The Secret Garden | Study Guide

Frances Hodgson Burnett

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The Secret Garden | Quotes


She frowned because she remembered that her father and mother had never talked to her about anything in particular. Certainly they had never told her things.

Narrator, Chapter 2

Mary meets Mrs. Medlock, who tells her about her new home. Mrs. Medlock asks what Mary's parents had told her about her uncle in England. Mary realizes her father and mother seldom talked to her, revealing just how little interaction she had had with her parents and how neglected she had been.


It'll do thee good to wait on thysen a bit.

Martha Sowerby, Chapter 4

On their first morning together, Martha informs Mary she is going to have to do things for herself, that the servants will not be waiting on her as they did in India. Mary is infuriated and "could scarcely stand this." In Martha's view, however, this is not a disadvantage, as learning how to do things for herself will make Mary more independent and confident. This demonstrates a tenet of Burnett's spiritual beliefs: that self-help and a sense of independence are necessary for one's health.


You don't know anything about natives! They are not people—they're servants who must salaam to you. You know nothing about India. You know nothing about anything!

Mary Lennox, Chapter 4

Mary justifies calling Martha a pig because Martha had assumed Mary was black since she was coming from India. Mary is highly insulted she would be viewed as an Indian native since she has been brought up to think of them as inferior to her and not even human. Mary's sense of intolerance and superiority, which she projects on everyone she meets in the early chapters of the novel, dissolves as the novel goes on, as her personality becomes increasingly empathetic and open to others.


And so she went out. She did not know that this was the best thing she could have done.

Narrator, Chapter 5

During her first days at Misselthwaite Manor, Mary goes outside because she doesn't have anything else to do. By doing so, Mary is taking an active step toward becoming both physically and mentally healthier, even if she is unaware of the significance of her action. This highlights Burnett's belief in the need to find interests outside oneself in order to heal, and in the power of the natural world to speed that process.


He knew nothing in the world ... because he was a real person.

Narrator, Chapter 7

This describes Mary's thoughts when she approaches the tame robin who, unafraid, lets her come close to him. She is thrilled he feels safe with her and considers him the nicest person in the world. Mary views the robin as a person because the bird responds to her and acts as if it likes her. It expresses emotions usually associated with humans, which are touching to a girl who feels so alone and has begun to long for warmth and connection. Mary's consideration of the robin as a human reflects Burnett's respect for all life and the belief that God dwells within animals as well as humans.


How could a cottage full of fourteen hungry people give any one a present!

Narrator, Chapter 8

The narrator expresses Mary's thoughts after she receives a skipping-rope from Mrs. Sowerby. Mary's recognition of Mrs. Sowerby's full household and limited financial means reveals her growing awareness of people other than herself and her awareness of Mrs. Sowerby's empathy and concern for her. Mary is also able to reach across the boundaries of class and status to understand how significant the gift is. What people do or do not give and receive from one another throughout the novel is important because of Burnett's overall message of empathy and generosity as keys to a healthy mindset.


The house is lonely, and the park is lonely, and the gardens are lonely. So many places seem shut up.

Mary Lennox, Chapter 9

The various settings in The Secret Garden often reflect the inner lives of its characters. In this case, Mary accurately describes her new home. She is aware how little connection people have with one another and how this makes the house and everything related to it lonely. Being shut up refers to being closed, or not receptive, to people and nature, which is certainly true of Mary herself at the start of the novel. Shut-up places and people are unable to feel and benefit from life-affirming elements, such as sunshine and fresh air. This statement also applies to Colin, who is shut up in the manor and trapped in his own fears, and to his father, Mr. Craven, who is locked in a deep depression about his wife's untimely death.


Do roses quite die when they are left to themselves?

Mary Lennox, Chapter 10

Mary asks Ben Weatherstaff this when she runs into him during one of her walks around the gardens. He has told her he learned to like roses when he worked for a woman who loved roses like children, but that was some 10 years ago. Roses symbolize children, and Mary's question reveals her subconscious concern that children who have been left alone, like herself, may die or become lifeless and unable to engage in life. The various settings in The Secret Garden often mirror the inner lives and concerns of its characters in this way.


There doesn't seem to be no need for no one to be contrary when there's flowers an' ... friendly wild things runnin' about makin' homes for themselves.

Dickon Sowerby, Chapter 11

Dickon makes this comment after Mary tells him how Basil and his siblings had sung a song about Mistress Mary, quite contrary. It expresses his world view that as long as there are things in nature to see, he is happy. In addition, it is a description that comes to fit not only himself, but Mary and her cousin Colin, who become increasingly like "friendly wild things ... makin' [a] home for themselves" in the garden and in the larger world. This reflects Burnett's views about the restorative benefits of nature.


Tha' knew how to build tha' nest before tha' came out o' th' egg.

Dickon Sowerby, Chapter 15

Dickon tells this to the tame robin as it looks at him inquiringly with a twig in its mouth. It expresses Dickon's confidence in the robin's innate knowledge and reveals Burnett's high regard for nature. She considers birds superior to human in this regard because they innately know what to do, whereas humans have to learn things, and often contradict instinct with "reason". The fact that Dickon addresses the bird directly also shows his closeness to, and respect for, the creatures of the natural world.


What children learns from children ... is that there's no sense in grabbin' at th' whole orange—peel an' all.

Mrs. Medlock, Chapter 19

Mrs. Medlock tells a story Mrs. Sowerby had once told about a geography lesson from her childhood. Her teacher had compared the world to an orange and noted that no one owns more than their "bit of a quarter" of it, and at times it seems there's not enough pieces to go around. Troubles arise when people think they own the whole orange. What children teach each other is that they don't own the whole orange. Mrs. Medlock tells the story to express how wise and knowledgeable Mrs. Sowerby is about children. The story also illustrates the idea the world is to be shared by everyone, not possessed by a greedy few.


It is only now and then one is quite sure one is going to live forever and ever and ever.

Narrator, Chapter 21

These words refer to the first time Colin experiences the springtime in the secret garden. It creates a momentous and powerful feeling in him, as well as in Mary and Dickon. This description signifies the importance of Colin's euphoria while acknowledging it is not something one should expect to be a part of daily life.


But of course he is doing now of his own free will what we could not make him do before.

Dr. Craven, Chapter 24

Dr. Craven makes this comment after examining Colin and noting how healthy he has become. The words are a nugget of advice on child raising and apply to adults as well. A person can provide everything another person needs, but unless the receiver decides to take advantage of it, it is all for naught. His words reflect Burnett's belief in the importance of self-reliance.


Two things cannot be in one place. Where, you tend a rose, my lad / A thistle cannot grow.

Narrator, Chapter 27

The narrator uses these words to pontificate on Burnett's philosophy and spiritual beliefs. They express the essence of positive thinking. Since two things cannot exist in one place, negative and positive thoughts cannot coexist. If someone pushes a negative thought out of his or her mind, it allows a positive thought to take its place. Similarly, replacing a negative thought with a positive one, or even merely distracting oneself with activity, prevents a negative thought from taking root.


Take me into the garden, my boy ... And tell me all about it.

Mr. Craven, Chapter 27

Mr. Craven has undergone a change of heart during his overseas travels, where spending long hours in nature has inspired him to emerge from his decade-long depression over his wife's death. He returns home to find Colin transformed into a healthy, happy boy, and father and son reconcile. When Mr. Craven asks to be taken into the garden, it symbolizes a turning point in which he enters a space of healing and life, signaling his turn away from mourning his wife and rejecting his son. The fact that he wants to hear "all about it" shows that the line of communication between father and son is open. The final act of healing is Colin telling his father the story of the secret garden.

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