The Secret Garden

Essay by jandzCollege, UndergraduateA+, February 2008

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The physiological and psychological impact of the gothic elements in Frances Hodgson Burnett's, "The Secret Garden", become linked with an appreciation of the joys of extreme emotion, the thrill of fearfulness, the awe inherent in the sublime, and a quest for atmosphere. Both Mary Lennox, a sour and spoiled child native to India, and Colin Craven, a sickly and baleful boy native to England, embark on a majestic transformation from the sublime into the beautiful with the aid of each other and their moor-native facilitator, Dickon Sowerby.

The setting is greatly influenced in "The Secret Garden" not only by evoking the atmosphere of horror and dread, but also portraying the deterioration of both Mary and Colin's world. The decaying, gothic scenery implies that at one time there was a thriving world where Mr. Craven and Mrs. Craven lived happily together. At one time, both Misselthwaite Manor and the secret garden was something treasured and appreciated.

Now, all that lasts is the decaying shell of a once thriving dwelling.

One very important element of gothic architecture is setting. Mary, in comparison with Colin, grew up in India where she was exposed to a very normal setting; there are no gothic elements present. Mary lived in a very traditional bungalow with bright windows beaming with natural light. On the other hand, Colin, who had lived at Misselthwaite Manor his entire life, was rarely exposed to sunlight; only the endless trace of darkness and gloom. " 'The house is six hundred years old, and it's on the edge of the moor, and there's near a hundred rooms in it, though most of them's shut up and locked.' "There is also a connection between Misselthwaite Manor and the secret garden. Both of these structures represent an important element of labyrinth: the maze. Mary feels as if she is being escorted through a maze when Mrs. Medlock takes her to her room for the first time. "And then Mary Lennox was led up a broad staircase and down a long corridor and up a short flight of steps and through another corridor and another..." The garden, also based on formal architecture, is like a maze itself. There are ivy bushes leading you through many different alternative paths until you reach the center of the maze.

In Greek mythology, the labyrinth was an elaborate structure constructed for King Minos of Crete at Knossos and designed by the legendary artificer Daedalus to hold the Minotaur, which was eventually killed by the Athenian hero Theseus. Theseus was aided by Ariadne, who provided him with a fateful thread or the 'clew' or 'clue' to wind his way back again. In reference to "The Secret Garden", Dickon Sowerby is portrayed as Theseus. He battles the darkness and gloomy 'hysteria' both physiologically and psychologically by showing both Mary and Colin elements of the beautiful. The garden represents the beautiful as it shows human and divine activity acting as one. "The beautiful landscapes were those quiet, softly-colored scenes of lakes, fields, forests, and domestic grounds seen in English paintings..."Mary, on the other hand, acts as Ariadne, who provided Theseus a way out of an otherwise inescapable death. Mary shows Colin that what ails him is psychologically brewed. There is nothing physically wrong with Colin except the prominent absence of a male role model in his life. This represents a paradox between Mary and Colin as Mary does not miss her parents who were there all along, as opposed to Colin who misses the mother he never met.

Not only is there a presence of labyrinth in Misselthwaite Manor, but it is also visible in the secret garden. The whole aspect of labyrinth continues when Mary's sense of childish play and curiosity provoke her to explore the house. She discovers a secret entrance to Colin's room hidden by an immense curtain tapestry. The idea of hidden doors and entrances is brought outside to the garden. The garden door is covered in ivy as Colin's door is covered in tapestry. Mary breaks and dissolves the spells in the labyrinth. She dissolves both the maze in the garden and the maze in the house and straightens the path so that Colin can find his way to health.

What strictly comes within the aspect of mystical theology is the study of the processes of active and passive purification through which a soul must pass to reach mystical union. The transformation of both Mary and Colin's soul exemplifies mysticism as both children achieve communion, identity with, and unconscious awareness of ultimate reality, divinity and spiritual truth. In the Bible, the name Mary represents all things maternal; the Virgin Mary. Mary Lennox does not possess many maternal skills at the beginning of the novel, but as circumstances change her maternal instincts become more evident. She begins by nurturing the secret garden by tending to the plants and pushing the weeds out of the way to allow the sunlight and rain to flow in freely. Mary nurtures Colin by having late night conversations and reading gardening books to him.

Mrs. Sowerby holds a natural genius with motherhood as she has raised an entire family on her own without the help of a Mr. Sowerby. Mrs. Sowerby's maternal instincts drive her to converse with Mr. Craven about what is best for Mary. Also, Mrs. Sowerby makes three interventions to Misselthwaite Manor to enhance the family's connection with one another. She starts by giving Mary her first skipping rope. This is to get her into shape and good health and to breathe the moor-land air. " 'Martha's mother sent me a skipping-rope. I skip and run - and I look about to see if things are beginning to stick up out of the earth.' " Mrs. Sowerby caused Mr. Craven to deal with his son for the first time and with Mary for the first time. He showed a more human side when he insisted that Mary make a garden wherever she pleases.

It is clear that mysticism is not the same as magic. Magic is interpreted through the concept of natural religion. The effect of magic on Colin is that it makes him masculine. Colin looked like his mother and consequently acted like a girl because he has grown up exclusively with women and had no significant male role model in his life. Once Colin is reunited with his father, he becomes more masculine and returns to health. Colin envisions himself as an active man as another transition has been made; Colin being entirely feminine to entirely masculine.

The physiological and psychological impact of the gothic elements in both Misselthwaite Manor and garden and the mystical theology that originated in gothic architecture informs a particular theme in this novel. All of these elements contributed in one way or another in helping the quest between two abandoned children find their way to happiness, comfort and security. Both Mary and Colin have discovered that love is unconditional and no good deed goes unnoticed.