LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

The Secret Garden: Appropriate for Children Today?

on April 11, 2013 12:46pm

The Secret Garden is a novel that focuses on the differences between India and England, expressing that children need to be raised in a good environment in order to become well-behaved children and experience a childhood. It is a book that focuses on the beauty and healing properties of the natural world, but is it appropriate for children to be reading, today?

On one hand, The Secret Garden encourages the reader to step outside, enjoy the fresh air, and explore the beauty of one’s garden. It entices the reader to watch life blossom before one’s eyes, and educates the reader on the basics of gardening. Considering how technology has given children plenty of entertainment and distraction, in doors, I feel that this book would be worth reading to a child, in hopes of helping that child step outside and explore the possibilities of imagination and free play. While the book fails to teach a child how to imagine a new world within one’s head, considering Mary does not possess such faculties, it does show a child that the mere act of skipping rope can be worth pursuing. As a result, perhaps children of today should be reading this, due to the fact that it exposes them to a world that they may not have previously thought was worth venturing into.
On the other hand, The Secret Garden expresses several negative thoughts about the vibrant and beautiful culture and country of India, which increases the potential for racism and closed mindedness about the exotic world. The Secret Garden expresses that India is a sandy country, that is too hot for activities, and is full of ‘blacks’ who are expected to serve Europeans. Considering how diverse the population of America is, today, such messages may be ill-received by families of foreign nationality, and may only lead to more reasons for bullying between Caucasians and other ethnicities. It is possible that, should the child pick up on such propaganda within the book, a caucasian child might believe that individuals of a darker skin type are meant to treat him or her as a superior, and may resulting treat those children as inferior. Such messages pave the way for segregation and discrimination, so one must wonder if it is worth the risk.
Is it better to read the book, in order to encourage children to explore the great outdoors, or should this book be saved for when children are old enough to understand that the messages in the book about class and race are from an earlier era?



2 responses to “The Secret Garden: Appropriate for Children Today?

  1. csmith5599 says:

    I think it may be a bit unfair to discount the Secret Garden based upon its underlying messages against Indian culture. A lot of children’s literature, particularly some works we have encountered in the class, are full of racist undertones (such as the Jungle Book). I think this is more indicative of how the author may be viewed as a person and not how the work should be viewed. Considering the narrator never insults Indian culture and only the characters in the story do, I would argue that one can interpret the racism as a sign of the time period and how certain people thought of particular races. I think the racism loses a lot of its potency as our global society becomes more aware and tolerant of other cultures and races as time passes. The strengths of the novel far outweigh its undertones, particularly in regard to showing children how even the most vile girl can grow and develop into a kind, loving child. Even though the book may refer to Indians offensively, Burnett still captures a great theme of tolerance and love through the relationship between Mary and Colin. Both characters start out as very rude, petulant children but develop and grow over the course of the novel due largely in part to how they learn from each other and their situations. I think this theme can greatly resonate with children and give them excellent models to work toward when encountering different types of children. Despite its racist undertones, I believe that the Secret Garden is very appropriate for children today.

  2. mpak504 says:

    I really enjoyed reading The Secret Garden. I thought it was very sweet and cute and its morals are not so abrupt and obvious, but subtle and effective. Besides, what’s not to like about Mary? I really liked her character; I thought she was a strong, independent little girl, although she was a bit bratty in the beginning, which she eventually grows out of. She grows and matures as she becomes brave and adventurous, and her sole desire is just to make the secret garden beautiful, while secretly desiring love and friendships. So, what’s not to like? The novel portrays these aspects of a poor, innocent neglected soul who is thrown in the hands of an absent relative just after losing her whole family; so I feel like the readers can’t help but feel sympathetic and attached to Mary.

    Well, at least I couldn’t help it. Some parts of her life may be sad and pretty extreme – like when her family dies from a cholera outbreak, how her mom neglects her, how her father is absent, etc… It may be too much for young readers to read about, but these things really do exist in the world and it happens. Bad things happen sometimes and showing it through the character of Mary was Burnett’s subtle ways of showing young readers a little piece of reality or a view of the not-so-perfect-world where everything isn’t just handed to you. Burnett then juxtaposes this dark view to Mary’s life at Misselthwaite Manor with the very bright, magical images of a secret garden. I believe that Burnett was trying to show young readers that after a period of darkness is always light. No matter how bad things can get, something positives will happen. All of this also relates back to the overall message of the novel, which is the power of positive thinking. Although I can justify the brutally sad life of Mary, there were some questionable parts in the plot that I can’t confidently explain. For instance, how does one lose a disease like depression overnight? What about all the negative connotations and racist remarks about India? And what about the subtle attacks on science and medicine? These questions do make me wonder whether The Secret Gardens is appropriate for children or not. However, ultimately at the end of the day, the novel promotes positive morals such as the benefits of healthy exercise habits, the beauty of nature, and the magic of innocence.

    I would say that it is not entirely plausible to say The Secret Gardens isn’t appropriate for children. N3SRIAB, you ended your blog with the question: “Is it better to read the book, in order to encourage children to explore the great outdoors, or should this book be saved for when children are old enough to understand that the messages in the book about class and race are from an earlier era?” Maybe you can consider the fact that Burnett wrote for adult audiences, not just for children. So these aspects of conflicted messages that only older children can understand may be aspects intended for the adults who read the book? Even though the plot mainly describes a young girl’s adventure, it also hints at the right way of parenting. Burnett refers to Martha’s mother several times and how perfect of a mother she is. Because of her morals and her parenting, she was able to produce a perfect child: Dickon. The Secret Garden is a novel for both child and adult audiences, therefore it is difficult to isolate just one half of the audience and determine its appropriateness.

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