Study Guide

The Secret Garden Isolation

By Frances Hodgson Burnett


Okay, Frances Hodgson Burnett might be rolling over in her grave at this comparison, but we think it works: Both Mary and Colin appear to suffer from the Batman problem in The Secret Garden. That is, they have both been left alone during important periods of their childhood, so they run the risk of turning into single-minded monsters. Of course, we're not suggesting that either of them are going to put on a bat suit and start fighting crime—for one thing, Colin wouldn't be physically capable of doing so when he first appears in the novel.

But the story of Batman is probably the clearest example we can imagine of what too much time alone can do to you: It can make you isolated, totally unable to integrate socially, and prickly and difficult to everyone around you. That sounds like Mary and Colin to us. Thank goodness they both find the Secret Garden and a group of friends.

Questions About Isolation

  1. Colin emphasizes the importance of the interconnection between all living things as he starts to explore the Magic. But when does Mary first start to feel something in common with the rest of the world around her? When do we first see Mary reaching out of her isolation, and what triggers her initial change?
  2. Both Mary and Colin want to keep the Secret Garden isolated form the rest of the world once they find it. Why might these kids want to stay isolated just as they are starting to reach out to other people? Why might isolation be comfortable for the two of them at this stage in their lives?
  3. What role does the setting of Misselthwaite Manor play in the novel's overall sense of isolation? Why might Frances Hodgson Burnett have decided to set this book in the Yorkshire moors rather than in the middle of London or New York City? How might it be easier for these kids to feel less isolated away from city crowds and in the countryside?

Chew on This

In order for the character development of The Secret Garden to work, Colin needs to meet Mary before he meets Dickon. He must fight with someone who will tell him straight out that his behavior is terrible before he can learn how to correct that behavior through Dickon's kindness and support.

While Colin and Mary's bad behavior as children represents the damage that isolation can do to a kid's development, Archibald Craven's isolation as an adult appears to have a much more devastating and damaging effect on his personality. This implies that isolation is dangerous to children, but that it is even worse for adults.