Arden’s Response to Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden

In works of literature concerning racism, there is sometimes a white character, who is usually male, that does everything in their power to help an individual or a group of people of a different race. This is known as the White Savior archetype. As we have learned through most of the readings, this kind of character is also represented in books that feature one or more disabled characters. As far as I know, there does not seem to be a technical term for this archetype, but they do perpetuate this idea among nondisabled people that those with disabilities are incapable of helping themselves and require their able-bodied peers to save and/or cure them. Failure to do so would result in the disabled person’s suffering and then subsequent death. However, the disabled community has proven time and time again to be able to advocate for themselves and lead fulfilling lives. Through the chapters of XI and XIX of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel, The Secret Garden, the author themselves sets up Mary Lennox and Dickon Sowerby as the nondisabled saviors for Colin Craven, the afflicted victim.

            As young children and friends of Colin, Mary and Dickon only have the best of intentions for him. They believe it would “do him good to go out into a garden” or just outside in general to get some fresh air (Burnett). This is proven to be true by Colin himself when he lies on the floor of his room and “[breathes in] long breaths of fresh air that came through the window, “[making him] strong” as Mary recounts the story of how Dickon came to find a lamb (Burnett). However, whether Colin develops a hunchback like his father and/or has a preexisting disability that affects his immune system that has yet to be diagnose, Frances Hodgson Burnett makes it seem like Mary’s and Dickon’s efforts to get Colin to the secret garden will improve his quality of living by getting rid of what disables him.

             The author even goes as far as to characterizes Colin Craven as a hapless victim to further this idea by having the reader wishing and hoping that he will be cured of what ails him, which in this case is his disability. When Mary, as well as the reader, first meet Colin, “he [is] crying” in a room that is hidden away behind a “tapestry” (Burnett). This scene parallels to a knight finding a damsel in distress lock away in a tower. Colin has become “accustomed to the idea that” he “shall” never “live to grow up” because of what hears from others about his disability (Burnett). With that being his state of mind, Colin does not do much on his own to change his circumstances. It is this complacent attitude that the author has written that allows them to set up Mary and Dickon as the able-bodied heroes that strive to “[make him]” feel “better” (Burnett).

            In conclusion, while the author Frances Hodgson Burnett does represent disability within the chapters of XI-XIX in The Secret Garden, they portray it in a negative way by making it seem that those within the disabled community are in need of being rescued by those who are nondisabled. People with disabilities do required services, therapies, and accommodations to make certain avenues of life easier to navigate. However, having a disability does not deprive one of happiness or their ability to achieve it as well as being something that needs to be rectified quickly.  

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