The Secret Garden

by

Frances Hodgson Burnett

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The Secret Garden: Chapter 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Because Mary is self-absorbed and because Mary's mother never showed her love or affection, Mary doesn't miss her parents much. She simply assumes that people will take care of her and let her have her way, just as her Ayah did. First, she goes to an English clergyman's house. He has five children who are about Mary's age. They infuriate her, especially Basil. One afternoon, as Mary creates another pretend garden, Basil tries to make suggestions about landscaping elements. Mary shouts at him, but Basil just chants a nursery rhyme at her about "Mistress Mary, quite contrary" and a garden of flowers. The other children join in and eventually start to call her Mistress Mary Quite Contrary.
Mary's lack of grief speaks to the power of ignoring a child: in this case, Mary doesn't even consider grieving for her parents. Furthermore, her isolation throughout her life means that she doesn't know how to interact with other children. There's little indication that Basil is actually being mean to Mary; Mary just isn't used to interacting with someone else her own age.
Themes
Healing, Growth, and Nature Theme Icon
Childrearing and Friendship Theme Icon
Secrets and Independence Theme Icon
One day, Basil tells Mary that she's going to be sent home to England to live with her uncle, Mr. Archibald Craven. He tells her that Mr. Craven is a hunchback and a horrible person. Mary considers this, and when Mrs. Crawford and the other adults tell her that she's going, she shocks them with her disinterest. The adults discuss what a pity it is that Mary is so plain and unattractive and attribute this to the neglect that Mary's mother showed her daughter.
When the adults attribute Mary's unpleasant appearance to her life of neglect, it shows that when people don't receive love, they wither and never learn how to show it themselves. This passage also points to the way that people in the Victorian era commonly made moral judgments based on a person’s outward appearance.  
Themes
Childrearing and Friendship Theme Icon
Mary travels to England with an officer's wife and her two children. The officer's wife gladly hands Mary over to Mrs. Medlock, the stout housekeeper at Mr. Craven's Misselthwaite Manor. Mary dislikes Mrs. Medlock immediately and the feeling is mutual, especially when Mrs. Medlock says that there's no hope of Mary's appearance improving at Misselthwaite. Mary hears this and wonders what Misselthwaite and her uncle are like.
The focus on Mary's appearance points to the fact that at this point, there's little else for people to observe about her: she's unpleasant and unattractive, nothing more. This implies that as Mary's mental and emotional states improve later, her appearance will do much the same thing.
Themes
Healing, Growth, and Nature Theme Icon
The Power of Thought Theme Icon
Since being orphaned, Mary has started thinking strange thoughts and wondering why she doesn't belong to anyone, when other children seem to belong to their parents. The narrator notes that nobody has cared much for Mary because she is so disagreeable, but Mary doesn't know this. Mary does, however, find Mrs. Medlock very disagreeable, and as they walk to the train station, she tries to look prim and proper and as though she doesn't belong to Mrs. Medlock. On the train, Mrs. Medlock looks at Mary, who looks limp and spoiled. She eventually starts to talk to Mary about Misselthwaite Manor. The manor is 600 years old with about 100 rooms, though most are locked. There's a big park and gardens around it, but nothing else. Mary tries not to look interested, but it sounds very different from India.
Mary's musings show that she's gradually becoming aware of the fact that she was neglected, which she thinks of as not belonging to anyone. This illustrates how unmoored and alone Mary is, which situates her as needing a friend, a parent, or both. Now that Mary is in England, even if she's not "home" yet, she's beginning to become more curious. This reinforces how ill suited India is to raising children, according to the narrator, and suggests that even being in the "correct" country can begin to help a child improve. Written in 1911, The Secret Garden is steeped in British imperialism, and Mary hails from what was then a British colony.
Themes
Healing, Growth, and Nature Theme Icon
Childrearing and Friendship Theme Icon
Secrets and Independence Theme Icon
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Mary insists that she doesn't care and that it doesn't matter whether she cares or not, which Mrs. Medlock agrees with. Mrs. Medlock says that Mr. Craven has a crooked back and wasn't happy until he married. This piques Mary's interest and seeing this, Mrs. Medlock continues. She says that Mrs. Craven was beautiful, but she died. At this, Mary cries out in shock and pity and thinks of one of her fairytale stories about a hunchback and a princess. Mrs. Medlock says that now, Mr. Craven shuts himself away and won't see anyone. She thinks that Mrs. Craven must have been like Mary’s own mother, and that her existence would've made the manor pretty. Finally, Mrs. Medlock tells Mary that she'll have to play outside by herself but isn't to wander around the house. Mary falls asleep.
In hearing about Mr. Craven, Mary learns of a person who seems just as cold and miserable as she is. When she finds it in herself to be curious about him and what happened to Mrs. Craven, it suggests that children like Mary can begin to improve their outlook and think more about other people when they experience situations that mirror their own. This paves the way for the strides that Mary makes later with Colin, whom she also mirrors.
Themes
Healing, Growth, and Nature Theme Icon
The Power of Thought Theme Icon
Childrearing and Friendship Theme Icon