole. Within the hole is a metallic object that turns out to be a key. She picks it up and wonders if it is the key to the locked garden.

Analysis

Mary's interest in other people is expanding, showing the progression of her healing through her increased desire to connect with others. She likes people she has never met, whereas in the past she didn't like anyone. She wants to do new things, such as visit Martha's home. And she is thrilled that the tame robin is interested in her. She thinks of him as "one of the people" she now likes, along with Martha, Martha's mother, and Dickon. Martha notices how Mary's physical appearance is reflecting her inner transformation, as her face looks less sour than in the past.

Mary's self-awareness is also growing. When Mary wonders if Dickon will like her, Martha asks her, "How does tha' like thyself?" It turns out Martha's own mother once asked her the same question after commenting on how Martha liked to criticize others. Her mother's question brought Martha to her "senses in a minute," most likely making her realize that behind her criticism of others was her dislike of herself. One important role that human connection plays in the novel is in helping characters come to a greater understanding of themselves in this way. Her mother's comment enlightens Martha about herself, and Martha's comment to Mary does the same.

Mary admits she doesn't like herself, but also that she "never thought of that before." This establishes a pattern in the novel in which one person helps another recognize something about that person that needs to be changed for the better. Mary's response to Martha shows how she is becoming more open to understanding herself and changing her behavior. It is clear, too, that rather than remaining isolated and superior, Mary very much wants to bond with other people. Many of these people serve as models for Mary of new ways to act in the world. Martha reveals more about her mother's nature, for example, saying she is someone who nearly always finds a way to get things done. She has a positive attitude and does not let obstacles stand in her way. While Mary has yet to adopt a similar optimistic attitude, she has become focused on learning more about the secret garden, increasing her independence and self-determination.

Ben Weatherstaff's revelation that the garden has been locked up for 10 years parallels Mary's own life. She was born the same year the garden was locked. And, like the garden, her life has been one of meager growth and much internal decay, or dormancy. In this way, the secret garden symbolizes Mary herself and her need to grow into a new, healthy, and invigorated self.

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