Who is on the plum tree?
“When Mary Lennox was sent to Misselthwaite Manor to live with her uncle everybody said she was the most disagreeable-looking child ever seen. It was true, too. She had a little thin face and a little thin body, thin light hair and a sour expression.”
Aren’t these great opening lines by Frances Hodgson Burnett to The Secret Garden? Cleverly, she tries to make us instantly dislike the heroine. Already, the challenge is inherent ~ what will happen to make us like her? Do we feel sorry for her? Will we, in fact, ever like her? We are hooked into the story from the beginning as we join in with the narrator’s description of how a horrible child appears to others. The narrator is allowing us to dislike Mary in the subtly woven, understated judgement of her character.We are not used to horrible children, only good, charming, angelic ones, so the character of Mary jumps off the page immediately and tells us to expect the unexpected.
Of course, as the story goes on, we revel in Mary’s development as she grows in spirit and confidence alongside the beautiful hidden garden. We experience her triumphs vicariously, as all that is lovely in her also blooms along with the garden. The story is a wonderful metaphor for discovering the hidden and secret beauty in ourselves and how this recognition heals us.
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