The Secret Garden
Frances Hodgson Burnett
Contributed by Vernita Mires
Chapter 5-9
Summary

Mary starts to settle into her new life at her uncle’s manor. Each day passes by in a very similar way, with Mary eating breakfast and gazing at the moor, and then going outside in the cold, windy weather. Her more active lifestyle encourages her to start eating more, even the porridge which she initially disdained. There is one particular place in the garden that Mary likes to visit, a place that has been neglected and is now overgrown with ivy. She encounters the robin again which enlivens her and even makes her laugh.

Mary realizes that her robin friend lives in the secret garden, the garden that is blocked off by a wall with no door into it. Mary wonders how there could possibly be no door, as Mr. Craven had buried a key to the garden 10 years earlier. In the evening, Mary tries to ask Martha about why Mr. Craven hated the garden so much as to close off access to it. Martha tells the girl that although it’s not something that the servants are allowed to talk about, she knows that the garden was a place that Mr. and Mrs. Crowley loved to spend time in, until a branch fell and tragically killed Mrs. Crowley.

It is a very windy night and the howling sounds of the wind remind Mary of a child crying, although the noises sound more inside of the house than outside of it. Mary asks Martha about the sound, but Martha assures her it is just the wind. At that moment, a door is blown open, startling both of them. Martha again denies that it is a crying child, but something in her persistent denial makes Mary believe she is not telling the truth.

The next day, it is pouring rain. Mary notices how quiet it is in the mansion, and how infrequently she sees any of the servants. She also notices how Martha does not attentively wait on her in the same way that Ayah had done. Mary decides to spend the morning exploring the house to see how many doors she can count. She ends up going into many of the rooms and finds many interesting things, including a mother mouse and its babies. Again, she hears the sound of a child crying. Right at this moment, she is caught by Mrs. Medlock, who is very angry that Mary is exploring the mansion without permission. She also denies, like Martha, that there is anyone crying, which frustrates Mary, who is sure of what she heard.

Two days later, the rainy weather shifts and Mary wakes up to a beautiful blue sky. Mary asks Martha if she can visit her cottage sometime, but Martha is not sure that Mary would be able to walk the 5 miles it takes to get there. Martha tells her about her brother named Dickon, who spends all his time outdoors, and Mary exclaims that she already likes him without meeting him, and then wonders out loud if he would like her back. She admits that she does not even like herself.

Mary goes out to visit Ben in the garden, who seems in better spirits. Mary realizes how she is growing to like the people around her more and more. She encounters the robin again, which seems to recognize her. The robin guides her to a flowerbed near the locked up garden, where Mary finds a key buried in the soil. She is shocked and then excited to realize that this is probably the key to the secret garden.

Martha returns to the manor from her day at her cottage. She has had a wonderful day off and has entertained her many siblings with stories of Mary. Martha gives Mary a jumprope to play with. Mary goes out to the garden again and sees the robin. Remembering the key she found the day before, she goes to unlock the door of the secret garden. She feels extremely delighted as she steps through the door. The garden is very still and lush, with a mysterious quality due to having been left to grow without human intervention for 10 years.

Mary walks through the garden and finds tiny flowers and many roses. The robin follows her as she explores. She returns home with bright eyes, red cheeks, and a big appetite for lunch, which Martha appreciates. Mary asks Martha where she can get a spade, dreaming about how she can dig in the garden and discover different bulbs. She realizes, however, she must not say too much so she doesn't reveal that she has been in the secret garden, as this would cause Mr. Craven much distress.

Martha tells Mary to ask Dickon to get some packages of flower seeds for her. Mary is very excited by this offer. Martha helps Mary to print a letter to Dickon. Martha also invites Mary to come to her cottage and meet all 12 of her siblings as well as her mother. Tired from her adventurous day, Mary falls asleep quickly that night.

Analysis

In this section of The Secret Garden, we see Mary start to grow and transform in her new setting at Misselthwaite Manor. The sour little girl who has been accustomed to be waited on by docile servants is beginning to evolve into a more cheerful and curious child. Martha does not act like Ayah in the sense of doing everything for Mary; instead she encourages Mary to go out and explore, to be more independent. The inner changes Mary experiences are mirrored externally in the weather, with the windy, cold English climate “stirring her blood” and inspiring Mary to explore the rich landscape around her, especially the mysterious gardens. In new circumstances, she can no longer be passive and complacent with life.

It is as if Mary is learning for the first time who she really is beyond her former role as the coddled daughter of wealthy parents. Without the backdrop of India, Mary must rediscover her own sense of self. In these chapters, we are made to see how Mary carries much insecurity about herself, perhaps as a result of being neglected by her family from such a young age. This lack of confidence shows up when Martha speaks about Mary potentially meeting her siblings, especially her popular brother Dicken. Mary wonders aloud if anyone would like to have her as a friend. Although it is clear Mary craves new connections, she still has a gruff, mistrusting layer to herself that she must slowly start to shed.

For Mary, being at Misselthwaite Manor is a humbling experience. This is demonstrated in the story when Mary finally starts looking forward to eating her porridge; a food that she initially detested, believing it was beneath her standards. No one around her will indulge her every whim and thus she must learn to appreciate what she is given. This change of heart does not come easily; rather it requires that Mary comes to terms with her previous spoiled lifestyle and disagreeable nature. Martha is often the one helping to show this truth to Mary, such as when she tells Mary quite bluntly that she needs to grow up. Though somewhat hurt at first, Mary can also appreciate Martha’s honesty and the way it makes her “think about new things.”

The narrative of The Secret Garden unfolds in such a way as to leave much mystery and suspense for the reader to ponder. One such instance of this is the multiple times that Mary hears a child crying inside. Although Mary is certain of the sound, the adults around her deny any such thing, thus leaving Mary to wonder from where the crying could possibly come. There is also a certain spookiness in the setting of the manor, with its massive amount of empty rooms and gardens that have mostly been locked up and abandoned, and with Mr. Craven refusing to show himself. The little details of the setting, such as the interesting objects Mary finds in some of the rooms, serves to slowly draw out a better picture of who Mr. Craven is and what has taken place at his strange estate.

One mystery that is made somewhat more clear in these pages is that of Archibald’s beloved wife. The circumstances of her death are something that the servants have been ordered to keep hidden, yet Mary is eager to know the truth. Martha reveals to her that Mrs. Craven died in an accident in the garden, which is why it has been locked up and neglected for 10 years. Through this information as well as Mary’s intense interest in accessing the secret garden, the author foreshadows the important role this place will have in the plot going forward. Despite the haunted feeling that is palpable throughout the house and gardens, Mary desires to explore the new territory and bring her youthful spark into a space long deserted and left to die.

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