The Secret Garden transmits pivotal psychological concepts, influenced by the fairy-tale style. The story’s theme emphasizes the power of positive thinking and unity, contributing to the genre of children’s literature. Burnett utilizes the garden as a symbolic form of magical thinking to give Mary and Colin a rebirth, examining Bettelheim’s concept in the fairy tale’s existential predicament, further exploring how the children’s emotional hardships lead to the empowerment of one another.
Mary Lennox’s character resembles the stylistic hero’s journey since from the commencement, she is not only isolated physically as an orphan, but psychologically through her inability to connect. Mary’s childhood in India does not allow for emotional attachment, a process that is crucial in order for children to trust, love others and themselves. Although both parents are present in her life, they are emotionally detached, just as in fairy tales, where there is an evil surrogate mother and absentee father figure. It is only after their death that unforeseen forces align Mary’s path to the moor, leading her to stumble upon the magic of the secret garden. A symbol that transforms Mary’s loneliness, giving her the opportunity to heal through a newly discovered purpose and meaning. “The hero is helped by being in touch with primitive things—a tree, and animal, nature—as the child feels more in touch with these those things than most adults do” (Bettelheim 331). Burnett illustrates this example with the robin’s alignment to those who believe in its power, particularly children and adults with a child-like nature. The robin guides Mary in finding both the key and door to the secret garden. “Mary had stepped close to the robin, and suddenly the gust of wind swung aside some loose ivy trails, and more suddenly still she jumped toward it—a round knob which has been covered by the leaves hanging over it. It was the knob of a door” (Burnett 66). The garden gives Mary something to attach to, hope for, and tend to. These attributes contribute to the flourishing of her personality. “But she was inside the wonderful garden and she could come through the door under the ivy any time and she felt as if she had found a world all her own” (Burnett 69). The garden allows her to process and understand the magic in positive thinking, reinforcing her ability to reflect and self-evaluate. Mary is then able to heal herself and be an instrument in Colin’s transformation.
Colin Cavern’s character also illustrates the existential predicament exemplified in fairy tales, resembling Mary’s journey. The death of his mother leads to his father’s psychological abandonment. Colin’s room is the symbol for his isolation through fearful and obsessive thoughts of death. These thoughts limit his self-identity and are a direct result of the adults in his environment, who tend to fill it with hysteria and no hope for a future. As Bettelheim notes, “the fate of these heroes convinces the child that, like them, he may feel outcast and abandoned in this world, groping in the dark, but, like them, in the course of his life he will be guided step by step, and given help when it is needed” (331). It is through Mary’s unexpected discovery of Colin’s room that he begins to learn about the secret garden and taps into its powers. Colin instantly feels connected to the mystery of such a magical enclosure. Through Mary’s encouragement, Colin aligns himself to the way of thought that will not only heal him, but also empower him. “Everything is made out of magic, leaves and trees, flowers and birds, badgers and foxes and squirrels and people. So it must be all around us. In this garden—in all the places. The magic in this garden has made me stand up and know I am going to live to be a man” (Burnett 210). Colin’s transformation is a powerful metaphor of spring for readers, as they experience his seed bursting out of its encasement, while the positive thinking provides the water necessary for it to grow and clears out the dead weeds that hindered any personal growth.
Throughout almost the entire story of The Secret Garden, the reader is witness to Mary and Colin’s growing of unity. This is particularly mirrored through Colin’s emotional narrative. “Oh! Mary!” he cried out with a half sob. Shall I see it? Shall I go into it? Shall I live to get into it?” and he clutched her hands and dragged her towards him. “Of course you’ll see it!” snapped Mary indignantly” (Burnett 166). This example provides readers an examination of Mary’s strong personality plus her perseverance to rise above life’s difficulties. It is through the reality of the children’s loneliness and the similarity in life events, that Mary is able to sympathize with Colin. Mary not only gathers the necessary inner and outer strength to face the unknown, but she bonds with Colin and influences him in profound ways. Creating in the reader’s mind positive identifications of heroic mapping through tragedies. “Freud’s prescription is that only by struggling courageously against what seem like impossible odds can man succeed in wringing meaning out of his existence” (Bettelheim 327). Mary and Colin’s development of learning to process complex emotions simultaneously is what creates solidarity. “When I was going to try to stand that first time Mary kept saying to herself as fast as she could, ‘You can do it! You can do it!’ and I did. I had to try myself at the same time, of course, but her magic helped me—and so did Dickon’s” (Burnett 210). It is through the children’s dialogue that the reader is able to form a response to the importance of childhood friendships. Children benefit greatly from positive interactions and experiences alongside peers. Burnett’s theme imparts the importance of affirmation in a child’s environment through the story’s sense of hope and capability to evolve.
The Secret Garden encompasses valuable life lessons in the genre of children’s literature through the fundamental characteristics of the fairy-tale style. The story aligns with Bettelheim’s struggle for meaning concept, illustrating to readers how enduring hardships are part of a more complex experience and synchronicity of nature. It is through being connected to a source, such as the magic in the secret garden, that one can transcend. Mary and Colin’s resemblance to the stylistic hero’s journey allows for them to bond plus empower one another. This highlights positive thinking and the strength in peer friendships.
Bettelheim, Bruno. “The Struggle for Meaning.” Folk and Fairy Tales, edited by Martin Hallet and Barbara Karasek, 4th ed., Broadview, 2009, pp. 323-335.
Burnett, Hodgson Frances. The Secret Garden. Signet. Classics, 2003