I have always found something strange and unearthly about Mary Lennox, the protagonist of Secret Garden the way she seems to seep in into the most common of the banalities that life offers. It does seem strange that I am writing of Mary in the same vein as Warrior Women when her most evident traits in the literature have been “a hard and unloving heart” as well as a non-emotive self centeredness.
She is neither the endearing “courageous and kind” Cinderella nor the sweet and gullible Rapunzel of the fairy tales we are fed as children. The opening scene of the novel sets her in an India in the midst of a Cholera epidemic as the spoilt and sickly daughter of english parents who are more interested in the entertainments that society offers rather than doting on a child they didn’t want. She doesn’t miss her parents though she admired her mother’s beauty as the “mem-sahib” from a distance.
While this would normally warrant sympathy, I found myself imagining the intemperate and brusque Mary in real life and felt a mild revulsion for the 10 year old.
So why do I find her and the story of secret garden so compelling? Chiefly because I see Mary, Colin and all the characters in the book a vehicle of rejuvenation of the power of positivity and all the healing that it can offer in life. Unattended and aimless, she wanders about in her uncle’s house and grounds and feels a softening emotion for the first time in her young life in the companionship of a friendly robin red-breast as well as the crabby gardener. The first fluttering of curiosity begins in her when she learns of the walled up and seemingly impenetrable garden. Her friendship with Martha, the kitchen maid and her brother Dickon softens the reader’s indignation at her imperious and racist manners towards native servants in India.
She develops a deep bond to the garden, before discovering the key to the hidden entrance. Slowly, she begins to be entwined with the seasons, the soil, the roses and the chrysanthemums – as well as the lives of people who love this landscape, including the crabby gardener, Colin and Dickon.
For Mary, it’s not a dashing hero or strange heavenly coincidences that set in motion her metamorphosis. Rather, she learns independence to experience un-lonely solitude in a house and its surroundings where she is looked right through often. She befriends an unlikely collection of people ranging from the eccentric Ben, spoilt Colin to the cheerful Dickon from across the social spectrum.
The orphan Mary’s warrior at hand is ultimately herself and the blossoming of empathy with nature, the ability to be brutally truthful and the mental fortitude to accept the same candor from Ben and others at a ripe old age of ten – is the everyday warrior that we can relate to day in and out.