Elena’s Response to “The Secret Garden” and “Defectives in the Land”

While reading Baynton’s introduction to Defectives in the Land, I couldn’t help but draw connections between the role disability and race have played in the history of immigration and the portrayal of foreign countries and races in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. Throughout the book, India is demonized as both the home of uncivilized subhumans and as the cause of Mary’s chronic illness. In his introduction, Bayton points out the overlap between the perception of disabled people and people from “undesirable” races or ethnicities during immigration. In both cases, the group in question is viewed as fundamentally flawed and inferior (as Baynton would say, defective). Just as Mary, Archibald, and Colin are viewed as less than human in various ways due to their disabilities, India and its people are viewed in a similar way. In The Secret Garden, England and the moor are portrayed as inherently superior to India in their quality of life and quality of people. The idea that Mary and Colin’s health issues will be solved by England’s “fresh air” is consistently reinforced throughout the novel, strengthened through the comparison of India and the moor. Mary’s poor health in India and upon arrival in England is repeatedly blamed on the nature of Indian weather: she had been so sick and surly because “she had always been too hot and languid and weak to care much about anything.” This attribution ignores the many other factors that affected Mary’s life in India, such as a lack of parental care, and instead forces a causal relationship between her physical defectiveness and the cultural/racial defectiveness of India. As Baynton identifies in his essay, blood and heritage govern ideas of a person’s worth and where they belong, be it on the moors for the white Mary or in India for her native servants.

The views of India as an inferior country and native Indians as an inferior race are held by the adults and then passed onto children as fact, which often serves to intensify the opinions. This cycle is illustrated clearly in the first interaction between Mary and Martha. When Mary says her life was different in India, Martha replies, “I dare say it’s because there’s such a lot o’ blacks there instead respectable white people.” She then admits she thought Mary would be black (meaning Indian), which Mary takes as a horrible insult. She describes her native servants as “obsequious and servile,” saying they “did not presume to talk to their masters as if they were their equals.” She even goes so far as to say “they are not people.” Although Martha goes on to say she has “nothin’ against th’ blacks,” she still dehumanizes them in similar ways to disabled people in a freak show. She talks about how she had “never seen a black an’ was fair pleased to think [she] was goin’ to see one close,” describing creeping up on Mary while she was asleep in an attempt to look at her unhindered. This treatment is reminiscent of the story Colin tells from his childhood in which a stranger comes up to him and pats his cheek out of sympathy when she learns of his disability. In both cases, the bodily autonomy of those deemed defective is ignored in order to allow the dominant group to use their body for entertainment. This is an example of the overlap between experiences of race-based and disability-based discrimination Baynton mentions in his work, which really centers around the dehumanization of those that the dominant groups view as defective.

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