The Gardener

by

Rudyard Kipling

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Michael Turrell Character Analysis

Michael is Helen Turrell’s son, whom she raises as her “nephew” to hide his illegitimacy and sidestep the scandal it would certainly cause. From a young age, Michael is anxious about the fact that he is not from a traditional family. Helen has told him that she is his “aunt,” and that his “parents”— Helen’s dead brother, George, and a lower-class girl—were not married. When Michael is a child, he questions Helen about why he is not allowed to call her “mummy,” and he becomes upset when Helen talks openly about with her friends about allowing Michael to call her “mummy” only at bedtime. This gives the reader the impression that Michael is already learning to be ashamed of his origins from the society around him. He grows up to be “as accepted” as Helen herself by society. However, the reader gets the impression that his social status still haunts him. Kipling suggests that Michael is treated differently at school because his “parents” were not married and because Edwardian society perceived illegitimate children to be naturally inferior. Like his biological mother, Michael is quite a proud character and tries to brush off his concerns about his background. However, when he is ill, his true concerns come to the surface; in his fevered delirium, he “talks of nothing else.” The reader learns that Michael is “valiant” in his eagerness to serve in World War I and comes across as a brave character. Even though he believes that the war will be long and difficult to conclude, he still demonstrates that he believes it is necessary and honorable to fight for his country, mirroring Kipling’s own views about patriotism and the necessity of World War I.

Michael Turrell Quotes in The Gardener

The The Gardener quotes below are all either spoken by Michael Turrell or refer to Michael Turrell. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Propriety, Performance, and Secrecy Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Borzoi edition of The Gardener published in 1994.
The Gardener Quotes

Everyone in the village knew that Helen Turrell did her duty by all her world, and by none more honorably than by her only brother’s unfortunate child. The village knew, too, that George Turrell had tried his family severely since early youth, and […] after many fresh starts given and thrown away, he […] had entangled himself with the daughter of a retired non-commissioned officer, and had died […] a few weeks before his child was born.

Page Number: 827
Explanation and Analysis:

All these details were public property, for Helen was as open as the day, and held that scandals are only increased by hushing them up. She admitted that George had always been rather a black sheep, but that things might have been much worse if the mother had insisted on her right to keep the boy. Luckily, it seemed that people of that class would do almost anything for money.

Page Number: 828
Explanation and Analysis:

In a few years Michael took his place, as accepted as Helen—fearless, philosophical, and fairly good-looking. At six he wished to know why he could not call her “Mummy,” as other boys called their mothers. She explained that she was only his auntie, and that aunties were not quite the same as mummies, but that, if it gave him pleasure, he might call her “Mummy” at bedtime, for a pet name between themselves.

Related Characters: Helen Turrell, Michael Turrell
Page Number: 828
Explanation and Analysis:

At ten years old, after two terms at prep. school, something or somebody gave him the idea that his civil status was not quite regular. He attacked Helen on the subject, breaking down her stammered defenses with the “family directness.”

“Don’t believe a word of it,” he said cheerily, at the end. “People wouldn’t have talked like that if my people had been married. But don’t you bother, Auntie. I’ve found out all about my sort in English Hist’ry […] There was William the Conqueror to begin with, and—oh, heaps more, and they all got on first-rate. ‘T’wont make any difference to you, my being that – will it?”

Related Characters: Michael Turrell (speaker), Helen Turrell
Page Number: 829
Explanation and Analysis:

“All right. We won’t talk about it anymore if it makes you cry.” He never mentioned the thing again of his own will, but when, two years later, he skillfully managed to have measles in the holidays, as his temperature went up to the appointed one hundred and four, he muttered of nothing else, till Helen’s voice, piercing at last his delirium, reached him with the assurance that nothing on earth or beyond could make a difference between them.

Related Characters: Michael Turrell (speaker), Helen Turrell
Page Number: 830
Explanation and Analysis:

Since Michael was no fool, the War took him just before what was like to have been a most promising career. He was to have gone up to Oxford, with a scholarship, in October. At the end of August, he was on the edge of joining the first holocaust of public-school boys who threw themselves into the Line.

Related Characters: Helen Turrell, Michael Turrell
Page Number: 830
Explanation and Analysis:

Helen had been shocked at the idea of direct enlistment.

“But it’s in the family,” Michael laughed.

“You don’t mean to tell me that you believed that old story all this time?” Helen said […] “I gave you my word of honor—and I give it again—that—that—it’s alright. It is indeed.”

“Oh, that doesn’t worry me. It never did,” he replied valiantly. “What I meant was, I should have got into the thing sooner if I’d enlisted—like my grandfather.”

Related Characters: Helen Turrell (speaker), Michael Turrell (speaker)
Page Number: 830
Explanation and Analysis:

In France luck again helped the battalion. It was put down near the Salient, where it led a meritorious and unexacting life, while the Somme was being manufactured; and enjoyed the peace of Armentières and Laventie sectors when the battle began.

Related Characters: Michael Turrell
Page Number: 831
Explanation and Analysis:

A month later, and just after Michael had written Helen that there was nothing special doing and therefore no need to worry, a shell-splinter dropping out of a wet dawn killed him at once. The next shell uprooted and laid down over the body what had been the foundation of a barn wall, so neatly that none but an expert would have guessed that anything unpleasant had happened.

Related Characters: Helen Turrell, Michael Turrell
Related Symbols: The Shell
Page Number: 831
Explanation and Analysis:

Helen, presently, found herself pulling down the house-blinds one after another with great care, and saying earnestly to each one: “Missing always means dead.” Then she took her place in the dreary procession that was impelled to go through a series of unprofitable emotions. The Rector, of course, preached hope and prophesized word, very soon, from a prison camp. Several friends too, told her perfectly truthful tales, but always about other women, to whom, after months and months of silence, their missing had been miraculously restored.

Related Characters: Helen Turrell (speaker), Michael Turrell
Related Symbols: The Gardener
Page Number: 832
Explanation and Analysis:

Helen did and wrote and signed everything that was suggested or put before her. Once, on one of Michael’s leaves, he had taken her over a munition factory, where she saw the progress of a shell from blank-iron to all but the finished article. It struck her at the time that the wretched thing was never left alone for a single second; and “I’m being manufactured into a bereaved next of kin,” she told herself, as she prepared her documents.

Related Characters: Helen Turrell (speaker), Michael Turrell
Related Symbols: The Shell
Page Number: 832
Explanation and Analysis:

The agony of being waked up to some sort of second life drove Helen across the Channel, where, in a new world of abbreviated titles, she learnt that Hagenzeele Third could be comfortably reached by an afternoon train which fitted in with the morning boat, and that there was a comfortable little hotel not three kilometers from Hagenzeele itself where one could spend quite a comfortable night, and go to see one’s grave the next morning. All this she had from a Central Authority who lived in a tar and paper shed on the skirt of a razed city full of whirling lime-dust and blowing papers.

Related Characters: Helen Turrell, Michael Turrell
Page Number: 834
Explanation and Analysis:

Because I’m so tired of lying […] year in and year out. When I don’t tell lies I’ve got to act ‘em and I’ve got to think ‘em, always. You don’t know what that means. He was everything to me that he oughtn’t have been—the only real thing—the only thing that happened to me in all my life; and I’ve had to pretend he wasn’t. I’ve had to watch every word, and think out what lie I’d tell next, for years and years!

Related Characters: Mrs. Scarsworth (speaker), Helen Turrell, Michael Turrell
Page Number: 836
Explanation and Analysis:

“Lieutenant Michael Turrell—my nephew,” said Helen slowly and word for word, as she had many thousands of times in her life. The man lifted his eyes and looked at her with infinite compassion before he turned from the fresh-sown toward the naked black crosses. “Come with me,” he said, “and I will show you where your son lies.”

Related Characters: Helen Turrell (speaker), Michael Turrell, Mrs. Scarsworth
Related Symbols: The Gardener
Page Number: 838
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Gardener LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Gardener PDF

Michael Turrell Character Timeline in The Gardener

The timeline below shows where the character Michael Turrell appears in The Gardener. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Gardener
Propriety, Performance, and Secrecy Theme Icon
Christianity and Compassion Theme Icon
...sick with dysentery), so Helen fires the nurse and restores the baby, whom she names Michael, to health herself. Once he is “wholly restored,” Helen brings him to England. (full context)
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...by hushing them up.” Helen tells everyone in the village that she is grateful that Michael’s mother allowed Helen to take the boy and raise him herself—“it seemed that people of... (full context)
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Michael grows up to be “as accepted as Helen had always been.” When he’s six years... (full context)
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Helen, “as usual,” shares these details with her friends. When Michael finds out, he’s furious, angrily asking why she told anyone that he calls her “Mummy.”... (full context)
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When Michael is ten, after he has been at prep school for several months, “something or someone”... (full context)
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Michael does not bring the subject of his illegitimacy up again with Helen “of his own... (full context)
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Michael spends his school holidays at home with Helen and the two remain close as Michael... (full context)
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At first Michael plans to enlist directly in the army and join “the first holocaust of public-school boys... (full context)
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Michael’s battalion are “fortunate”; they are kept in Britain for a long period at the start... (full context)
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By the time Michael is killed, the village in which Helen lives is “old in experience of war” and,... (full context)
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With news of Michael’s death Helen “takes her place among the dreary procession” of grieving relatives and is “impelled... (full context)
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During this time Helen remembers one of Michael’s leaves when he took her to visit a munition factory and where they saw a... (full context)
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 None of the organizations which Helen writes to have any success looking for Michael and, as time goes on, Helen feels “something give way within her” and “all sensation—save... (full context)
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Helen receives Michael’s watch and his army identity tag in the post, along with a letter confirming his... (full context)
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...apologetically to Helen that the relatives are “often like this.” He checks that Helen knows Michael’s grave number as, he says, “it makes such a difference.” (full context)
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...“meeting the entire crowded level of the thing in one held breath.” Although she has Michael’s grave number, all she can see in the cemetery is a “merciless sea of black... (full context)
Propriety, Performance, and Secrecy Theme Icon
Christianity and Compassion Theme Icon
World War I Theme Icon
...she sees the man she thinks is the gardener, and who has shown her to Michael’s grave. He is kneeling over the flowerbeds, “bending over” the young plants which are starting... (full context)