The Secret Garden

by

Frances Hodgson Burnett

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The Secret Garden: Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Mary wakes up in the morning when she hears a young maid attending to the fire. She looks around and sees that her walls are covered in gloomy tapestries depicting people and animals in a forest. Out the window, Mary can see what looks like an endless purple sea. She points out the window and asks what it is. With a smile, the maid, Martha, says that it's the moor and asks Mary if she likes it. Mary declares that she hates it, to which Martha replies that she loves it: it's alive and smells sweet. This puzzles Mary, as servants in India never spoke to her as though she were an equal. Mary often slapped her Ayah, but she wonders if Martha might slap back. Mary tells her she's a strange servant.
When Mary observes that the tapestries in her room are gloomy, it mirrors the fact that she's not interested in nature yet. People in the woods hold little interest for her. This is also why Mary decides she doesn't like the moor, as it represents something wildly different than what she's used to. The fact that Martha replies so happily and readily shows Mary that Misselthwaite isn't going to be at all like India; here, servants have agency and can therefore bridge the gap between caregivers and friends.
Themes
Healing, Growth, and Nature Theme Icon
Childrearing and Friendship Theme Icon
Martha laughs and says if Mrs. Craven were alive, she wouldn't even be a servant—she's too "common" and speaks such broad Yorkshire (the local dialect). However, the strangeness of the house means that Mrs. Medlock was willing to hire her. When Mary asks if Martha is going to wait on her, Martha says curtly that she's Mrs. Medlock's servant, though she's going to help Mary a bit. Indignantly, Mary asks who's going to dress her. This shocks Martha and in broad Yorkshire that Mary can't understand, she incredulously asks if Mary can't dress herself. When Mary learns what Martha asked, she explains that her Ayah dressed her.
The way that Martha justifies her employment at Misselthwaite suggests that the manor itself is a place where strange things can happen. Notably, it links the strangeness of the house to Mrs. Craven's death, which suggests that more than anything, the house is still reeling from grief. Learning that Mary has enjoyed little agency thus far begins to show why she's so spoiled and nasty; she has no independence and therefore, no personal identity.
Themes
The Power of Thought Theme Icon
Secrets and Independence Theme Icon
Martha says that it's time Mary learned and notes that Mother spoke often about "grand people's children" turning out to be fools because of this sort of thing. Mary feels close to the breaking point as she says that things are different in India, but Martha surprisingly agrees and says that India is different because there are black people there. She admits that she thought Mary was going to be black too. Mary is offended and insults Martha, but Martha insists that there's nothing wrong with black people, as they're so religious, but says she was disappointed that Mary is white. Humiliated, Mary screams that native Indians aren't people and throws herself onto her pillows to cry.
This entire exchange is deeply racist and illustrates the time and place in which the novel is set. For Mary, her life as a spoiled child has taught her that pretty much anyone aside from herself isn't fully human, which also makes her feel justified in blowing up at Martha. In addition, her scathing proclamation that Indian people aren’t people shows that she internalized British colonialist attitudes while in India, which likely compounded her own haughtiness. In contrast, Martha believes that the most important indicator of personhood is whether someone believes in a higher power.
Themes
The Power of Thought Theme Icon
Childrearing and Friendship Theme Icon
This frightens Martha, so she comforts Mary and begs her to stop crying. Despite herself, Mary finds Martha's Yorkshire accent soothing and calms down. Then, Martha tells Mary to get up so they can get her dressed. Though Mary is initially surprised to see that Mr. Craven ordered new clothes for her, she's glad they're not black. Martha gently coaches Mary through putting on her clothes and shoes. Mary privately wonders at Martha's manner, while the narrator notes that Martha behaves this way because she's an "untrained Yorkshire rustic" and not a real lady's maid.
When Mary is able to find something good out of this whole ordeal (that the clothes aren't black), it shows that Mary does have the capacity to be delighted by new things. The fact that Mary doesn't berate Martha in this instance reveals her burgeoning respect for Martha, which is one of the first steps in Mary's journey to realize that she has to respect everyone—long gone are the days of slapping her Ayah.
Themes
Healing, Growth, and Nature Theme Icon
Childrearing and Friendship Theme Icon
Secrets and Independence Theme Icon
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Martha talks the entire time. Mary tries not to listen at first, as to express her displeasure, but soon finds herself interested in what Martha says about her eleven siblings, her parents' poverty, and her brother Dickon, who tamed a moor pony. This intrigues Mary, as she's always wanted a pet. When Mary is dressed, she goes into the next room and refuses to eat her breakfast, insisting imperiously that she doesn't know what it feels like to be hungry. Martha is aghast, but refuses to take the porridge to her siblings. Mary has some tea and toast to appease her.
Mary's desire to have a pet indicates that she does want to have a connection with something; she's just not ready to go there yet with people. This suggests that animals—and by extension, the natural world—are a stepping-stone of sorts as people like Mary learn how to interact with others and behave kindly.
Themes
Healing, Growth, and Nature Theme Icon
Childrearing and Friendship Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Then, Martha tells Mary to go outside and play. Mary doesn't want to go out, but decides she'll have to when she sees that there's nothing to do inside. She asks Martha who will go with her and is perplexed when Martha says she'll have to go alone. Martha talks about Dickon, who plays alone on the moor for hours and befriends animals. This makes Mary want to go outside, as she'd like to see the birds. Martha bundles Mary up, points her out the door, and says that there's one garden that's been locked up for ten years since Mrs. Craven died. She says there's a buried key somewhere.
Again, Mary's interest in Dickon, animals, and birds specifically shows that as she develops into a more pleasant person, the first step is going to be making friends with creatures from the natural world. This indicates that nature in general is less scary or intimidating for someone like Mary than people are, since she has no practice in getting along with others after such an isolated upbringing.
Themes
Healing, Growth, and Nature Theme Icon
Mary walks off into the grounds, thinking of the garden and whether there's anything still alive in it. She walks past flowerbeds with nothing in them and comes upon a long wall covered in ivy. She finds a door in the wall and walks through several walled vegetable gardens. Mary thinks that the gardens are ugly and wonders if they'll be prettier in spring. An old man (Ben Weatherstaff) walks into the garden and seems surprised and unhappy to see Mary. He explains that these are the kitchen gardens, and Mary walks off without a word to explore them.
The way that Mary treats Ben Weatherstaff reminds the reader that Mary doesn't yet view hired help as people worthy of politeness and respect; they're fixtures bound to do her bidding. The bare gardens mirror Mary's own emptiness at this point; like the garden beds, Mary will go on to bloom and grow with the spring.
Themes
Healing, Growth, and Nature Theme Icon
Childrearing and Friendship Theme Icon
Mary finds a closed door to another garden but it opens into an orchard, not the secret garden. She does notice that the wall seems to continue as though it's enclosing another garden, possibly with trees in it. As Mary studies the trees, a robin starts singing. It makes her feel happy, and she hopes she'll see it again. She continues to think about the secret garden and wonders why Mr. Craven buried the key and why, if he loved Mrs. Craven, he locked the garden. Mary thinks that even if she meets Mr. Craven, she'll never be able to ask him about it because she doesn't like people and people never like her. She suddenly wonders if the robin was in a tree in the secret garden.
Again, it's telling that after only a day in England, Mary is already beginning to ask difficult questions about other people and express curiosity in someone other than herself. Especially because her curiosity has mostly to do with the secret garden, it shows that the natural world is more compelling for her at this point than the people themselves. When she expresses interest in the robin, it confirms that her first friend of sorts will be one tied to the natural world.
Themes
Healing, Growth, and Nature Theme Icon
The Power of Thought Theme Icon
Childrearing and Friendship Theme Icon
Mary walks back to Ben Weatherstaff and coldly informs him that she's been through the gardens. He seems surly when she mentions a garden with no door and tells him about the robin. However, at the mention of the robin, Ben starts to smile, and Mary thinks it makes him look nice. He whistles, and the robin appears almost instantly. Ben teases the robin and tells Mary that the robin comes when called, as the bird got stuck on the wrong side of the wall as a fledgling and befriended Ben.
When Mary notices how Ben's smile transforms his face, it again shows how other people can act as a mirror for her—she doesn't smile at this point, so it's a big deal for her to suspect that smiling helps a person look nicer. Ben's relationship with the robin shows that people can be friends with animals and offers Mary something to aspire to.
Themes
Childrearing and Friendship Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Looking at the robin, Mary says that she's lonely. This has never occurred to her before, and the narrator notes that this is why she feels so angry. She asks Ben Weatherstaff's name and he says that he's lonely too; the robin is his only friend. Ben declares that he and Mary are a lot alike: both are cross, unattractive, and have bad tempers. Mary has never heard someone speak the truth like this before, and she begins to wonder if she's unattractive and bad-tempered. Suddenly, the robin flies into a tree and starts to sing. Ben Weatherstaff explains that the robin wants to be friends with Mary and hopefully, Mary steps towards the tree and asks the robin if he'd be friends with her. Ben is surprised at how pleasant her voice is and says it sounds almost like how Dickon speaks to his animals.
By pinning Mary's anger and unhappiness on being lonely, the novel suggests that it's essential for a person to be a part of some community (whether that be composed of humans or animals) in order to be a reasonable member of society. When Mary takes Ben's assessment to heart and asks the robin to be friends with her, it shows that she's learning how to take others seriously and consider what they have to say. The fact that her voice becomes pleasant when she speaks to the robin again speaks to the power of friendship to make a person beautiful, and hints that there is perhaps a more tender side of Mary that is hidden beneath a hardened, angry shell.
Themes
Healing, Growth, and Nature Theme Icon
The Power of Thought Theme Icon
Childrearing and Friendship Theme Icon
The robin flies over the wall again, and Mary cries out. Ben Weatherstaff explains that he lives there among the roses. Mary asks if there are actually roses in the garden, and Ben mumbles that there were ten years ago. When Mary asks where the door is, Ben Weatherstaff tells her that there's no door now and that she shouldn't go looking for it. He marches off.
Notice that Ben becomes curt and angry when the topic of the secret garden comes up. This indicates that keeping it a secret is something that harms him and, in this case, keeps him from connecting any further with Mary.
Themes
Secrets and Independence Theme Icon