The Secret Garden | Study Guide

Frances Hodgson Burnett

Download a PDF to print or study offline.

Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic


Course Hero. "The Secret Garden Study Guide." Course Hero. 29 June 2017. Web. 18 Nov. 2018. <>.

In text

(Course Hero)



Course Hero. (2017, June 29). The Secret Garden Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved November 18, 2018, from

In text

(Course Hero, 2017)



Course Hero. "The Secret Garden Study Guide." June 29, 2017. Accessed November 18, 2018.


Course Hero, "The Secret Garden Study Guide," June 29, 2017, accessed November 18, 2018,

The Secret Garden | Chapter 8 : The Robin Who Showed the Way | Summary



Mary's imagination is awakening, and she is "beginning to care and to want to do new things." She holds the unearthed key and imagines what it would be like to be inside the locked garden. She imagines it would be different from other places. Most of all, though, she wants to get inside so she can have a place of her own to go to. She feels "less 'contrary,' though she [does] not know why."

The next morning, Martha returns from her family's cottage and tells Mary all about her day off and the family's activities. She had regaled her family with stories about the girl who came from India, and Mary promises to tell Martha more stories about India for her next visit. Martha then gives Mary a jumping rope her mother, Mrs. Sowerby, bought for her, using Martha's wages. After she shows Mary how to use it, Mary wonders aloud whether she could ever learn to skip like Martha. Martha tells her to try it, that with practice she could skip up to a hundred. Martha tells Mary her mother says the skipping rope is "th' sensiblest toy a child can have" because it will "stretch her legs an' arms an' give her some strength in 'em."

Before going outside to practice, Mary thanks Martha for using her wages to pay for the skipping rope. She says it "stiffly because she was not used to thanking people or noticing that they did things for her" and holds out her hand. Martha shakes her hand, laughs, and tells her she is a "queer, old-womanish thing," and her younger sister would have given her a kiss. Mary asks if she wants a kiss, and Martha replies that if Mary were different perhaps she would, "but tha' isn't."

Outside, Mary skips all around the gardens. She spots Ben Weatherstaff and hopes he will see her skipping. He does, and tells her "P'raps tha' art a young 'un, after all." Later she sees the tame robin swinging on some ivy. She tells him he ought to show her where the door to the locked garden is. He flies away and trills, showing off. At that moment, a gust of wind blows some sprays of ivy away from the wall and reveals a round doorknob beneath. Mary inserts the key into the lock, turns the key, and unlocks the door to the hidden garden. After taking several deep breaths and checking to see if anyone is coming, she pushes the door open and slips inside.


The chapter's title ("The Robin Who Showed the Way") reveals Burnett's belief that the tame robin is comparable to a person. She refers to the bird using the pronoun who, which represents a person, instead of that, which is the proper pronoun for a bird. The robin not only communicates to Mary as if he were a person, he appears at the same time the wind blows the ivy back to reveal the door, something Mary considers almost magic. At this moment, Mary's closest and least complicated relationship is with the robin. He is her first friend, and she is instantly cheered whenever she sees him. What Mary perceives as almost magic are the combined forces of a random gust of wind and the power of friendship.

Again, the narrator compares India and England to show the superiority of England for promoting wholesomeness and health. Martha derogatorily refers to natives of India as "blacks," and assumes they are less civilized than British people. This attitude, along with the servants' obsequiousness and the hot, moist climate, contributes to the novel's underlying ideology of the moral superiority of the British over the Indian peoples. In India, the heat made Mary feel so languid and weak she never wanted to do anything. In England, the fresh air invigorates Mary, both physically and mentally. As she becomes physically healthier and gains an interest in the world around her, she becomes less contrary.

The narrator also shows the superiority of the "common little cottager" to the aristocracy through the gift of the jumprope Mary receives from Mrs. Sowerby. The "faces in the old paintings" seem to be affronted by Martha's impudence at skipping rope, but Martha is undeterred and experiences the joy the simple object brings. Whether she intends to or not, Burnett explores the complicated issues of class at this time: the Lennox parents and Mr. Craven are criticized for neglecting and spoiling the children in their care, while Mrs. Sowerby is presented in stark contrast as an ideal mother figure. Yet there is a Romantic-era assumption that wealth might corrupt these simple people, leading Mrs. Sowerby down the path of Mrs. Lennox. This complex perception of class reflects Burnett's own background. Before her father died, her family was fairly well-off, but after his death, they spent many years in poverty. Nonetheless, she found ways to enrich and amuse herself and others by telling stories. As long as she had access to simple things, like writing instruments and paper, it did not matter if she lacked the expensive toys available to wealthier people.

These ideas about class are underscored when Mary develops enough empathy at this point in the novel and wonders, "How could a cottage full of fourteen hungry people give any one a present!" The skipping- rope represents how play leads to health and happiness, but it is also a reminder of the importance of true generosity in the novel. Generosity itself is tied to class: her uncle may have taken her in and given her room and board in a mansion, but he leaves her on her own and makes sure the servants know he doesn't want to see her. Martha's mother gives Mary a skipping-rope when she can barely afford to feed her own family, demonstrating her empathy for a child she has not even met.

Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about The Secret Garden? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!