Secret Garden (Burnett) - Discussion Questions

Discussion Questions
1. Mary and Colin are often described as being unpleasant and rude. Martha, in fact, says Mary is "as tyrannical as a pig" and that Colin is the "worst young newt as ever was." Why are both of these children so ill-tempered? Whom does Burnett hold responsible for their behavior—themselves or their parents? How does this fit into one of the larger themes of the novel, that of the "fallen world of adults"?

2. Why does Mary respond so well to Martha? What characteristics of Martha's personality are responsible for awakening the gentleness hidden in Mary? Compare Martha's treatment of Mary to Mary's treatment of Colin. Does it have the same effect on Colin as it does on Mary?

3. Upon Mary's first encounter with Dickon, Burnett describes the boy in this way: "His speech was so quick and easy. It sounded as if he liked her and was not the least afraid she would not like him, though he was a common moor boy, in patched clothes and with a funny face and a rough, rusty-red head. As she came closer to him she noticed that there was a clean fresh scent of heather and grass and leaves about him, almost as if he were made of them." What is significant about this passage? Are there any particular motifs that seem to be connected specifically to Dickon?

4. Compare Dickon's upbringing with Mary's and Colin's. How is it different? Is it important, or just incidental, that Dickon is a "common moor boy" rather than a member of the "privileged class"?

5. Could Mary and Colin have found the path to spiritual and physical healing without Dickon?

6. Is Colin's deceased mother's spirit present in the book? Where and when do you sense it the most? Who does she employ as her "agents" of goodwill in the book?

7. Misselthwaite Manor is a house of masculine rule, whether it be Mr. Craven's or Colin's rule. The garden, however, is a place of fertility and regrowth. This type of symbolism structures the novel. Where else is this structure manifested in the novel?

8. In its theme of the mind's potential for regeneration, The Secret Garden has often been considered a tribute to the "New Thought" movement, which included ideas of Christian Science and Theosophy. How do you feel about this? Do you think that the "magic" employed by Colin was as crucial to his healing as was communion with nature and other living things?

9. Discuss the regionalist aspects of the novel, such as the Yorkshire dialects. How do they contribute to the overarching themes of The Secret Garden?

10. In your opinion, does Mr. Craven, after subjecting his son to years of neglect, deserve redemption?

11. Which narrative features were employed by the author to make The Secret Garden speak to children? Why do you think this novel appeals to an adult audience as well? What makes it a classic?

(Questions from the Penguin edition—image, top-right)

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