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

I have grown up reading Burnette’s The Secret Garden and it is one of my favorite pieces to revisit whenever I can. For the longest time, I had viewed Colin’s illness as one that allowed those around him to spoil him. That his father’s fear of him developing a hunched back like his own was what started the journey that disabled Colin. Colin having several illnesses throughout childhood had further led everyone to believe that there was something truly wrong with him. That he would not live to adulthood, which was something that caused him to act like a spoiled brat who got whatever he desired. It was their own fears, as well as Colins, that was the main cause of his disability. The adults around Colin treated him as if he would break, that if they went against him he would end up exhausting himself to the point where he would pass away. Because Colin was unable to have a normal childhood, he turned into himself and saw any sort of flaw as the next sign of his impending death. 

Mary was a girl who saw past the adult’s fear and Colin’s tantrum to see that he was perfectly normal. That the cause of his illness was his own and that he was a boy who was as spoiled as she was when she was in India. When she realized that he was as normal as she was, she and her friend Dickon came up with the idea that the garden would heal Colin, making him stronger than he was because of his preserved disability. The innocence of a child was able to see that Colin’s disability was something that can be ‘fixed’ by going outside and experiencing things that he had been previously kept from. Colin had been confined to laying down in order to prevent the hunched back, he was prevented from anything stressful or exciting in order to prevent him from going into a fit. The one time he did go out he read about an illness and immediately caught that illness, which makes me believe that Colin might be one to believe that he could get any sort of illness that he reads about. A hypochondriac. “…One time they took him out where the roses is by the fountain. He’d been readin’ in a paper about people gettin’ somethin’ he called ‘rose cold’ an’ he began to sneeze an’ said he’d got it an’ then a new gardener as didn’t know th’ rules passed by an’ looked at him curious. He threw himself into a passion an’ he said he’d looked at him because he was going to be a hunchback. He cried himself into a fever an’ was ill all night,” (Burnett) 

He is so afraid of dying or not being able to live he continuously works himself up and becomes ill. Mary is what brings life to him. She shows him that she was like him, always ill and angry with the world. Mary becomes a savior, finding ways to bring life to Colin, standing up against his anger, and teaching him life is worth living no matter what is wrong. She uses the garden to make herself stronger and in turn Colin. She takes a place where there was a loss of life and turns it into a haven for the two of them. She is what brings life back into the garden and in turn the entire manor. Showing them that fear of disability is not something to worry about, that life is worth living. 

Word Count = 604

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.  

Word Count: 580       

J. Faith Hopkins’s Response to Jillian Weise’s “Nondisabled Demands” and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird

Jillian Weise’s poem “Nondisabled Demands” informs the reader about how people who know about others’ disabilities will treat them. In contrast, in Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird, the reader can see that the unknown will either scare or spark curiosity in others. Whether it is better to hide the truth or reveal disability to the public is argued over between these authors. While each has a different opinion, both of them have experience with the same issue: the infectious effects of gossip and the lie about disability.

In the beginning of the novel, “Boo” Radley is introduced in several stories. These stories are mostly negative and brand “Boo” as a dangerous character that should be locked up to avoid “no further trouble” (13). As Weise states in her poem, “You can’t expect people to read you / if you don’t come out and say it” which causes gossip to spread (line 6, 7). Lee and Weise show just how much people do not know about other people’s lives, even more so when he or she has a concealed disability. Compared to Weise’s poem, Lee’s novel represents disability in a negative light. The poem “Nondisabled Demands” still shows how disability is seen as a cumbersome weight, “an inspiration,” something to overcome, in other people’s eyes. The novel represents what happens when other people fear it when it is hidden from the public (line 18). Although in Weise’s poem, she states that if someone does have a disability, he or she should be transparent about it, but considering what has or has not happened to “Boo” Radley in the past,—not to mention his nickname—it would be harder for the Radley’s to follow Weise’s advice. “Boo” Radley is not seen as a charity case; instead he is seen as a monster. Even if the Radley’s were clear about their son’s condition it does not guarantee that the gossiping would stop. 

Weise then continues on to say that if the person with a disability does not comply with the public, the people would “rope [he or she] to the podium” and continue to force a reply (line 13, 14). A parallel is seen between these two works of literature. Jem, Dill, and Scout end up attempting to lure “Boo” out to answer some questions about his past. Even though their intentions are innocent, their perceptions are damaging. Jem compares “Boo” to a turtle and proceeds to say that “turtles can’t feel” (18). This may be just Jem’s naivete, but Lee’s choices here appear meaningful. This could be Lee’s way of showing her audience how disability was viewed back in the thirties when there wasn’t much to know about it, especially through children’s eyes. Instead of keeping their distance, the kids are constantly drawn to the house partly because they are curious and partly because they are concerned. Dill questions “Boo” Radley’s state of mind: “How’d you feel if you’d been shut up for a hundred years with nothin’ but cats to eat?” (62). Again, the character’s idea of “Boo” Radley is distorted, but matches up with what Weise states in her poem about pitying the disabled. Either people will fear the unknown or pity it, but for children they do both.

Even though these are different situations in front of different audiences, the literary works coexist together to break the misconceptions about disability and how it should not be handled by the public. Instead of making up stories about the disabled and being noisy, the community should keep to themselves and realize that even people with disabilities can feel, too.

Word Count: 598

I pledge… J. Faith Hopkins