Sonia’s Response to Burnett’s “The Secret Garden”

            Something that has stuck out to me throughout this course is the way other people influence the way a person views their own disability. We have frequently discussed, in both small and large groups, that the idea of a disability is already socially constructed, and the way that both nondisabled and other people with disabilities treat another person’s disability can affect their outlook on themselves and their worth. This concept recurs heavily with the character of Colin in The Secret Garden. The difference in this scenario is that, as far as the audience and Mary can tell, Colin does not have a disability, but rather has been convinced by those around him that he already has one, and will develop more and likely die early because of his conditions. This sort if maltreatment comes from every adult that has taken care of him, including his own father. When Mary first meets Colin, and she asks him why he is locked up in that room, he states that “[his] father hates to think that [he] may be like him,” (Burnett 159). This is referring to the hunch in Mr. Craven’s back, which everyone around them views as a deformity and something to be ashamed of, which has been projected onto this young child. The family and the servants feel as though looking different from everyone else around them is something to be ashamed of, and as a result, they tried to “fix” Colin, before he even showed signs of developing any sort of disability. Colin describes how “[he] used to wear an iron thing to keep [his] back straight” but a doctor made him take it off (160). This is a good and sensible thing for the doctor to have done, considering a brace doesn’t necessarily mean that Colin’s quality of life would improve, nor did he even need it in the first place. However, it is implicit through the rest of the conversation on the topic that Colin resents this doctor for trying to make him see that he didn’t need the brace. This makes it clear that not only does Colin believe he actually has a condition, when really he has just been deprived of sunlight and regular activity, but that anything less than what is viewed as “normal” is something to obsess over and immediately “correct”. The other side of Colin’s projected disability is making him believe that he is going to die at a young age, which is a horribly frightening thing to place on a child, especially with the implication that he will die because of a disability he doesn’t have. This makes the association in the child’s mind that it is not worth living with this disability, or that those who are disabled cannot live as long as those who are abled. The way the adults around him have presented this prospect actually frightens him, breeding, somehow, both a fear of living and of dying. Colin tells Mary that when he thinks about the idea that he could die any second, he will “cry and cry”, but as seen later on in the book, when he gets even the faintest hint that he might be developing a hunch in his back, it throws him into a full-blown panic attack (164). If the adults around Colin, including his own father, hadn’t projected their fear of a disabled child or person onto Colin for his whole life, then he wouldn’t have grown up fearful of developing a disability. Unfortunately, this is something that is still common in the modern day, even as people attempt to become more conscious and aware of the fact that there is nothing wrong with having a disability. Doctors still attempt to “cure” whatever disability someone might have, and if they cannot, they still contemplate the idea of killing the person under the guise that they won’t live a quality life—which is simply untrue. Colin is just as much of a victim of societal projections as someone in the modern day might be.

WC: 675

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