Study Guide

The Secret Garden Weakness

By Frances Hodgson Burnett


Who are the most powerful characters in The Secret Garden? We're definitely not talking about Archibald Craven, who spends most of his life running away from his responsibilities as a father, and it can't be Mrs. Medlock and Dr. Craven because they are both servants who aren't exactly dedicated or good at their jobs. No, arguably, the strongest character in the book is Dickon, with post-Magic Colin coming in a close second.

Dickon's ability to tame animals and befriend even the grumpiest of humans is like a superpower. After he starts discussing the Magic, Colin also becomes able to inspire Mary and even Ben Weatherstaff to participate in his kooky experiments.

And if strength for these characters comes from their interest in and love of the natural world, then weakness has to be the result of its opposite. When Mary and Colin first start off, they are both physically and emotionally weak. Mary can't dress herself, and Colin can't get out of bed on his own—so while they both have plenty of money, they are totally cut off from their natural interests. It's this sense of isolation from the natural world that leaves them both deeply weak; once they begin getting outside more, they recover the strength they should have had all along.

Questions About Weakness

  1. What are the things that The Secret Garden implies that children should be able to do? According to the novel, what is natural for healthy kids to do, which Mary and Colin have to learn over the course of the book? Are there other traits of value that you think the book doesn't emphasize enough?
  2. Are there any differences between the weak children and the weak adults in The Secret Garden? Does the definition of weakness appear to change as you age and grow up? Or does the novel seem to emphasize the same natural connection for people of all ages?
  3. In a sense, Lilias Craven is actually the strongest person in The Secret Garden because she has the power to come back from beyond the grave. What traits make Lilias particularly important to the novel? Why might Frances Hodgson Burnett include this ghostly mother figure in Colin's life?

Chew on This

While both Colin and Mary arguably start out as the weakest characters in the novel, they also dominate the novel's plot line as they slowly recover their strength. There is an inverse relationship between the weakness of these characters and the amount of narrative control they have over the plot of The Secret Garden.

The Secret Garden offers the problematic view that physical weakness is the direct result of emotional or even moral weakness, leaving the responsibility for Colin and even Archibald's illnesses strictly on their shoulders. Thus, The Secret Garden does not provide a compelling model for physical disability that cannot be cured through positive thinking